It’s funny how, as we get older, the people we worship as ‘stars’ are rarely the current ones; I mostly don’t know who these are – I go to bed when Graham Norton is on telly, leaving Him Outdoors to watch and learn. For me and HO most of our music echoes in a Star-Trekian time-warp, circa 1970. Fortunately we share both memories and musical tastes, apart from his unfortunate attachment to Madonna perhaps. The years of our Uni time together resonated with Cat Stevens, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Don Maclean, Leonard Cohen and many more. At the time I wasn’t keen on Leonard’s dismal droning (as I thought), probably because I didn’t understand what he was about. It’s sad now to see he’s gone, and with hind-hearing I can appreciate him these days.
So, we still listen to that generation, the ones who crooned as we spooned in the coffee bar after lectures, and the people we saw at folk clubs, and in the Students’ Union – the likes of Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention. Strangely now these performers are resurfacing, often in massive venues on international tours. Possibly they never went away but we just lost touch, buried in work and family life.
My personal hero is Stevie Wonder and we saw him in Manchester a few years ago at astronomical expense, especially as I insisted we went back a second time. I forgave him the oversized caftan -after all none of us can stay as slim as we’d like. In the last year or two we’ve seen more recent idols – Craig David (something of Stevie about him?) and then Madonna, in Amsterdam – partly as a payback for HO. She was impressive, as a kind of subversive Barbie, but heavily propped by the staging, band and dancers, and certainly by supportive underwear. She set foot on stage so late that we nearly missed the last train – and here the Practical outweighs the Artistic when you get too old to spend the night in a car park.
This year has seen us re-surfing with Brian Wilson, of the Beach Boys. Glad we had watched the Biopic though, Love and Mercy, or we might have been disappointed. He looked world-weary, and affected by his past medication, and he had to be helped out with his high stuff by Al Jardine’s son. But there was sparkling sand and sunshine in the music still.
The summer took us to Hyde Park, the tickets an amazing present from the kids. We squatted for hours in the blazing sun, barefoot on a groundsheet (hiding the pre-chewed gum) to see a series of performers, some of whom we enjoyed. When Carole King finally walked onstage any discomfort disappeared like the ice in our drinks, and the old magic was back. We smooched and shimmied like everyone around us. She looked fantastic and we didn’t mind that her daughter was drafted in to take a few high notes. I was moved enough to splash out mega-bucks for a Tapestry tee-shirt, and only partly because of the picture of her cat.
Now we’re just back from Amsterdam again, having enjoyed the favourable economics of a trip to the huge but audience-friendly Ziggo Dome – better than travelling to London, and a lot more fun. Still Crazy was Paul Simon (sans Garfunkel of course) – and after all these years, which have hardly touched him. At 75 he was prancing around the stage like Billy Elliot, and his voice was absolutely unchanged. Of course the lack of big screens might have stopped us seeing the wrinkles, given that he was a distant blur on the stage, but then it’s nice not to know sometimes. That’s why I don’t wear my glasses when looking in the bathroom mirror.
So now, the last one this year, Ralph McTell. A guy with talent and charisma whose intimate performances in small venues outshine all the eye-blinding and ear-blasting. He’s most definitely aged gracefully, and he’s the kind of chap who surely carries a man-kerchief in his pocket, or even his shoulder bag (see A Hand-Bag?). When you’re older Time becomes a concertina, he said, only you never grow up if you keep a little sand in your shoes. Too true.
I was sorry to miss Stevie this year. I would definitely have braved the chewing gum to see him in Hyde Park, but our daughter was our proxy. The long hours were apparently almost worth it, but then she’s not the same generation. Perhaps at our age she’ll be queuing up to see an elderly Beyoncé, or Justin Bieber.
It’s not unusual for us to have sand in our shoes these days, living near the sea as we do. I hope that won’t change. I also hope I last long enough to catch up with Stevie again. If so I’ll be the wrinkly one in the front row wearing an outsize caftan.