The questions about AC/DC’s future following the forced retirement of frontman Bryan Johnson for health reasons has prompted the question: Are so-called “Heritage Bands” holding music back by denying opportunities to younger bands who still have something new to say?
The ultimate heritage act has to be The Rolling Stones, who still embark on mammoth stadium tours despite having added little of significance to their canon since the 1980s. Given the sort of ticket prices these bands charge, how much money are they hoovering up that might otherwise go to support dozens of smaller bands?
At least some older acts are willing to give bands from the next generation a leg up by inviting them as opening acts. Ritchie Blackmore giving Mostly Autumn the support his arena show in Birmingham is a very recent example. So is Steve Hackett; as well as Mostly Autumn, Anne-Marie Helder and Alan Reed have supported him in some sizeable venues. But at the other end of the scale we have those wretched “Package Tours” where two or three veteran acts share a bill and nobody below bus pass age gets a look in. They seem calculated to appeal to those for who the part of the brain that assimilates new music ceased to function when they had kids.
There isn’t a hard and fast definition of what is and isn’t a heritage act, and it’s not just down to age. I don’t think anyone would begrudge Robert Fripp for what is probably the victory lap for his long and innovative career. His new incarnation of King Crimson is playing brand new material and reinventing their older work. It would have been a different story had King Crimson been playing jukebox versions of “21st Century Schitzoid Man” and “Starless” round the circuit for decades. Likewise Curved Air have recorded an excellent recent album “North Star”, which is more than can be said for John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest’s embarrassingly awful “North”.
So, are older bands who refuse to retire the musical equivalent of bed-blockers in hospitals? Or is it simply that they appeal to an audience of their own generation who have no interest in new music?