Are you too old for gigs?
Are you too old for gigs?

Is there a point in life when you are too old for rock n roll?

Are you too old for gigs?

I’m 45 now and, when I go away, I’ve started taking my own food with me. It started with bags of nuts but has now extended to porridge. This worrying sign of ageing has pushed me into trying new things that help me feel young again. My purple boots are back, my hair is once again short and choppy and I’ve started listening to Dubstep.

It also means I’ve developed a form of Tourette’s where I say yes to anything that has the whiff of youth. Which is why, last week, I found myself in the basement of a well-known Northern Quarter pub with my mate John and his mate Pete, who I’d met for the first time.

Some hip Canadian band were playing. The bearded youngsters smoking out front told me they were, apparently, part of a new genre. But so many obscure band’s names were being bandied about, I wondered if everyone was working for MI5 and had to talk in code.

After we’d bought our soft drinks (work next day, can’t be doing with hangovers) we went downstairs to watch the support band. The entrance to the space was blocked by a boy who, with his thick glasses and anxious expression, seemed to have styled himself on the geek chic of early Woody Allen films, in which he constantly fails to get the girl. I felt like leaning towards him and going “Boo!” as I handed over my £2.

We found a bench at the back of the darkened room and settled down. A few minutes later I noticed we’d all got our legs crossed in exactly the same way and looked like Last of The Summer Wine on tour. The band came on and the guitarist brutally thrashed out a series of chords. The hirsute singer, wearing a leather skullcap in the style of a 1920s American footballer, began to make a wailing noise like a vacuum cleaner sucking up a rug. The barman, who was drinking tea from a chipped cup, checked his watch and put his head in his hands.

About 40 people gathered round this pseudo-Punk foursome. Drinks were held at regulation height, just in front of the chest. Boys, all with laces undone on their scruffy Converse boots, started doing the leg twitch and nodding head thing, and girlfriends clung to their partner’s waists, clearly hoping it wasn’t just them who didn’t get it.

The first song came to a merciful halt and a bleached blond woman in her 60s, who must have been the singer’s gran, called out “We love you!” in an Essex accent. The Mancs stayed quiet and for the next nine numbers the group didn’t dare leave any space in between songs, possibly in case it offered the chance for heckling. It was obvious why we’d been charged to come in. The simple Northern psychology of not wanting to waste our money was the only thing keeping us there, which Woody must have worked out in advance.

Finally the combo either ran out of songs or realised that if they didn’t leave soon they’d been lynched. As the last note withered someone shouted “Congratulations”. I couldn’t tell if it was an ironic dig at the band or a compliment to the audience for having endured the past half hour. A guy, slightly out of place with black shiny shoes, turned to his mate and said, “You never know what you’re going to get, do you?”. That’s true for so much of life.

19 COMMENTS

  1. I knew I was going to have fuin with this one when I saw the title, but I didn’t realise how much fun until I read it…

    As I hurtle towards the big Four O – just four months away now! – I’ve often wondered if I’m too old to go to gigs. Shouldn’t I be doing something more age appropriate? Um, knitting? Do I really want to go out tonight and spend three hours in a pub with people half my age watching bands whose members may not even have been born at the point where I achieved legal drinking age? But then I counter this thought with the simple phrase – What would Alan do?

    I met Alan in 2003 or 2004, I can’t remember exactly which. We met watching our jointly beloved British Sea Power and were soon sharing music tips as we both had a fervent interest in new music. He was from London and I was from Manchester so we would often tip each other off about the next big things coming out of our respective cities. If I was down there with one of the new bands I worked with, often playing their first shows in the capital, he would always come along to check them out – and it was on Alan’s recommendation that I saw, for example, Camden art-agitators Selfish Cunt very early on in their career and wrote one of their first reviews outside of London.

    Alan never had to worry about whether a gig was a weeknight or not… because he was retired. Early-retired, sure, but retired nonetheless, and in his late fifties – it amused me no end that I had been despatched to see a band called Selfish Cunt by a man old enough to be my dad. I didn’t think they were all that – but that didn’t really matter. I was, and still am, always open minded enough to want to check out a new band and give them a go. Sadly the same can not be said for Alan, as he passed away about a year ago after a battle with cancer. People always refer to “a battle with cancer” but in Alan’s case it genuinely was – he had much the same attitude towards something that kept him away from his beloved live music as I think I would. Until he became too weak he would still try and make it out to gigs, and once sent me a message apologising for his non-attendance at a gig a good friend of mine was playing to which I had blanket-invited all my London mates. He had hoped to come, he said, but he\’d just finished an intense chemotherapy session and wasn\’t feeling too great. At his funeral, his choice of send-off music was a track from a new and at that point unreleased album.

