Loads of people my age (i.e. around thirteen at the time of ‘Metal Guru’) love to bore the current crop of spotty Spotify slaves that guitar-based pop and rock music was somehow *better* twenty or thirty years ago but you know what? We’re right. Certainly in terms of the traditional template of drums, bass, guitar and vocal (with occasional embellishment by keyboard and/or sax) it would surely seem pretty obvious to even the most casual observer that everything that could possibly be written and/or sung about has been done already during a period when it was being done for the first time and when a distorted electric guitar was almost as astounding as an alien landing and an unsmiling band photo seemed as dangerous as the French Revolution.
Nothing much lasts forever though and guitar-based rock, just like trad jazz or bebop, had a life-span (quite a good innings actually compared to some others). Nobody is saying ‘don’t bother’. None of us are thinking that new guitar bands are wasting their time if they’re having a good time and bringing good times to others. It’s just that the same old shapes and chords and haircuts and clothes have become, you know…so…
For the majority of ‘kids’ these days the Strat-toting hero must be as archaic and puzzling as Kenny Ball and his trumpet was for mine.
But it’s the structure that’s at fault as much as the inherent limitations of the genre. Truly meaningful and exciting guitar music needs a context and this context has been neutralised. As we all know, the BBC is desperate for an argument to retain Radio 1 and 2 so therefore it has conjured up this ‘supporting new music’ thing which gives exposure to new bands and artists. Nothing inherently wrong with that of course but I do sometimes feel that the support it offers is fundamentally insincere and superficial (what happens when you’re no longer ‘new’?) and that it creates musical ghettos by providing ‘indie’ shows, ‘dance’ shows etc. where once there was only John Peel and one or two other eclectic maverick types who offered sessions and airplay to all manner of weird shit regardless of genre or, indeed, sometimes talent…(but that’s another story). Danny Baker has often moaned about the fact that these stations are now play-listed to the hilt and there’s no space for that famed ‘fuck me’ factor that Peelie often talked about. Shows are planned like military manoeuvers and all the relevant ‘boxes’ have to be ticked. This strict regulation- coupled with the fact that the charts are effectively dead- is a deadly double whammy for a fundamentally confrontational genre like ‘indie’ guitar rock which thrives on a certain outsider chic. Because, come on, where do you go if there’s no ‘outside’ anymore?
Seeing ‘your’ band on TOTP was such a thrill because you felt that, somehow, the likes of Blackburn and DLT really hated Morrissey and/or Pete Shelley and it made you love those bands even more. Without the charts the Buzzcocks and the Smiths would not have reached a wider crowd (or, just as importantly, pissed off my dad). The charts were the key to a stage where millions watched every week and the charts- even a modest chart run of a few weeks- could be the basis of a career in the 80s just as much as it was in the 60s. They were doubtlessly rigged up to a point but they were the closest thing to an objective democracy pop music ever had and if Englebert outsold the Fabs, well, so be it. The charts was a vibrant and varied animal which *really* introduced new music to people without any sort of agenda. You had Dylan alongside Black Lace. The Pistols alongside Boney M. Pop was a weekly thing for years. It sparked arguments. Created tribes. Annoyed parents. Shocked entire generations.
Now, for better or for worse, we’re all on our phones in a silent world where everything is a hit and where nothing is. Pop has become timeless, but not in a good way. The conditions required for controversy and outrage aren’t there anymore and sneering boys and girls with Fender Mustangs and squalling feedback have become as familiar and as safe as tweeting feathered thrushes where once they snarled like strident monsters.