Play it again – and keep on playing

The Rolling Stones cop it all the time in the media.

Wrinkled, past it, drug-worn and still determined to prove they’re invincible, we’re told.

True, Keith Richards, who turned 72 last December, can look a little scary sometimes, but not all older musos were as reckless with the drugs and the booze.

As part of the vibrant music scene here in South-East Queensland, many musicians in the 55-plus age bracket still knock it out in clubs, pubs, cafes and restaurants.

When I think back to when my father was my current age in the UK, I really can’t recall a whole generation of his peers actively emulating Count Basie or Tommy Dorsey, or flogging Frank Sinatra or Peggy Lee tribute bands to the local watering holes.

Or maybe I just wasn’t looking.

But today, there are many soloists, duos and bands feeding the nostalgia beast, turning out often good – sometimes very ordinary – renditions of music from the ’50s through to the end of the century.

“It’s changed significantly. They used to put on World War II specials in the RSLs; now they’re looking for AC/DC and Muddy Waters.”

Cynics will say we’re all constantly re-living some past desire for fame, but the reality is we just love playing music – and for many of us, we’ve been playing for so long we have become very good at it.

Every person goes through that oh-so-sensual period of puberty and meeting first loves, and the soundtrack to that incredible experience becomes an integral and treasured part of our lives.

Further on in life, we experience other intense emotional episodes – and again, the music of the time records these moments forever.

Noosa deputy mayor and former Sunshine Coast mayor Bob Abbot is well-known on the Sunshine Coast for his prowess with the harmonica.

He picked up his first “harp” as a 40th birthday present.

“Initially I put it in the cupboard for a couple of years as I didn’t have time to deal with it.

“I was very amateur and occasionally I played some event locally; but it was something I enjoyed, and it was what kept my equilibrium,” Abbot, 65, says.

Musical ability wasn’t in the family lineage as his father was barely musical, sitting around barbecues “strumming a guitar”.

“He didn’t play it properly, basically just keeping time,” Abbot says.

“But now I am more into entertainment I understand what you can exude and what people want to enjoy.”

Abbot has his last hurrah in public life this month, wrapping up a stellar 30-year career in local government, but retirement is the last thing on his mind.

“In the last 15 years as a mayor I played as often as I could, but never got an opportunity to play properly. After my (Sunshine Coast) mayoralty stint in 2012 I found myself wanting to do better so I learned more about tone and melody, and the more I learned the better I got.

“Now I enjoy playing and I’ve been lucky, playing with two bands, and with some great people. We respect each other’s skills and abilities.”

Abbot looks at the local scene and is equally surprised and buoyed by the number of musical seniors in – or still in – the game.

“I think there are a lot of people in my situation who have enjoyed making music over the years but never had the chance to do it properly,” Abbot says.

“They’re starting to come out now, with a bit of a revival in older music. Venues, RSLs, places like that are looking for entertainment that the older generation appreciate.

“It’s changed significantly. They used to put on World War II specials in the RSLs; now they’re looking for AC/DC and Muddy Waters.”

So is it just a Baby Boomer thing? 

Abbot says yes – and no.

“It certainly is a Baby Boomer phenomenon. But I think it will go on; there’s another generation behind us with even more leisure time and they will be doing something similar – they’ll probably be reproducing Lady Gaga songs in 30 years’ time.”

Science teacher-turned commercial photographer Jonathan May plays keyboards in Coast band The Claptomaniacs, a five-piece rhythm and blues outfit covering a range of ’70s music including Clapton and other classics from that decade.

Like Abbot, the 61-year-old ex-New Zealander sees music and photography as a passport to staying active in later years.

“Both music and photography are activities I can pursue well into older age,” he says, but acknowledges that music’s late nights and shifting musical gear to and from venues could be the arbiters of a decision on when to give it away.

May also suffered a stroke 15 years ago, but fully recovered.

He says there will always be a market for audiences wanting to reach back to their teenage years.

“Our generation were teenagers through the ’70s – it’s the teenage music that sticks with you the longest,” he says.

“You are emotionally receptive then. You feel everything more keenly and it makes a lasting impression. You play that music now and people say that’s when it really was music.

“It’s so enjoyable to play and it keeps your mental facilities tuned up.

“It’s five people trying to coordinate something quite complex so that it doesn’t turn into a train wreck.”

Greg Eastwood is another child of the ’70s. Now 55, Eastwood started classical piano at age nine, and had evolved into the modern music scene by age 17.

He has been involved in the family business in Brisbane for 38 years, but has always made time for his greater love – music – throughout that time.

“We grew up on Little River Band, Steely Dan, the Doobies – serious music, which is making a comeback,” he says.

Now it’s back to the future for him, as he leads the Little Steely Brothers, which covers a range of ’70s music – and he’s “gobsmacked” by it.

“My musical career has never been better,” Eastwood says.  “The irony is we are having more success now than at any other time in my musical career.

“There’s always a good turnout of fans and I am just gobsmacked by how well it’s going in the twilight of my musical career.”

Eastwood reckons he and his fellow members of the six-piece band are playing and singing better than ever before.

“Like a good wine, we seem to be getting better with age,” he quips.

Fans appreciate the “real” music.

“It’s fully live. We use instruments, not hi-tech equipment making sounds and fans appreciate the real thing.

“I get beside myself seeing these duos. They’re like karaoke. Hours sweating in rehearsal rooms seems to be a thing of the past.”

Eastwood knows he will at some stage retire from running the family business.
But music’s another story.

“We’ve even joked about doing the nursing home circuit,” he says. “I’ll still be playing when they put me in the pine box.”

Older generations living in South-East Queensland are really quite fortunate, musically.

There are intelligent venues management and bands who know today’s more mature audiences do not want their ears blown off when they come out to listen to live music.

They know these audiences don’t want to be surrounded by binge-drinking head-bangers. And there are so many good musicians and bands, they are spoilt for choice.

Music and dance keeps us all younger, more social and active, and in touch with the strongest emotions we have ever felt.

Enjoy.

Alan Lander is a Sunshine Coast-based journalist (of a certain maturity) and is also drummer for The Claptomaniacs.

Image: The Claptomaniacs demonstrate  you can still have the moves like Jagger and your own audience.