Ageing country fans mourn 'day the music died'

THERE'LL be tears over the cold beer and hash browns today. Tammy Wynette's charms are fading and Slim Whitman had better get on a rejuvenating diet. The age of rap and techno has claimed its first victim - country music was yesterday declared dead. Young people in Britain are embarrassed by the ageing stars and their increasingly politically incorrect obsessions with cowboys, drink and divorce.

Yesterday, the normally arcane research booklet from the Policy Studies Institute on cultural trends had a chilling footnote tucked away in its section on music-buying habits. Less than 1 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds bought a country or folk album last year. In the 16-24 age group, the figure was too low to register in the data.

The Policy Studies Institute researcher, Jeremy Eckstein, normally a good ole boy when commenting on art forms, audibly spat out his chewing tobacco when asked why younger people had deserted the Nashville stars. 'It is very much a dying genre, whose appeal will disappear completely as its ageing fans fail to be replaced by a younger generation of aficionados. Very few young people are able to identify with a country musician in a check shirt strumming away on a guitar.'

Down in the cornfields of Sussex, Jim Marshall, chairman of the British Country Music Association and a BBC broadcaster of country music programmes, accepted there was an itty bitty problem, but forecast a growth in the new wave, alternative country music. 'There's a magazine out now called Lonesome No More,' he said. 'It's an underground thing. There's alternative country now, a different image. Traditional country is still very popular in the States, but over here it's true that the audience is middle aged and elderly.

'Young people don't feel comfortable with Billie Jo Spears and Tammy Wynette. But the record companies keep putting out compilations by them and ignoring the new talent

'In the States there are new country singers like Garth Brooks and Suzy Boggus, who are enormously popular.'

What then is the difference between the new singers of the country underground and the old stagers?

'Well,' mused Mr Marshall, 'They're younger.'

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