Chasing pop idols by Ronny Flynn – both standing and fallen.
I was a teenager of the 1960’s. From the age of eleven I avidly followed the music charts, glued to the radio several times a week for updates, and at nights listening to Radio Luxembourg and later the pirate station Radio Caroline. I adored the Beatles and Rolling Stones, and watched Bob Dylan on Television when he visited England very early in his career. I could not afford to travel to live music concerts, and was too young to be allowed, but my youth club did organise trips to see the Rolling Stones and Roy Orbison in nearby Bristol. These were the days when girl fans spent the whole concert screaming themselves into a frenzy, but even then I was too inhibited – and too keen to hear the music- to do that.
When I left home for college, I met students who were much better travelled than I was, and who had been to more concerts and festivals. At the end of my first year at college I went to the Bath Festival, the precursor to Glastonbury, where I saw and heard an amazing line up of stars. So amazing that I didn’t feel the need to go to another festival for 42 years! Even then, I didn’t seek out the discomfort of camping, drugs and queuing for the toilet, and the claustrophobia of crowds.
My husband was a volunteer for music events staged in Worthing, Sussex where he was in charge of ‘light shows’ for musicians such as Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and the Pretty Things. He also attended the legendary Isle of Wight Festival where Bob Dylan performed. The poster for this event shows the price of tickets to be just £2.50! The price nowadays of a cup of coffee!
In 1978, the year we met we queued for eight hours in Oxford to buy tickets to see Dylan at one of his London concerts, only to lose the tickets and spend the night looking for them before the date. We didn’t find them until almost 20 years later when we were turning out our filing system: they had fallen in between two files. We did go to the concert but we had to wait until all seats were filled to see which ones were empty. Luckily, two friends had bought tickets with us so we knew our tickets were either side of theirs. Otherwise it might have been impossible to locate our seats. Stressful times, with a good ending.
We attended Rock against Racism concerts and marches, which had been a response to Eric Clapton, a massive idol making racist comments on stage. These were a chance for white musicians who had learned so much from black music to show their disapproval at other members of their profession.
We didn’t attend any live music events after our daughter was born, but a few years before we walked out of a John Mayall concert in London. It just seemed inexcusable that someone who had used the music of so many black American musicians, should still choose to play with an all-white band.
It was much later in life, with more time and money to spare that we thought about listening to live music again. Even though we live close to Milton Keynes Bowl, a significant open air venue, we did not relish the thought of crowds and queues, though people we knew avoided them and got free entry by volunteering to be a ‘buddy’ for the evening to a disabled person. We saw Van Morrison at Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire and took Kiran to see Jools Holland in Milton Keynes’ central park. But the weather was never warm enough for us to enjoy sitting outside well into the evening, and the dream of the perfect evening picnic on the grass has still to be realised for us in England. There have been warm evenings, but we have usually been out of the country, and missed them.
In 2012 we booked tickets to WOMAD, a three-day world music festival. Its site is quite near to where my mother lived, so we could stay with her and commute daily. An added bonus was that the Narasirato Panpipe Band from Solomon Islands were playing, and we had recently returned from there. I took along a small Solomons flag to wave. WOMAD is small and spacious and there is plenty to look at, eat and see. I paid extra for Superloo tickets, bought wellington boots as rain was expected, and we quite enjoyed it. There were many oldies like us, and younger people too, and children. We noticed that lots of people wore special ‘festival clothes’ that you could buy on-site. These tended to be rainbow coloured and flowing kaftan-style shirts, skirts, jackets and trousers which we had not seen in normal life. If you wore them, it made you dance in peculiar ways, rather like the hippies did when we were teenagers. Life had come full circle!
There were a few musicians I wanted to see before they, (or I), died. I deliberately put this in the past tense because I now feel re-living the past is a mistake. Neil Young is one of them and this year we found he was playing in France at the Alsace Wine Fair, and so we bought tickets and made a detour on our way back to England from staying in our house in the South. I played as many YouTube videos of his recent concerts as I could find, so I knew what to expect. We found a hotel within walking distance of the venue and spent a pleasant hour or so wandering round the trade stalls before taking up our place in the theatre. We were very happy to be given a free ‘Save the planet’ tee-shirt at the gate. Neil Young is a big supporter of conservation. There were lots of oldies there but we expected it. We knew that Young’s style had changed over time but we hadn’t expected him to be so unwilling to engage with the audience. He didn’t speak, half-smiled just once and only sang two songs from ‘the past’ in the 90 minute performance. The rest of the time he was no doubt enjoying himself jamming with Crazy Horse band members in long guitar solos, but we kind of felt he wasn’t there for us. We were left feeling ‘Was that it?’
When we told Kiran our daughter about our experience, she said ‘Well, you have lived the cliché and can say you have been there, done that and got the tee-shirt!’
Maybe our chasing idol days are over, or better done via YouTube or television.