    So how old is too old to go to gigs? The answer is not a number but an attitude.

    At 39 I rarely go three days without seeing a band. I average well over 200 gigs a year and these range from the elderly heritage acts (but not too many – they take the piss with ticket prices and anyway, who wants to live in a museum?) to the debuts of newcomers, and everything in between. I review probably 100 of them (maybe more, I\’ve never counted) for the website I co-manage (with a 45-year-old, incidentally) and I do this not because I\’m trying to be something, or because I have to, but because I want to. I have an almost insatiable appetite for new music, I don\’t like a week to pass without me catching at least two or three bands I\’ve never seen before (it rarely does, except during the Chrimbo break) and I don\’t like the idea of there being bands I haven\’t seen yet. Which is one of the reasons I was in the Bay Horse last Thursday too.

    This was my take on proceedings, and it\’s a bit different to the man in the corner…
    http://www.music-dash.co.uk/live/live.asp?item=2277

    I realise now I made a mistake with the line “Everyone watching – the young and hip, older music fans, a few members of local bands, even the fiftysomething mother of one of them – enjoys them immensely” but what can I say – I wasn\’t really paying attention to the people sat uninterested at the back, only those I saw at the front enjoying the music, or the many more I spoke to afterwards. Male and female. I\’m someone\’s girlfriend and so was the other girl in our little crew, and we both got it. I’m sorry you didn’t.

    Oh, and about my mate\’s mum. (I\’ll gloss over the fact that you put ten years on her). My mate, the singer of a renowned local band, had told me she was coming up to stay and could I find a decent gig he could take her to, something she\’d like. She\’s still well into her music but doesn\’t really get much chance in her native rural Devon (Essex? Best not tell her that bit either…) and as I told her in the pub earlier, the DIY scene in Manchester is a friendly and welcoming one where age doesn\’t matter: one of the most switched-on “new band radar” people I know, who\’s at pretty much every hip gig in town, is around her age anyway. She really enjoyed the bands, and yeah, she had had a couple of drinks and expressed her enjoyment in a rather unorthodox manner but I can assure you it was real, and she had a chat with the band afterwards to tell them as much.

    (As an aside, I find it interesting that my aforementioned 50-something hipster mate, the late Alan I wrote about earlier, and indeed the various other grey haired men I see at gigs, are rarely presumed to be a band member\’s (gran)dad. Ageism and sexism have always gone hand in hand in the world of music, maybe I was right after all to be worried about my advancing years.)

    So no, Simon, you\’re definitely not too old for gigs and nor am I, but I’m afraid your attitude might be. The lad behind the bar was probably checking his watch because the venue is strictly curfewed and the show was running late because of technical problems, something that is a sad fact of life on the no-budget DIY scene. Still, I wouldn\’t change it for the world. You seemed to have gone to the gig full of preconceptions that you wouldn\’t like it anyway, and it\’s not surprising they were fulfilled. I have plenty of mates my own age who I used to go watching classic bands with way back in the day, who come out with things like “oh all these new bands are rubbish, we were so lucky to have X and Y and Z when we were young” and I think well what\’s the difference between them and the likes of me and dear old Alan, rest his soul? Just attitude. That\’s all. It\’s not unchangeable, either.

    Make the effort: go to Wotgodforgot or Fat Out Til You Pass Out or Stroke Club or Underachievers Please Try Harder or Helmets For Men or Hey!Manchester (to name but a few of the quality new bands nights currently running in Manchester), get to touring bands\’ gigs early and watch the support (especially at places like Ruby Lounge and Sound Control that give good new bands a run out), go with an open mind, don\’t sit at the back. I\’ll be out tonight and several nights next week and the week after, I\’ll see some great bands and some OK bands and some shit bands – because for me, the sentence “you never know what you\’re going to get, do you?” is still the most exciting thing in the world. I hope that doesn\’t change any time soon.

    • Brilliant Cath!! Thanks for that. I smiled all the way through you’re review and at 38 ( although with 2 young babies now) I still try and get to as many gigs as I can ( nothing in your league though ~ I wish!!) and to be honest I rarely take much notice of the crowd as I’m there to see a band, any band, new or old, (willing to give them all a listen) and that’s why I go. I hope I never grow too old to go to gigs and enjoy live music, to be ‘sat’ at the back isn’t me, I just wouldn’t bother. It would be a very sad day when that happens!

