David Lister: Ageing British rock bands never die. They just end up performing in the Kremlin

The Week in Arts


It was New Year at the Kremlin.

Russian president Alexander Medvedev was presiding over a splendid dinner. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was present, along with other key officials in the Russian government. And to set the seal on one of the nights of the year in Moscow, the lights dimmed and on, to rapturous applause, came Smokie.

It was at this point, you'd think, that the members of the Seventies' Bradford pop band woke up, whispered "in your dreams" to each other, and headed down the pub for a pint of Theakston's, before entertaining the locals with some good-natured retro rock.

But, no, it really happened. Smokie appear to be one of Mr Medvedev's favourite bands (as are another British outfit of similar vintage, Deep Purple). They were at the Kremlin dinner by his personal invitation, and they are held in high esteem by Russian students, who, according to Smokie's manager, are said to have adapted one of their hits, "What Can I Do", into a drinking song called "Vodka I Do" – though that sounds a bit too neat to be true.

What I particularly treasure is the reminiscence of Smokie bassist Terry Uttley, who said that the Kremlin was showing some signs of austerity since the band last played there in 2004. He noted: "Back then, they served us wines from Joseph Stalin's personal cellar. This time it was Australian Shiraz." Well, that's showbiz, Terry. One minute you're being toasted with Stalin's best claret, the next you're performing a medley of your hits to some Aussie bulk buy.

There are conclusions to be drawn from all this. One is that President Medvedev, for all his undoubted administrative qualities, needs to get out more when it comes to appreciating British music. It is endearing that his taste is frozen in his youth when Smokie's "Living Next Door to Alice" and Deep Purple's "Black Knight" may have been purchased on the Moscow black market for an illicit party. But there is a post-Smokie world out there, a world in which even Deep Purple's most explosive riffs have been surpassed. The British Council should be trying to promote some of our newer bands on to the Kremlin playlist.

Equally, though, it's heart-warming to learn that there is a career trajectory for ageing bands, which assures they are always in demand. They live in a strange nether world, where, long forgotten in their home country, they reach out to new audiences abroad that embrace, not just adoring students, but the greatest in the land.

These Seventies survivors can now hope that there is a world leader out there somewhere who has them in his record collection and dreams of having them perform for him or her at an exclusive soirée. Age is no barrier, still less fashion. Heavy metal, punk, glam rock and all the other forgotten fads will live again in some far-off palace.

Despite the Olympics, the show should go on

Why is the theatre world panicking so much about the Olympics? A poll this week showed that 69 per cent of respondents said they would be watching the Olympics in August, which means that 31 per cent won't. And even among those 69 per cent, there are surely many who might tear themselves away from the TV for a night out at the theatre. Yet all we hear is doom and gloom, with Andrew Lloyd Webber saying this week that he will close some of his theatres while the Olympics are on. As his venues host such blockbuster musicals as Matilda and The Wizard of Oz, this is pretty bad news for West End audiences.

I suspect things won't be nearly as bad as he fears. Theatre and sport are not mutually exclusive, and we will all want a break from track and field. Besides, as Andrew Lloyd Webber knows much better than I, isn't there some defiant old saying that the show must go on?

Too much applause, too much laughter

The return of Absolutely Fabulous has proved rather more enjoyable than one might have expected, or feared. Certainly it's a decade or two removed from its zeitgeist, but the script and cast remain good, and Jennifer Saunders' eye for fashionista hyperbole remains sharp.

But how close the whole thing comes to being spoilt by the excessive laughter, and ecstatic applause, of the studio audience. Surely a once anarchic comedienne like Saunders should be blushing at the riotous applause that greets the entrances by herself and Joanna Lumley. It's the very showbiz worship that she is meant to be satirising. Cut the self-congratulation, Jennifer. You don't need it.

d.lister@independent.co.uk // twitter.com/davidlister1

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Advertisement Sales Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A publishing company based in F...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Affiliates & Partnerships

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This multi-award winning foreig...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Structural Engineer

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Structural Engineer ...

Recruitment Genius: New Business Development Manager - OTE £36,000

£22000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A New Business Manager role sui...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Daily catch-up: the endless and beginningless election campaign goes up and down

John Rentoul
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

What the advertising world can learn from Zoella's gang

Danny Rogers
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor