6th December 2016

Week 1 – The future looks bright, we’d better wear shades! By Malcolm Dome

Several years ago, Brian Eno claimed that rather than seeing the recent drop in record sales as anomalous, what we really should be doing is viewing the vast sales during the 1980s as being the blip. He conjectured that the level of sales we are now getting as being a return to the norm.

Well, could we expand this to the rock festival situation? When the Monsters Of Rock Festival was launched in 1980, the list of bands who could headline such an event, thereby attracting tens of thousands of fan annually, seemed impressive and was quickly expanded as young hopefuls grew within a couple of years into major names.

This was indeed a golden era for hard rock and metal, as the likes of Iron Maiden and Def Leppard were followed into arena sized venues by Metallica and Bon Jovi. Back then, it appeared the music we all loved had an inexhaustible and deep well of talent that was commercially viable to an unprecedented level. But things have seemingly altered. Of course, there are still young bands of critical talent emerging all the time. However, circumstances have changed, to the point where we all wonder if any of these bands will actually become big enough to headline such huge festivals.

All of which means that it’s only the great names of the past – those who’ve been around for more than 40 years – who have the clout and drawing power to attract such large crowds. And, as these bands increasingly reach an age where retirement looks like a welcome prospect, the upper echelons are being shorn of those who can sustain major events, so are we witnessing the death knell for these yearly entities? And if so, does the future for festivals come in the more intimate, family friendly package offered by Ramblin’ Man?

The answer seems to be in the affirmative. It’s not a case of downsizing. But accepting that, while succeeding generations are still enthralled by rock, perhaps what they want doesn’t now come through merely standing in a field with 60,000 others.

In a way, you can view the situation as analogous to the threat the advent of television posed to the movie industry more than six decades ago. Whereas the film business had become used to seeing massive lines parading round the block, desperate to gain entry to their cinemas, when TV arrived suddenly people had the option of staying indoors and being entertained. The same applies here. Those of us who grew up with rock in the 1970s and beyond immersed ourselves in the live experience, because nothing could touch the atmosphere. However, younger generations have not only become used to getting music for nothing via the internet but don’t appear to have the same desire to see live music. They’d rather stay at home in front a huge screen and watch a Blu-ray of a concert, with the comfort blanket offered by state-of-the-art technology. It goes further, because how many people have irked you, and the performers onstage, by spending more time on their phone that watching a gig?

The challenge now is to re-engage and incite rock fans with live excitement. Nothing beats that feeling you get from watching an amazing performance in the flesh. It is exhilarating. We know this from our own heritage. So, how on earth can this be achieved for those who shrug their shoulders at the thought of a gig? Nobody can pretend to know the answers, but what Ramblin’ Man offers is a beginning. The smaller scale of the festival makes for a much more rootsy appeal. Those who might have stood at Donington in the ’80s can be persuaded to come along, as it feels right for their age group; it reminds them of past experiences in their teenage years but gives them a new, mature (ulp!) slant. And if they bring along their children and grandchildren, then the long march back for rock music, to a state when mega events once more become accepted and acceptable, is under way.

This, though, is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Surely it’s also important to have not just the legendary names allowing us to wallow in nostalgia, but also to encourage everyone to check out the younger talent on offer. There’s an irony that what was regarded as cutting edge music 40 years ago is now perceived by some as no more than living in the past. Is that what fans want? Do you only want to enjoy again those bands who got you headbanging and jumping in 1980? Are the new bands coming through wasting their time trying to appeal to you? That’s another discussion point for the future. But, I happen to believe that the emerging talent are the lifeblood of rock music. And that fans, both those who first got into the music nearly half-a-century ago and also those new to its charms, should want to hear fresh ability.

That’s where the bijou events can score heavily. They can fulfil the needs of those who want to recall their own glory days – when hair was thick and waists were not – and also address the issue of the future.  All of you reading this I guarantee have an emotional investment in what happens next to the music we all grew up with. Being a rock fans isn’t about buying into a trend. That’s why it’s a way of life, and that’s why we all want to see it have a lifespan that carries on. In some way, it’s also vital for the legends who built this empire in the first place. To ensure their narrow legacies remain intact, it’s crucial their influence is seen to carry on, and that will only happen through the next generation of bands being acclaimed and embraced.  And the one after that.

So, to come back full circle, let’s not mourn the potential disappearance of huge rock events, but celebrate the fact that, it’s through the smaller ones we have been given the opportunity to build on what we have now, and ensure that in 30 years’ time, fans will be hailing the unknowns of today as the next cycle of legends. Today’s young fans do now want hand me down heroes from their parents opr grandparents. They need their own heroes. Remember, if movies had succumbed to the roar of TV, then who’d have heard from Johnny Depp or Jennifer Lawrence?