  2. When Simon said he took his own food with him, I thought for a moment he meant to gigs, which is something I used to do when I was at school. Money was tight and it meant I could spend more on illicit booze.

    I’m a year younger than him and don’t get out as much mainly due to having two kids. This is the biggest block to seeing live music, not any feeling that I shouldn’t be there. For as long as I’ve seen bands, there has always been a fair sprinkling of grey hairs at most gigs I attend (probably less so for the upcoming, unsigned bands, unless you count their parents, along for support and a lift home).

    My father in law saw the Beatles in the Sixties and says he felt old then as the audience comprised screaming schoolgirls and a few older teenage lads, like him.

    He’s still rock and roll, and is playing a festival in a few weeks time – http://www.efestivals.co.uk/festivals/others2011/woodfest/.

    Of course, he diesn’t need babysitters now.

  3. Excellent article. Stuart’s point about having kids is a good one as finding the time (and, if you’re lucky enough to have another half who likes your kind of music – a babysitter) is a major pain in the arse.

    I’m 42 and started going to gigs again when I hit 40 after a hiatus of regular gig going since about 30. I decided to make the effort to go and see the bands I grew up liking – which was punk. So after a few catch-up months of what was good (helped by Mike Davies on Radio 1 punk show and the wonder of the internet) I jumped back in.

    For the gigs I’ve been to, the age range is really mixed. There’s people a lot older, and a lot younger, but everyone seems to enjoy it and so I focus more on the band. This also helps with coping with the generally shitty venues that the bands play at too.

    I went to my first Rebellion this year and that was an eye-opener. A four day punk festival with ages from 18 to, well, I’m guessing people in their 60’s (other than Charlie Harper). Awesome.

    There isn’t an age to stop, it’s just when you aren’tt hat arsed about music anymore. If you love it, you’ll still go. Just take my tip – buy some earplugs!

  4. I am now in my ’50’s and still go to gigs, never really stopped in fact. The things that get in the way in my experience are these; Work, Kids and Health. I don’t have kids (never grew up myself!) so that’s not an issue but as you start to age you feel it in terms of stamina and if you work, the constraints imposed by the early nights ready to get up in the morning and start all over again. In addition to this, most of my friends stopped going to gigs years ago, so it is very difficult to even find someone to go to with, and I don’t really enjoy going alone; I start to wonder what the hell I am doing there!
    I am a musician and again, never stopped playing. I still gig nowadays but health issues are starting to affect this too; my back is now sometimes too bad to carry any gear and if it’s a late one, I start to flake out even before we are due onstage! Thank god the adrenalin kicks in once we get underway. Not sure I would want to tour seriously again, it just wouldn’t fit in with my current lifestyle.
    As someone has said, age is more about attitude not just numbers, but you can have all the attitude in the world, but without money, health and happiness it means nothing.

  5. Go Cath. I’m also 39 and, while I don’t have the sheer knowledge and insight to get to as many gigs as she does, I go to as many as I’m interested in – which is quite a few – and it’s the most fun I have with my make-up on. I can’t think of anything that matches losing yourself in the music of a band you love as they play it loud right in front of you, and I don’t see what age, gender or anything else has got to do with that.

    I definitely do feel it’s considered more ‘normal’ for blokes of my age and older to be at gigs by hot new things than women, and although that’s probably partly just in my head I get enough expressions of surprise about how into music I am to know it’s not just paranoia, but then again perhaps not too many women in their 30s and 40s get the chance to check out new bands or go gigging on a school night.

    Simon, could it not just be that you didn’t like this band?!

  6. After 28 years of discovering music old and new and going to many gigs, I landed my dream job as Editor of a local music magazine in Norwich this year. This was as a result simply of being incredibly passionate about my subject and having volunteered in many music venues and festivals in and around Norwich. I was also 40 earlier this year. All my contributors and photographers are half my age, as are most of the audiences at the gigs I go to. But I am incredibly proud to have my job and feel I have earn it after so much time skulking around reading the NME and watching great bands. I may live in a rural place, but there’s so much great music here both homegrown and otherwise, and it just shows you don’t have to be 20 and living in London to be able to work in the music industry.

  7. I am 50 next year. I know what I like & I love what I do. The way I walk is the way I walk, the way I talk is the way I talk.

