Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: While Old Mother Rock hogs stage, kids can’t get a foothold

Tanjamin Mandarin , two 17 year old music students. Picture: MARTIN NEWELL

Tanjamin Mandarin , two 17 year old music students. Picture: MARTIN NEWELL - Credit: Archant

There is a musical generation coming up who are probably every bit as clever and talented, writes Martin Newell.

Towards the end of last week I was telephoned by my mate Chris. He’d been asked to compere a stage for a small music festival, running from midday until 6pm. “A long stint,” I said. “Exactly,” he replied. Did I fancy helping out?

Reasoning that I didn’t have much else on that day, I agreed. It’s always easier with two of you and, besides, it might be a laugh.

There is not, on the surface, much to being a compere at a small music event. You mostly just sit there with your knitting, observing everything that’s going on.

You have to know who’s currently on, who’s next, what they’re supposed to be doing and when they’re meant to be getting off.

Then you bound on, introduce them, shepherd them on or off, thank them nicely and keep the show rolling with the odd merry quip.

You must of course look after the audience too. As the great Larry Grayson once said, “They like to know they’re in good hands.”

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Organising groups of musicians has been compared to herding cats.

However, working on music stages has always struck me as being more like a Muppet Show with me in the role of Kermit.

To this day the music world continues to produce its own Gonzos, Fozzy Bears, Animals, and Miss Piggys.

Now, I have tended to avoid festivals and rock shows in recent years, because (this might be my age) I do find them noisy and boring.

There are far worse things to do, however, than to stand by a pub, on a pleasant autumn day, watching a varied line-up of music acts.

“Careful, Newell,” I cautioned myself at one point. “You’re in danger of enjoying yourself here.”

The opening act was an amiable travelling busker who warmed the crowd up with some good-humoured rabble-rousing stuff.

Later came a musician who went into an excoriating and articulate rant about a singer.

Apparently, the musician and his band had, in the past, been given a big support slot for the singer concerned, who had allegedly been impossible.

The band apparently had their sound-check severely curtailed, while the singer, it seems, had upset everyone with demands and edicts.

Our musician’s in-song rant also included a special section aimed more generally at older performers in leather trousers.

It beseeched them to stop clogging up festivals and move over, so that some younger peformers can have a go.

I went over to talk to him. He is the first one of his generation whom I have actually heard publicly remarking upon a matter which has been bugging me for some years.

I do sympathise with him. Mainstream rock today seems bogged down in the pomp and burnished finery of its own legend; rather like the French army at Agincourt.

I am sick of seeing older people (my age and younger) still lumbering around in the smoke and lasers of festival stages like a monstrous regiment of pantomime dames.

Even worse, there are others who nowadays don’t bother dressing up at all. They just waddle on in unpardonable jeans and T-shirts to stand there rocking indecisively, like teams of carpet fitters struggling over an estimate for a difficult floor area.

It is pathetic. What must young performers think when they witness coachloads of their half-cut elders standing up out of their seats, misty-eyed and gurgling along with the ghastly antediluvian anthems of their gnarled heroes?

In 1973, when I was a 20-year-old wannabe, I would have been appalled to have found myself supporting someone of my grandad’s age at a rock gig.

I’ve watched, recently, two extraordinary 17-year-old music students calling themselves Tanjamin Mandarin.

Using their voices, some quirky rhythm-tracks and one electronic keyboard, they managed to win over and hold a mixed-age audience for an entire 40-minute spot. They were original, funny and thoroughly entertaining.

What I’ve learned here is that there is a musical generation coming up who are probably every bit as clever and talented as the preceding ones.

Yet from the local pub stages right up to arena level, while Old Mother Rock Heritage refuses to shift her gargantuan sit-upon off the stage, the chances of many younger acts emerging remain unfairly impeded.

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