1940, the annus mirabilis of rock

Some of the greatest names in popular music turn 60 this year and are still rocking. What is it that keeps them going? And have they no dignity?
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The Independent Culture

Some of their albums - once at the cutting edge of rock - can now be found in the Easy Listening racks. Some can be found in this week's Top 40 albums chart. And all the while, the rebels of rock hurtle toward bus-pass age.

Some of their albums - once at the cutting edge of rock - can now be found in the Easy Listening racks. Some can be found in this week's Top 40 albums chart. And all the while, the rebels of rock hurtle toward bus-pass age.

Suddenly a whole slew of Sixties pop performers are reaching their own sixties but have careers still bolstered by a combination of unflagging enthusiasm, dogged tenacity and sheer talent. You wonder how many of today's stars will be going strong a similar number of decades down the line.

Those born in 1940 first saw daylight as the Second World War raged; it was the time of the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. It was also the year of Chaplin's film The Great Dictator, Disney's Pinocchio and the British premiÿre of Gone with the Wind.

The performers now reaching 60 were part of pop's first wave, which crashed on to the beach in an explosion of youthful energy and testosterone. Perhaps it is that sense of pioneering verve that has kept them bubbling ever since. But it is difficult to predict whether the ones who sailed in on their slipstream will have the same staying-power. Many recent pop success- stories have been pre-fabricated, created to fit a niche, which means that success is taken pretty much for granted - longevity hasn't been a consideration.

Musicians of a Sixties vintage, though, have proved to be of an enduring quality. Sir Cliff Richard makes it to 60 this year and still keeps churning out hits. Although the oldest Beatle, Ringo Starr, got there in July, it comes as something of a shock to realise that John Lennon would have been turning 60 less than a fortnight before Sir Cliff's big day in October.

October 2000 is replete with 60th birthdays; the day before Sir Cliff, the singer Chris Farlowe - best known for his Rolling Stones cover andNo 1 hit "Out of Time" - is celebrating, and the following week, the eponymous leader of Manfred Mann will become eligible to blow out his own set of 60 candles.

Not that the October lot are the only ones proving that those purveyors of pop who made their very first appearances in 1940 form a vintage and tenacious crop. Tom Jones who has experienced an astonishing resurgence in his pop career and was even voted best British male artist at the Brits earlier this year, turned 60 in June.

Others entering the 60-year-old's hall of fame this year are Johnny Nash, Smokey Robinson, Grace Slick, John Cale of the Velvet Underground and Brian Bennett and Jet Harris of the Shadows. Many others have long been ensconced there. Bill Wyman, formerly of the Rolling Stones, fearlessly records in his autobiography that he was born in 1936. And Bert Weedon - the guitarist who has taught millions of others through his tutorial book Play in a Day - is still performing at 80. But age is obviously no consideration for many other performers wanting to rock their way into old age.

At a time when the youngest Beatle - George Harrison - is now 57, determined veterans are, quite simply, rocking on. Chris Farlowe insists that the advancing years don't worry him in the least. "I think my singing is stronger than ever," he says at the collectables shop he runs in conjunction with his performing career (naturally, the shop is called Out of Time).

Clem Cattini was the drummer with the Tornados, whose instrumental hit "Telstar" in 1962 made them the first British group to hitNo 1 in America. But as a busy session musician flitting between recording studios, he was also the "anonymous" drummer on countless hits by a variety of bands. His very first studio session produced the first chart-topper to feature his drumming: "Shakin' All Over", by Johnny Kidd, No 1 in 1960.

Cattini has continued as a drummer, and over the years his enterprises have included leading a new line-up operating under the Tornados name. Now also in his sixties, he seems to have no problem with the lengthy stint he has had as a performer: "I've been in music for more than 40 years now - not bad, considering that the job just involves hitting things! Admittedly I do get a bit fed up with all the travelling now, but I expect I'll carry on playing until my bank manager lets me know there are no more bills to pay!"

Mike Neal is publisher of The Beat Goes On, a monthly magazine devoted to the thriving mass of Sixties performers working in music today, sent out to 10,000 subscribers, who must be wondering how many more chances they will have to see their favourites in action.

Neal has theories as to why they are still going strong. "There are two types of Sixties performers on the circuit: those who have stuck with the business all the way through and who have never known anything else, and those who have come back to performing after some years out of the business.

"Some of them got out in the Seventies, when they thought the Sixties scene had died a death - certainly all the hits had dried up - and got themselves a nine-to-five job. But then the nostalgia revival brought the Sixties music back in, and so they came out of the woodwork to do it all again.

"A few had gone into other areas of entertainment, but others had concentrated purely on business interests and might have missed the buzz they got from performing. Although they may have financial security - not necessarily from having been a Sixties pop star - they still want to get out there and milk the applause. And they will all miss it when it's not there."

Meanwhile, as the Grammys and Brit awards continue to acknowledge those veterans whose influence looms large over today's pop proceedings, the likes of The Who, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and Sting advance steadily towards 60. Some of the performers have weathered the years better than others, only to be faced with the next fiendish dilemma: when to retire with their dignity still intact. Tina Turner, 61, finally decided to throw in the towel this year. After all, pop stars were never meant to be old.

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