  8. I am a young 62 year old who still attends gigs and last year saw the Fall, Joe Bonamassa and my sons band Tsarbomba Tsarbomba amongst others. I enjoyed the article and agree that some may feel too old for gigs. I have already pre ordered my tickets for The Swans gig in London next year. I still love music and listen to most genres from Reggae through Electronica to Acid Jazz and back to Dubstep by way of Americana. If you love music and it still thrills you will attend and love live music. You are as old as you feel, and I still feel like a21 year old when I listen to music. However attending 3 day festivals is a thing of the past, far too many flakes, fakes and poseurs, far too much mud, discomfort, queues, fast food and time wasting. That’s really for the youth. You should never be too old to rock n roll, well at least for a couple of hours.

  9. I’m older than most the ‘old’ people posting here, but still often go to several gigs a week – I think my record is ten gig nights out in a row – while still getting up at 6AM five days a week for my day job. If you can still handle it physically and are still enjoying it then you aren’t too old. It’s all about you attitude – it’s all in the mind. I go to see bands from major acts at the O2 down to unknown underground bands in grotty pubs. I have no intention of stopping any time soon.

  10. Your NEVER too old. It keeps you young and in touch with what’s happening. I think people often forget inside that 50 year old is a vast amount of music experience, and its in every fibre of your heart and soul. Just because we are of a certain age doesn’t mean we have to be boring old farts sat watching the TV every night, watching shite factor. For many people its a meeting place and to have a catch up with your music mad buddies, a chance to check out new music and to watch some of your favourite bands.

  11. Only dead can be too old. There will always be the ridiculous sanctity around “youth”, Youth is sadly ephemeral, and being too obsessed with it is rather sad. The ONLY thing true in life is that you’re going to die and everyone you love is going to die, and when you’re dead that’s it, game over. So, if you’re 30, 40, 50, whatever, and you want to enjoy rock/pop/alternative, whatever the genre, enjoy it, enjoy life, music is for everyone!!!!!!!!

  12. A great read. I’ve battled with this myself. I went through a phase in my mid-30s where I felt ‘too old’. I stayed in. Watched property programmes on C4. Late night shopping at IKEA. Then something miraculous happened. I saw a local band by accident. They were called ‘Dead! Dead! Dead!’ and they were the most marvellous thing I’d seen or heard since I was about 17. I sought them out on the (new fangled) internet and started going to as many gigs as having 3 kids under 10 would allow (surprisingly many!). I saw their support bands, and their support bands. I didn’t care if I was the oldest there. Often I wasn’t. It didn’t matter. I plucked up the courage and spoke to their bassist. It turned out that my band, Accrington Stanley, had been his early inspiration.

    I stopped caring that I was bald and nearly 40. I started writing again, gigging again and now play more gigs than I ever did in the early 90s. Age is bollocks. Good young bands are great. Crap young bands have time to improve. Older musicians have fewer excuses, but the good ones have kept at it because they love it. That counts for something. You’re only as old as the guitar riff you steal…

  13. What a great read. I too am one of the ‘grey hairs’ at gigs these days. However, being a music reviewer I suppose gives me the perfect disclaimer! I just turned 49 & thought my moshing days were coming to an end, but a recent Wonder Stuff gig would suggest otherwise! Live music is for all ages, long live live music!!

  14. I’m 57 and most often than not you’ll see me down the front of gigs such as The Membranes, Goldblade, Evil Blizzard, Hands Off Gretel, Girls in Synthesis, Crapsons, Spam Javelin, Glove, ILL, The Lovely Eggs, Killing Joke, The Soapgirls, Ginnel, Deja Vega, System of Hate, The Pack, and every other punk/post punk bands on the circuit today, not to mention many more. You’ll continue to see me there either photographing those bands or as an audience member until health stops me. The arthritis may be painful but it won’t ever stop me seeing my favourite bands, don’t let it stop you either.

  15. I’m 57, and in the coming months I’m going to see Snapped Ankles, Comet Is Coming, The Membranes, Acid Mothers Temple, Black Mountain, Boris, Tav Falco, Beak>, Portico Quartet, The Chats amongst others. Have never felt too old at a gig, or been made to feel too old, and hopefully never will.

  16. 47, and not quite the argumentative sod I was at 39 :) but just got in from a brilliant Föllakzoid gig; in the past week or so I’ve watched excellent sets from Edwyn Collins (who just turned 60 himself), Is Bliss (who look very young to me), Snapped Ankles, The Spook School , Plank, Gnod and others, off to British Sea Power’s little festival this weekend, also featuring more Snapped Ankles, one of my favourite newish bands… and the sudden reappearance of this article made me think of an absent friend and I reckon he’d have liked them…

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