Are Heritage Acts the Bed Blockers of Music?

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?

This entry was posted in Music Opinion and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Are Heritage Acts the Bed Blockers of Music?

  1. Synthetase says:

    I would suggest it’s more likely to be the latter rather than the former. Surely most of the money hoovering is done to baby boomers who wouldn’t have otherwise gone out to a gig played by anyone born after 1975?

  2. Let me turn the situation around:

    Why are so many new bands choosing to appeal to “heritage fans”?

    New bands should be chasing new audiences, not trying to steal old audiences. The Rolling Stones didn’t become huge by appealing to Vera Lynne’s fans, they did it by appealing to the potential fanbase who wouldn’t give their parents’ music the time of day.

    So if you don’t want to compete with the Rolling Stones, play something that doesn’t sound like the Rolling Stones.

    Ironically, the bands we dismiss as bubblegum pop understand this better than the bands we label “progressive”. Notice how it’s a fan of “progressive” music that is raising the question? Fans of Bieber or Beyonce [or substitute trendy pop act of the moment] aren’t wondering why people are going to see heritage acts instead of their idols. Because their idols are playing music that appeals to fresh audiences, not heritage audiences.

  3. Tim Hall says:

    You could turn that argument on its head too. Is any music that appeals exclusively to one and only one generation really any good?

  4. Yes that’s a valid question too. Though it also leads to the elitist conclusion that classical music is inherently the best music there is. (A false conclusion: it’s simply that it’s old enough to have proven itself. Let’s give pop another two generations and see what is being listened to.)

  5. Tim Hall says:

    You can never predict what will and won’t stand the test of time; what has survived from previous eras isn’t the stuff that might have been expected. Who would have thought some of the cheesiest disco records would age better than earnest singer-songwriters from the same era.

    You can make educated guesses, though. It’s unlikely that anything highly derivative will last, because future generations will just skip the pastiche and go back to the originals. There are a few current prog bands I could name there…