Six hundred and eighty eight.
That’s the combined age of the three headliners of this summer’s biggest music festivals. Give or take a few years – I ran out of beads on my abacus somewhere around the Boomtown Rats’ keyboard player. Bob Geldof and his band (combined age 348) will headline at the Isle of Wight and Elton John (65) at Bestival, it was announced this week. The Rolling Stones (275) are close to signing on the dotted line for Glastonbury. Meanwhile Paul Weller, Fleetwood Mac and Bon Jovi will also pop up in twilight slots on main stages across the land this summer.
There is nothing wrong with ageing rockers rocking on, especially when they are as fine as these. Let them, if it keeps their joints supple. But do they have to do it at festivals? What were once hedonistic voyages of musical discovery are in danger of becoming Sanatogen-sponsored nostalgia trips. The impulse of festival organisers to reach ever further back into rock’s back catalogue betrays a fatal lack of confidence in today’s scene. There is, they imply, no new band grown-up enough to cope with the Pyramid Stage after 10pm.
They could be right. A look at the Top 10 suggests a scene in dire straits. Les Miserables is at No 1 while Emeli Sandé racks up her 50th week in the chart at No 2. At the Brit Awards later this month, the next generation of British rockstars will be notable by its absence. Richard Hawley (46) is the only rocker up for Best British Male. In the Best Live Act category, just one band – The Vaccines – has emerged this decade. Coldplay, Muse, Mumford and Sons and the Rolling Stones make up the field.
The argument for putting old rockers on the stage is that they are a safe pair of hands – crowd-pleasers who will send the ticket-holders home happy. Fine. There might not, though, be such pressure to please the masses if the tickets weren’t so expensive. A weekend ticket for Glastonbury now costs £205, for Isle of Wight £185, and that’s before you add in a tent, a train fare and multiple tickets for the cider bus. The result is, increasingly, the only people who can afford to go are middle-aged professionals. When organisers book Sirs Mick and Bob they are doubtless thinking of Festival Dad with his expensive camper van parking permit, unlimited Magners budget and a propensity to splash out on falafel for all the family.
Festivals have lost their way as arenas for discovering new music. Organisers should be giving the talents of the future a boost; despite what the Brit jury thinks, there are plenty of artists who are up to the job. Leave the old rockers to their stadiums. Their fans will be far more comfortable there – some of them can have a seat.
Beyoncé's lip-synched performance
Talking of headliners, Beyoncé smacked down the rumblings around her lip-synched inauguration turn on Thursday when she sang the National Anthem live to a room of journalists. The impromptu recital took place at a press conference in advance of the Superbowl this weekend where Beyoncé will provide the half-time entertainment offering a hundred million viewers the chance to try and catch her not moving her lips in time to “Crazy in Love”.
Striding out on to the stage, she launched into a full, two-minute belt-out of the “Star Spangled Banner”, ending with a flourish on a magnificent “braaaaaave”, before asking sweetly, “Any questions?” It was impressive, but the most remarkable thing was not Beyoncé’s octave-straddling but her marshalling of the press pack.
When she asked them “Would you guys mind standing?” they leapt to their feet, fumbling for their iPhones to record the moment. When she hit the high notes, they whooped. And when at the end she flung back her head for applause, they clapped.
Clearly, they do press conferences differently in America. One can barely imagine David Cameron persuading a roomful of cantankerous hacks to stand up, let alone cheer him. But then again, he’s never shown them his top F.