OK, first of all I suppose I should define what I mean by “Heritage Rock”. My meaning here is the way that bands from the past have been repackaged in modern times, leading to an endless stream of reissues of their old albums, generally as expensive and exhaustive box sets, and occasionally leading to bands getting back together (well the members who haven’t shuffled off this mortal coil) to tour so that oldies can relive their teenage years and new fans can see a band they thought long gone.
Secondly, I need to declare an interest here, because there is one band I intend to absolve from any part in this massive marketing exercise, and that is King Crimson. This is because the one thing that Robert Fripp has never done is to live in the past. Yes, the current incarnation of Krim is playing old stuff, much of it very old stuff, but it is not just old stuff played like the original stuff. Also, the current version of Krim is a many-headed beast that is doing Krim things in new ways. Of course, as we are discussing controversies here, feel free to shoot that down.
Thirdly, and this is a personal thing, I originally intended to have a moan about a musical phenomenon that I really have no time for, and that is the Tribute Band thing, but I started thinking about why tribute bands exist, which made me see them as part of the heritage rock industry, and that got me thinking about why the heritage rock industry exists.
Of course, the primary reason for heritage rock is Money (It’s A Gas). All those record labels are sitting on massive piles of treasure in the form of the back catalogues of bands that in many cases ceased to exist at some time in the 1970s. Of course, some of those bands are still, theoretically at least, in existence, some of them in multiple versions, but they aren’t the cash cows that the corporate interests want them to be, but what can a poor boy do (or more accurately, what can a corporate accountant do) ‘cept to sell for a rock ‘n’ roll band?
So, “Where are we now?”, as one late great asked on his penultimate album. I think that he answered himself in the same verse, and that answer is “Just walking the dead”. Now, I don’t necessarily mean actual dead people, although many of those who featured in these bands are no longer with us, and in a few cases, none of them are, which asks the question, well, the greedy corporate heritage rock executive asks the question, “Why not do a hologram show?”. The answer is obvious, really. No, do not do a hologram show. If I want to see the Jimi Hendrix Experience play live, I’ll watch a DVD from Monterey or somewhere else. I do not want to pay a stupid amount of money to sit in a concert venue watching light projections flashing around to a freshly-scrubbed soundtrack from the Isle of Wight, Woodstock or Monterey. Jeez, I’d rather go and watch a Hendrix tribute band. Well, actually, I wouldn’t, but I am not going to rant endlessly about the proliferation of crap bands pretending to be rock gods under names like Shed Zeppelin, Status Quid, Careful With That Cash, Eugene, You’ve Been Fooled Again or The Grateful Bank Manager.
It doesn’t have to be like this, people. The past is over, as is the song. It is gone (really gone) and we really cannot turn back time.
OK, I am lucky. I was there back when Robert Plant really was a Golden God, and I saw him strut his stuff in probably the most massive rock experience I’ve ever experienced more than once, and I can tell you, the memories are still spine-tingling. I feel sorry for people that didn’t see Led Zeppelin in their considerable pomp, but I really cannot support anyone who pines for 1971 and the return of that band. It ain’t gonna happen. Your time really isn’t gonna come. I’ve seen Robert Plant perform several times in recent years, both with Alison Krauss and with his own band, currently operating as the Sensational Space Shifters, and he is amazingly good, as is the band. He even chucks in a few Zep numbers, but, and this is key, he reworks them, they are different and, crucially, he know that they are different because he needs them to be. He doesn’t want to turn into a Led Zep tribute act, but he does have the right to play his own songs how he sees fit, as does Bob Dylan, who often seems to upset his fans by making a new thing out of an old song. I only wish that his old sparring partner Jimmy Page could cut free and put out some new music too. I’d buy it, but I don’t want to buy yet another box set of Zeppelin remasters with extra bonus tracks (although a few years ago, I did get all my Zep CDs replaced with the most recent set of reissues, by the expedient of getting people to buy them for me as Christmas and birthday presents. OK, I cheated, but the remasters do sound good, more like the vinyl, I think.
Anyway, I don’t want to see a Led Zeppelin reunion, I don’t want a Pink Floyd reunion, A Gabriel/Hackett-era Genesis reunion or any other reunions. Those things are never going to be as good as the memories, although I accept the right and the reasons why musicians who were active then might want to revisit their old choons and take them out on tour occasionally. To be honest, I’d rather pay to see Steve Hackett and his band playing the Firth of Fifth than the current Genesis playing anything at all, and perhaps that comes to the heart of the matter.
Heritage rock can exist because of other things than just giant corporations grabbing that cash with both hands and making a profit. Sometimes it can be about active musicians, ones who have never stopped performing, playing their old songs. Steve Hackett is a prime example, as are Fairport Convention, as well as the afore-mentioned King Crimson. I don’t have a problem with that. What I really dislike, despise even, is the greedy and grasping corporations who have looked at the tons and tons of old stuff that they are sitting on, like dragons sleeping on piles of gold, and decided to create a market for music that people have already bought, sometimes several times, by bands that they loved when they were 17 and bands that stopped existing back when punk was a 16th century word for a prostitute, and no one ever wore tartan bondage strides.
Oh, yeah, and I also really, really dislike the fact that The Who didn’t die before they got old. The Who in the early 70s were incredible, they were angry, they sounded like The Who, they were young, the music made sense, Daltrey could still actually sing. Now? You have got to be kidding. I do not want to listen to two old guys banging out “Won’t Get Fooled Again” or “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, just as I don’t want to see wrinkled ancient billionaire Mick Jagger pretending to be a “Street Fighting Man”, and yes, I know it was a bit tongue in cheek back then anyway.
Anyway, I am also giving Nick Mason a free pass with his Saucerful of Secrets band. He is entitled to do whatever he wants with his own music, because he appears to be a) a nice chap and b) he’s doing something new with old things, like Percy Plant does.
I suppose I ought to end with a choon, so I will. I am going to pick something that is by a band that I have loved since the 1970s, and which the heritage rock vampires seem, so far to have overlooked. It is a song about being conned, finding out that it was a con and going on to find out that loads of other people were also conned.
Dixie Chicken by Little Feat