If you had fallen into a coma in 1980 and just woken up, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’d only been asleep for a day. Cruel World recently creaked its way to a close with sets by ‘iconic’ acts Siouxsie, Iggy Pop, Echo and The Bunnymen, and Love and Rockets. Glastonbury is drawing to a close at the time of writing with performances by The Pretenders, Foo Fighters, Guns N’ Roses, Arctic Monkeys, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Rick Astley, The Lighting Seeds and so on (with Paul McCartney hanging around back stage to pop on and wave like a genial uncle when needed). Further festivals have been announced at Crystal Palace Park with Iggy (again), Blondie, Buzzcocks, Stiff Little Fingers, and a grim sounding Frankenstein’s monster of a band combining former Sex Pistols and Generation X members into ‘Generation Sex’ (groan!). If you fancy hopping on a quick transatlantic flight, you can always catch the Darker Waves festival, held on a Californian beach and featuring a 1980s ‘Best Of’ compilation album line up including New Order, Tears For Fears, B52s, Human League, Echo and The Bunnymen, Soft Cell, Devo, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, The Psychedelic Furs, The Cardigans, and more. All of this wallowing in nostalgia doesn’t come cheap either, with standard tickets averaging £70 and upwards (with hotel, VIP and corporate packages at considerably more, naturally). That may well be within reach of the deep pockets of ageing punks and indie fans with pensions to spend, but just doesn’t feel very rock n’ roll.
Combine that with reportedly mediocre performances by some, poor sound, dreadful acoustic and slower/slurred versions of previously powerful songs, and bands packed out with session musicians to back up the white haired surviving members desperately trying to keep the flagging flame alight for one more pay check and you wonder, did punk ever happen? That was supposed to herald a new dawn, sweeping away the musical old guard (though many of them are still hanging around too). Cover version boy band turned Kings Road boutique revolutionaries, The Sex Pistols lead the charge with Rotten/Lydon claiming to hate Hippies. Yet, here we are in 2023 with a distinctly Hippy looking PiL producing an embarrassingly awful (and unsuccessful) attempt at a Eurovision Song Contest entry, and the punk/indie vanguard now leading the charge to keep milking the feeble embers of that once bright flame, with newer and more inventive bands left wondering when this lot will finally move out of the way to let them shine instead.
Daring to criticise the performance of any of these new rock dinosaurs is inevitably met with an outraged chorus of “but he/she is a legend!” (somewhat ironic in the case of those defenders of Lydon, who made his name insulting and belittling other acts). Of course, no one is begrudging them the right to earn a living from their back catalogue. There are no pension plans for any but the most successful in the music world, and many heritage acts can still put on a great show, honed by years of experience and big money backing. Some are still creating new music that is worth listening to (Peter Hook, Stephen Mallinder, even The Damned, and I’m sure you can think of others) but far too many others are cluttering up stages across the world as their own worst tribute acts to feed their egos and bank balances, and by doing so they are squeezing out new talent, as original punk pioneer Mark Perry so aptly put it in his recent interview with Outsideleft. Does every band you once held dear have to turn into the Rolling Stones, putting out records no one wants to hear and endlessly playing ever longer greatest hits tours? As a result Glastonbury now resembles Groundhog Day (do we really need to see Gilbert O’Sullivan and Rick Astley? Seriously?) and the festival and live music scene has been turned into a ghastly Jurassic Park of 70s and 80s acts. Despite those anguished cries I hear of “but they are icons”, it is high time we had another music revolution to clear the decks of the bleached bones of these heritage acts and open up the way for inventive new music to take its place.