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Why Rock of the Aged just doesn’t Roll


Elderly Portuguese winemaker sings for the Queen

Isn’t life strange? You long for your favourite bands and singers to visit South Africa – and they do. Only they wait 50 years before getting around to it and when they finally get here they’re utterly overshadowed by somebody called Lady Gaga, who (you are told) clads herself in meat and whose only redeeming feature seems to be that she is not Justin Bieber.

There was a moment at the British monarch’s jubilee celebration concert in front of Buckingham Palace the other day when an elderly winemaker from Portugal came on and started singing. He looked as perplexed as anybody else, and even her majesty seemed to peer quizzically at the stage for a second before going back to thinking of England.

Then he opened his mouth and suddenly everybody knew who he was – Cliff Richard, who seemed to have forgotten that he was not all that much younger than his queen and that he wasn’t supposed to be stomping around like that at his age. At least not with anybody watching.

Cliff traipses out to South Africa every few years to remind himself that there are people outside of England who have heard of him. He started coming out here decades ago, but who knew he was such a trendsetter? Now every time you look around there’s some old boy limping up to a microphone and wheezing out what at first you presume to be a cover version of a Hollies song, or isn’t that so-and-so by Uriah Heep, or hang on, that sounds like that song the Moody Blues used to do.

The Moody Blues

And then the horrible truth dawns. It is Uriah Heep. They are the Hollies. That’s the actual Moody Blues. And look, there’s Procol Harum – oh no, sorry, one of the old boys had a bit of a fall at his hotel and they can’t make it.

There are some old chaps who transcend the notion that they should all be put out to pasture before they embarass themselves – or us. I’d pay to see Bob Dylan perform live at 90 (that won’t be long now). And Paul McCartney brought out a live album about three years ago in which he sounded like a 35-year-old. Mark Knopfler will always be cool.

And I’d walk a marathon to see the Kinks. But you don’t want to see Herman’s Hermits live in 2012. Or the Hollies.

The thing about the Hollies was that they had soaring young voices. And it’s not as though they were expecting any kind of longevity. They released a Greatest Hits album in 1967, before they’d even had some of their greatest hits. What does that tell us? That they thought, in 1967, that it was pretty much all over and that they’d better try to get some more dosh out of their old hits. That was before they’d recorded Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress, He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother and The Air That I Breathe.

The Hollies Greatest Hits, somewhat prematurely

On the 1967 best of collection were I’m Alive (they might want to reissue that as I’m Still Alive), Bus Stop (Bus Pass?), Just One Look (Pass my Specs Please, Love), I Can’t Let Go (Of My Zimmer Frame) and On A Carousel (Gimme me a Hand Up, Mate).

The Moody Blues came out to Cape Town the other day with Procol Harum and 10cc, a band named after the amount of semen the average man coughs up, although you have to wonder if they’d be able to manage 10cc collectively now. Ah, The Things We Do For Love (Oh Shove it, Let’s Watch the Telly Instead).

I recently bought a Moody Blues greatest hits album and decided I’d rather remember them as they were than watch them “live” at GrandWest doing Nights in White Longjohns or I’m Still a Singer in a Rock n Roll Band (But Not For Much Longer, I Promise).

As for I Know You’re Out There Somewhere, that must have had the audience in stitches or waving back shouting, ‘We’re over here’.

Procol Harum’s fans should be grateful not to have been exposed to the spectacle of a bunch of old boys singing about turning cartwheels across the floor. We’d all be feeling kind of seasick after that.

So no, thank you, I’ll keep the old bands in my memory box or CD cabinet for when I’m feeling nostalgic about the old fellas. I really don’t want to see the Hollies live at my local pub doing He Ain’t Heavy He’s Just My Granddad, the Moody Blues reworking Isn’t Life Strange (When You Can’t Quite Manage it Any More) or Uriah Heep screeching There She Was on a July Morning (Oh No, Hang On, it Might Have Been August).

But I would pay for a ticket to see McCartney live, just as long as he doesn’t do When I’m 93. I might not be around by then.

First published in Weekend Argus June 2012


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