Arts: A week in the arts

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Indy Lifestyle Online
SOME SCORN has been poured on poor old John Prescott because he decided, after his dousing at The Brits, to stay doggedly on so that he could watch Fleetwood Mac. Had he hung on wet and furious for Shola Ama or All Saints, the cynics say, he might have redeemed at least a little street cred for New Labour. But Fleetwood Mac?

As it happens, I'm with Prescott on this one. From where I sat at last Monday's show, Fleetwood Mac gave the best set not by a whisker but by a mile, and the London Arena can rarely have seen so many people of all ages up and boogie-ing as during that all too brief 15 minutes or so.

The state of middle-aged rock, even for those bands that do not possess the ever-ethereal Stevie Nicks, remains reasonably healthy as far as live performance goes. What is more puzzling, and a lot more interesting, is the state of middle-aged rock writing. The Stones' new album is actually rather good, but does not contain a true classic. Paul Simon's new musical is his worst album ever; Paul McCartney's latest signals a renaissance, but he also has not really delivered for years. Pete Townshend and Ray Davies, writers of English eccentricity, whose songs captured both the optimistic spirit and the neuroses of an era, seem to have given up.

It's a massive irony that live performance, which was supposed to limit the life-span of rock 'n' rollers, still sees the big names playing big arenas. Yet composing, which makes no demands on waist or hairlines, finds them wanting. Roger Daltrey of The Who once told me that he was disappointed that all pop composers can deal with young love, but none had tackled the subject of middle-aged angst. He was particularly disappointed, he added, that The Who's composer, Pete Townshend, had not tackled the subject, a subject that would have appeared made for him. Townshend in turn told me that he and his contemporaries had a youthful energy in the Sixties which was now gone.

It's true that most rock and pop composers seem rooted in their first subject matter, find it unsuitable and virtually throw in the towel. I've never really understood why. In no other musical form, from opera to jazz, are writers redundant in their middle years.

They are often on the verge of their greatest works. And even if they find the neuroses and occasional joys of middle age inappropriate, why can't the pop composers simply continue with the subject matter of their youth? There should be no reason why Paul McCartney couldn't write "Penny Lane" now. But somehow we don't expect him to, and he doesn't expect himself to either.

I think there is a sense among the writers that the medium is no longer appropriate for them, leading to a sense of insecurity. Thatstruck me when I received a phone call recently from a polite chap saying he ran a band, it was about to go on a tour and could I give them a plug? Which little garage outfit was this, I wondered wearily? "We're called Fairport Convention," he said helpfully. The architects of British electric folk should be a lot more sure of themselves. So should all our middle-aged songwriters. As far as street cred goes, a great new song is worth more than a dozen jugs of water poured over a Cabinet minister.

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