Mum rock: The sensation sweeping the nation

She brought you into the world. And now you can show her how much you care – with a lovingly chosen musical gift. As Mothers' Day album sales set new records, Jonathan Brown offers a guide to the top of the parental pops
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The Independent Culture

There once was a time, not so very long ago, when dutiful sons and daughters could hope to make do each Mothering Sunday with little more than a bunch of chrysanthemums and a tin of Quality Street.

Nowadays, as the annual festival of Matronalia becomes a celebration of modern motherhood's insatiable appetite for pop music, the allure of the petrol station forecourt is being shunned for something altogether more up-to-date.

This week, in record stores and bargain basements up and down the country, eager offspring will be foraging for one thing above all else. Be it Cliff Richard or Kylie, Adele or Andrea Bocelli, "mum rock"– as industry insiders have taken to calling it – is flying off the shelves.

According to some of the biggest players in the music industry, the fourth Sunday in Lent is second only to Christmas when it comes to album sales, with record companies timing a slew of major releases to coincide with the annual gift-giving bonanza.

Sandwiched each year between Valentine's Day and Easter and buoyed by the rash of publicity that accompanies the Brits and Grammies, many women see it as the ideal time to update their collections. In 2006, album sales soared 53 per cent in the run up to Mother's Day while last year an equally respectable spike of 25 per cent was recorded.

Industry experts say the boom in the "mum rock" market is helping to stave off the general slide in sales as companies tap into the ever-growing music-loving demographic to beat the internet pirates.

Today, women who were part of the Oh Boy! generation in the late-1950s may still be indulging their taste for a little Cliff Richard or Billy Fury well into their seventies. Forty-something mums have meanwhile helped turn Take That into one of the biggest-grossing acts of the year on the crest of a wave of mid-90s nostalgia.

Then there is the inexorable growth in the number of made for television pop stars graduating from the Saturday tea-time schedules and a steady supply of new, highly marketable female singers whose appeal transcends generational boundaries – artists including Katie Melua, Adele and the tattooed queen of the tabloids, Amy Winehouse. Finally there is the success of classical crossover acts such as Il Divo, Andrea Bocelli and Russell Watson whose records continue to make their way into the grocery baskets of legions of Tesco and Asda mums.

HMV's Gennaro Castaldo said consumers could expect to be bombarded with a dizzying array of deluxe editions, new material and back catalogue collections over the next few days."The idea that mums are all in their 60s and 70s and are happy with a box of chocolates or a pot plant on Mother's Day is completely out of date," he said. "Many are in their 30s and are still very much in touch with popular culture. An album is seen as a very credible and cool gift for them, particularly by their children."

Danny Keene, marketing director of Demon Music Group, who includes the easy-listening Irish favourite Daniel O'Donnell within his stable, believes this week will be vital for business. "Mother's Day is massively important for us – it generates the biggest sales spike outside of Christmas," he said.

This year a plethora of compilation albums featuring housewife favourites such as Michael Bolton and Rick Astley are already lining the shelves. Among the most-high profile offerings is Simply Red's multi-million-selling Stars, being re-released for those anxious to relive their glory days.

All of which spells good news for the music industry now, BPI director of communications Matt Phillips said."Music has always been a popular gift, and themed compilations are proving to be hugely popular in 2008. Labels have been quick to meet this demand and events such as Mother's Day will bring impressive sales spikes as record labels issue titles to appeal to that market," he added.

30-something mother

Perhaps it was a reaction to coming of age in the era when Britpop ruled the waves, a time when the girls had to be as laddish as the boys if they wanted to get themselves heard. But today, younger mums are helping to fuel a runaway boom in solo female artists. Katie Melua's easy-on-the-ear ballads have made her one of Britain's highest-grossing acts, and her record company is using the Mother's Day run-up to aggressively market her album Pictures. Duffy, enjoying her second week astride the UK singles chart with "Mercy" – courtesy of downloads alone – is reaping the whirlwind of previous hype billing her as this year's answer to the retro-diva Amy Winehouse. Her album Rockferry is also top of the Amazon pre-sales charts. Meanwhile Adele, who along with Melua and Winehouse is a graduate of the Brits Performing Arts and Technology School, has already fulfilled predictions of chart success with a number one album, and a Brit Award.

40-something mother

Mick Hucknall's soaring vocals helped Simply Red's brand of polished white-boy soul to become the soundtrack for the post-Thatcher era. Stars, re-released this week, contains perhaps their most recognisable song – "Something Got Me Started" – and was the biggest-selling UK album two years running in 1991 and 1992.

Perhaps surprisingly, Take That are also a favourite of this age group. Such was the group's popularity in the first half of the decade that their break-up prompted fears for the nation's youngsters, whose adoration had earned the boy band nine platinum discs for their first three albums. The return 10 years later – minus Robbie Williams – saw their old popularity instantly rekindled. Their comeback album, Beautiful World, went straight to number one, while the boy – now man – band completed a series of sell-out shows, scooping this year's Best Live Act at the Brits.

A special edition of the Canadian-born singer Michael Bublé's Call Me Irresponsible enjoyed a 127 per cent sales boost on Valentine's Day and is likely to benefit from another spike this week.

50-something mother

Where mum rock meets granny rock, the fiftysomething demographic bestrides a vast array of styles. Crossover stars such as the Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli may be panned by classical critics but he sells by the lorryload – 60 million albums to date. The blind singer's Mother's Day offering is the new album Live in Tuscany.

Michael Jackson's status as one of the giants of pop music has been fatally undermined by his car crash of a private life, but his record company was banking there was still sufficient appetite for a 25th anniversary release of his epic long player Thriller – and their hopes were rewarded when it clinched the number three position on the UK album charts this week.

The Lebanese-born singer songwriter Mika's first album, Life In Cartoon Motion, spawned six singles. A professed vocal range of five octaves has elevated him to a staple of the daytime radio playlists, helping him to build a loyal inter-generational army of fans.

60-PLUS mother

They were there at the birth of rock'*'roll and many are still keeping the spirit alive. Cliff Richard, who had his first hit in 1958 and who with Elvis Presley is the only artist to chart in every decade since, is still going strong. His longevity has earned him a new credibility: Sir Cliff recently graced a special Q magazine edition celebrating 50 years of the best of British music.

Daniel O'Donnell from Donegal is another evergreen – not to mention a friend of Sir Cliff. Despite his commercial success – he has 20 UK albums and 15 top 40 singles under his belt – the "Mammies favourite" remains an easy target for satirists, memorably as Eoin McLove in Father Ted.

Johnny Mathis, 72, best known in the UK for his Seventies Christmas hit "When a Child Is Born", but has enjoyed one of the most glittering careers in popular music. He picked up a long-service Grammy to mark 25 years in the business in 1975, going on to enjoy several more decades of success.

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