Posh pop: there's blue blood on the tracks

For every musical genius who has heaved themselves up from the gutter there's a rock star with a posh past (which they'd be happy to keep quiet). Steve Jelbert doffs his cap
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The Independent Culture

It's hardly worth mentioning any more that everyone's current favourite pop sensation, New York's The Strokes, are nice lads from good homes who met at reputable private schools. They've never hidden it, or particularly used it, although the rowing community may now be wondering whether their name holds any double meanings.

It's hardly worth mentioning any more that everyone's current favourite pop sensation, New York's The Strokes, are nice lads from good homes who met at reputable private schools. They've never hidden it, or particularly used it, although the rowing community may now be wondering whether their name holds any double meanings.

There are direct precedents too. The core of Television, the classic Seventies band they're often compared to, met at boarding school, and the Beastie Boys have always been forgiven for their distinctly toney backgrounds. Then again, the Beasties have always made considerably better music than London equivalents such as, say, Curiosity Killed The Cat or Jamiroquai.

It's only an issue if someone tries to deny their upbringing. Jim Morrison, son of an admiral, surprised his parents by telling the press they were dead, the little tinker. Joe Strummer's punk credibility was harmed for a few hours (things moved fast then) when it transpired that The Clash frontman was not a bored teenager but the son of a diplomat.

It shows that rock'n'roll has always been remarkably inclusive. Look at the example of Elvis Presley, a truck driver who became The King. As a correspondent to Viz once pondered, what will we call Prince Charles when he ascends to the throne? Then there's Prince Rogers Nelson, a short man who became, er, Prince before renouncing his honorific, like Tony Benn.

Posh Spice earnt her name as the girl at her comprehensive with the biggest swimming pool. Perhaps relative to her fellow singer/hoofers she's posh, but in her natural role as part of the shipboard entertainment she'd never receive an invite to the captain's table.

Nonetheless truly posh people hate to be found out. For celebrity does not respect the high-born.

Louis Eliot of the hapless Britpop stragglers Rialto has spent years trying to shake off his "The Honourable" prefix, which comes with being the son of the Earl of St Germans, yet when The Daily Telegraph interviewed his band a few years back, what did they concentrate on but Rialto's Unique Selling Point, his upper-class background. (Oddly his records at the time sounded like mannered versions of Pulp's "Common People".) Shame. He should shout it out. A rapper would kill (possibly) for a moniker like "The Honourable Louis". Then again, if Nicky Haslam was your cousin you'd probably keep shtum too.

It's in his blood though. Decades before, his father, Peregrine, (don't you just love those wacky names?) was a partner in the merchandising company which had signed a rather advantageous 90/10 per cent split of royalties on Beatle memorabilia with a less than prescient Brian Epstein. (Reportedly, he needed cash to re-carpet the ancestral pile. It's lucky he didn't need the 130 chimneys swept...) The Eighties saw the Elephant Fayre, a Cornish mini-Glastonbury, held on his attractive estate. These days dull, or "classical", music events are held there.

That decade also saw the rapid demystification of the nobs. Princess Diana's frank, honest admission to enjoying the music of Duran Duran saw her described as an airhead by many (but not her target audience of teenage girls).

An actual band of toffs called The Business, led by distant royal relative Lady Teresa Manners regularly appeared in the tabloids, looking embarrassingly uncool and thus inculcating republican values in the young. Perhaps they were a plant. No one normal ever heard them of course. Like Ceroc and polo, such experiences will never be enjoyed by those of us who don't make six figures pa.

Occasionally the blue bloods reach the real charts. Princess Stephanie of Monaco, a seaside resort which thinks it's a country (like Brighton), had a few disco hits in France, not that that counts as success. Here David Dundas, son of the Marquess of Zetland (not a pub), charted in 1976 with the ad jingle "Jeans On", apparently the USA's last ever mono hit and later sampled by Fatboy Slim. Later he really raked it in, by penning the four-note flourish which introduced every programme on Channel 4 and for years picked up a royalty for each play.

Yet the upper classes should make ideal pop stars. They swear while eating, have no conception of money's true value, are scornful of safe bourgeois standards and normal people can't understand a word they're saying. By such criteria Liam Gallagher should be ruling the world, or at least playing Ivan The Terrible.

Much duller are public school boys who've felt the urge to express themselves. Certainly if the examples of Genesis (Charterhouse) or Nick Drake (Marlborough) offer any clues, old clichés of such institutions resembling prisons, with their traditions of poor catering, unexpected sodomy and unofficially sanctioned violence, may have some truth. Both bands were renowned for keeping their heads down and avoiding eye contact (though Genesis did it in stadia, employing a cheeky Cockney costermonger to deal with tradesmen and the audience).Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson learnt about fencing at Oundle School, unlike his East End bandmates, who learnt at the back bar of the local boozer.

But times have truly changed. With no empire to defend and little sign of a land war involving Britain breaking out anytime soon, young people in search of danger have to take their chances by going to clubs and taking dodgy pills instead. No wonder so many clergymens' kids are involved in dance music.

Tim Westwood, voice of hip hop and Halford's, is the son of the Bishop of Peterborough, while one half of Basement Jaxx (Felix? Simon? Is there a Toby in there?) instantly recalls his childhood on hearing the word "vicarage".

Perhaps this imagined nostalgia is what tempts the common to act posh. Madonna's "Jean Brodie innit" pronunciation hasn't passed unremarked, but being the Queen of Pop who never carries money, she can get away with it. Keith Moon's "dear boys" were sadder and as for miner's son Bryan Ferry's reinvention as a dull posh bloke, it's wrong. We don't need more of them. We need better, funnier ones.

We must pay tribute though to Ingram Cecil Connor III, aka Gram Parsons, music's greatest ever posh boy. Wealthy enough to bring his own stash while hanging out with The Rolling Stones, and responsible in many eyes for inventing country-rock (and therefore The Eagles, though mercifully Parsons was long dead by the time they ruled the hit parade), this Harvard educated, trust funded Georgian junkie had it all. He couldn't sing too well, was hated by the country stars he sought to emulate and died leaving no heir. Now that's an aristocrat...