In the last couple of weeks I’ve been to see Blondie at Somerset House, and James Taylor at the O2. I could, too, have shimmied down to Guilfest in Surrey and caught Roger Daltrey, Adam Ant and Echo and the Bunnymen. As well as Daltrey, I’d have been able to see The New Forbidden, fronted by 52-year-old Valentine Guinness and propelled by 60-year-old Loyd ‘Masterchef’ Grossman’s fierce and funky 1968 Gibson.
Now Daltrey, Taylor and Debbie Harry have all passed 60, as have Mick Jagger, Bryan Ferry, Roger Waters, Neil Young and other titans of rock ’n’ roll. But all of these are old pros, doing what they’ve done since they were teenyboppers, and pocketing very handsome cheques indeed.
But Guinness and Grossman: what’s in it for them? And for a claque of 50-plus hipsters with jobs and careers and youthful bands that are long gone? (Grossman’s ‘Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ “rocketed” to number 49 back in 1977, when he was strutting the boards as Jet Bronx and The Forbidden.) Why are they back and gigging?
Of his former spell as a frontman, Guinness says: “I gave it up when I was 40. I thought, you can’t really turn up at the Half Moon [a well-known venue in Putney, London] when you’re 40 – it’s too embarrassing.” But that was then; now that he’s given in to his “subconscious yearnings” and started gigging again, it’s much more fun.
“When I was younger, there was so much pressure. You’d be trying to please record companies, and you’d lose sight of why you were doing it in the first place, which is to write songs and perform them. You end up trying to fit into the formula of what’s working at the time. Without that, it’s liberating.” He and Loyd are writing new songs; songs they played just a month back at Glastonbury and which they will be playing at the Rebellion festival in Blackpool on 6 August.
Guinness adds: “There’s far less ego now, far less infighting and far less ‘musical differences’. People’s pride is less of an issue.”
Fran Fogerty of Senior Service, a covers band, disagrees. “Zimmer rock?” she says, “Zimmer rock! The egos do not get smaller, by any means.”
But is it a buzz? “God, yes. You get attention – and at our age, that’s not to be sniffed at. I mean, we had two young girls screaming at us down at the Troubadour [a London venue, in Earls Court]. Well, squealing.”
You get compliments, too: “£1,500 to be precise. I think that’s quite a nice compliment,” says singer and guitarist Byron Newman of a particularly well-rewarded Senior Service gig. Newman, the only British photographer ever to be on a staff contract for Playboy magazine, is clear about what he gets from the band: “Adrenaline. Simple as that.”
And groupies? “Past that stage, mate. Not that it wouldn’t be nice. But you’ve got to be realistic.”
And playful. Harry Worcester, who’s now 59, fronted the Guzzling Porters in the 1970s and the Business Connection in the 1980s. Then he, too, began to feel playing on was a tad embarrassing and gave up. Until, in the late 1990s, “A friend rang and badgered me and I went along very reluctantly. And then I did the gig, and remembered just how much I enjoyed it. Now I don’t intend to stop doing it – ever.”
Only last week, his band, The Listening Device, supported Bryan Ferry at the Arboretum, Westonbirt, in a gig that attracted around 5,000. “Whether they had all arrived when we went on…”
Worcester’s band has also supported Jools Holland and played at events with Eric Clapton and Ronnie Wood. That’s bigger than “the normal 200” they get at their ten to 15 gigs a year. “But as long as you make a connection, when you come off the adrenaline’s flowing.”
Worcester also likes the lack of pressure that maturity brings. He says: “If we want to play a song that’s ten minutes long, we’ll play one – we don’t care about having hits any more. It’s not a life or death business.”
That said, they’ve cut two albums, and a third is in the early stages. But there’s time: “I’ve no plans to stop. I’ll hobble on stage on my walking stick.”
A walking stick might cramp Guinness’ onstage style. Though he has, he says, given up asphyxiating himself with the mic cord, he likes to work a stage – and when I last saw him at the Cobden Club (off Ladbroke Grove, London, again) there were more than two girls screaming. As for Grossman, he was in the early Seventies a jobbing guitarist who played before crowds of 15,000 in his native USA. The New Forbidden is just as serious an enterprise; they’ve cut an album and yearn to take their Iggy Pop/Lou Reed/American New Wave sound out on tour as a support act.
“We’re not retro fans,” says Guinness, “but we’re not writing songs about getting stuck on the M25. We’re writing songs about teenage angst.” Rock ’n’ roll: it keeps you young.