Long live the rock dinosaurs!

29 June 2022

1:54 AM

29 June 2022

1:54 AM

When the Oldie changed ‘leadership’ a few years back I swooped on the new editor, young Harry Mount, like a seagull on a chip.

‘The one thing your great organ is missing is a pop critic!’ I lectured him. The average age of the reader was level-pegging with the pensioners in the rock’n’roll hall of fame: Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, Bryan Ferry… it was a marriage made in mag heaven.

‘Papa’s not a rolling stone anymore,’ I continued. ‘He’s a grandpa, he’s a great-grandfather’ (Sir Mick became one in 2014). Harry went a bit quiet – he’d had a traumatic experience with a Jimi Hendrix cover that tanked – but bought my compelling demographic argument (his readers are pushing 80 and so are the dinosaurs of rock) and I got the gig gig.

And so it was that the ‘Golden Oldies’ column was born, and last weekend I saw both Elton John and the Stones in Hyde Park. I’m still standing to report back from the sound stages as the curtain falls on Glastonbury and British Summer Time and the Summertime Ball for another year.

And the news is good – great, even – but with one coda we will come to.

In fact – as Mick said when he exploded onto stage, legs whipping like black ribbons caught in a dust devil – it was ‘amazin’ to be back in London 60 years after the Stones’ first gig at the Marquee (‘thank you for coming back to see us’) but first up for me was Elton’s 232nd show of his delayed farewell tour.

Elton couldn’t wait to get going and started belting ‘Bennie and the Jets’ before we’d got the beers in so I couldn’t answer the only question my Stones companions (four males aged between 56 and 70) asked about the Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour, which was: ‘Did Elton come on stage in a wheelchair?’

No, but he was more hip operation than hip. Instead of dancing, Rocketman lifted his rhinestoned rump a few inches off his piano stool and by the time we got to the finale he’d changed into a dressing gown as if waiting for the butler to bring in the bedtime Horlicks.

But what a show. ‘Candle in the Wind’. ‘Your Song’. Elton is the highest-selling solo artist alive today and as hit after hit echoed around the park, I thought of my children, at Glastonbury, watching its youngest-ever headliner, Billie Eilish, and I thought: there’s plenty of Eilish but this could be my last Elton. I’m glad to be grey.

Again, when the Stones rushed the stage, my kids were in Somerset for Paul McCartney, 80, as I was on a Mum’s Night Off with the centrist dads in Hyde Park. Who turned out to be far more ageist, I might point out, than women of the same age or my 20-something spawn.

When Mick slipped off and Keef sang two (!) songs my husband asked, ‘Has Jagger gone to get his monkey gland injections?’ Kenton said, ‘Dunno, but Keith’s not wearing his skull ring, must be the arthritis.’

But as night grew dark magic fell. The acid comments ceased as amazement and delight flowed from the stage to the crowd as Mick pranced and strutted and sang some of the greatest rock songs ever written.

‘Gimme Shelter’ to a backdrop of bombed Ukraine. ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. The lyrics have taken on a deeper, darker meaning since the death of Charlie Watts and the Stones are knocking on heaven’s door. ‘You’d make a dead man come’. ‘I went down to the Chelsea Drugstore to get my prescription filled’, the crowd of Viagra, hair dye, and prescription med users chorused.

Mick Jagger turns 79 in July. So? He’s still got it, and I would. Towards the end he introduced the band. Lots of them. He reeled them off. My husband marvelled, ‘So clever of him to remember their names!’

Wonderful, all of it, but the super weekend of British rock was a warning.

You can count the number of artists who can own the Pyramid Stage and Hyde Park for several hours like that on two hands, and they’re not getting any younger.

These legends do it 1. Because they can and 2. They can harvest 90 per cent of gross ticket receipts as opposed to 10 per cent for record sales.

‘Have you any idea what 80-year-olds were like when we were young?’ asked my husband as we poured out past the merch stalls selling Stones T-shirts for £45.

No idea. But I do know that Macca made 80 look like the new 20 and Mick Jagger is sex on a stick.

So here’s the coda. The popularity of live festivals has never been more, well, popular, but the boomers are on the way to accessing-all-areas of the backstage in the sky.

Rock and roll will never die – but time waits for no man. So thank you for the music, rock dinosaurs. You’ve made the rocking world go round for six decades, but the meteor is coming.

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