It was the late, great Rick Nelson who sang a song called Garden Party, which described his feelings about playing a golden oldie nostalgia show, how he hated it and subsequently carried on doing what he liked until his premature death. Rick used to be Ricky but became Rick, presumably to change his Hello Mary Lou image into the type of musician he’d rather be. I liked both Nelsons, but I respected his integrity in doing what he wanted to do rather than what many people expected him to do.
It’s a difficult call really. For instance, I am for my sins a huge fan of Toto, who are popular for their hits Hold The Line, Rosanna and Africa. Not one of these tunes come near my top ten Toto tunes (although Jeff Porcaro’s drop dead gorgeous Rosanna-shuffle drumming is something to behold), but most people who pay their money will want to hear them and I respect that. I saw them last week and three of my favourite songs on the night were from their brand new album Toto XIV. That’s just me though. I like the nostalgic side of music, but I like even more that Toto is still a ‘live’ band still making new music. Same with Crosby, Stills and Nash and Brian Wilson who I am seeing in September. There is a place for the nostalgia show and believe me I have done a few, but I can’t get it out of my system that an awful lot of performers are simply going through the motions.
There is nothing wrong with going through the motions, though. For many musicians, being in a band is a job. Take for example the Ultimate 80s festival in Ashton Court this year (please). If you liked the 1980s music scene, as I didn’t, then this show is for you. Just look at the list of performers: The Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey, The Boomtown Rats, Billy Ocean, Rick Astley, Sister Sledge, Roland Gift, Jimmy Somerville, Howard Jones, ABC, Aswad, Betty Boo, Go West, Nick Heyward, Five Star, China Crisis, Odyssey, The Real Thing, The Beat, Brother Beyond, Samantha Fox and Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers. That’s a stellar line-up if that’s your bag although hardly anyone there is still making new music and some of them never made much music in the first place!
The nostalgia circuit is huge these days. There are nostalgia festivals in the open air, there are arena tours, there are weekend events at Butlins. God, good, good. Life is too short to not do the things you want to do and I am not averse to doing the odd nostalgia gig myself. I saw the current form of Status Quo a few years ago and the Wilson-free Beach Boys and they didn’t do a song between them that came after the late 1970s (I think the Beach Boys barely did anything from the 1970s at all, actually). But they were good singalong shows and I was entertained, to a point. I just felt all the way through that these were no longer bands creating music. They were a living jukebox and I might as well stay at home with my iPod and hear the songs in their original form!
So I am not knocking the Boomtown Rats fan who just wants to hear I Don’t Like Mondays and Rat Trap, or the Five Star fan who wants to hear the brilliant Stay Out Of My Life (I am being serious: that’s one seriously great tune) or even the China Crisis fan who wants to hear anything from their outstanding back catalogue. I just like hearing something from the front catalogue too.
I know that when I see Brian Wilson he will end with the Beach Boys tunes that I can’t stand like Help Me Rhonda and Fun Fun Fun and Crosby, Stills and Nash will, I sincerely hope, end with Suite: Judy Blue Eyes which I adore, but in the middle there will be some new stuff which I will love just as much. In fact, Brian Wilson’s Your Imagination from 1998 is one of my very favourite Brian tunes!
We’re all different, aren’t we, and for some of us music is the soundtrack of our lives whilst for others it’s something we like. I like a golden oldie as much as anyone else – after all, I pretty well am one! – but it’s as nice to hear old favourites making new music as it is to hear new favourites making new music.
Rick Nelson said, in Garden Party: “If you gotta play at garden parties, I wish you a lotta luck.
But if memories were all I sang, I rather drive a truck” and I think he was right, but if I’d seen him play, I’d have wanted to hear Hello Mary Lou in amongst the new stuff because that would have been one of the songs I heard that drew me towards him, just like Africa drew me to Toto.