Mumford & Sons and all That…

Posted on February 22, 2013

I have to say that I only saw a few clips from the Brits on Wednesday night as I was out for much of the evening, though from what I did see, it all seemed all a bit tepid. This had me wondering whether this was a case of me getting old, or simply that music has become dull, over produced and easy to consume, a bit like a McDonalds Happy Meal.

Reading various blogs and online press reports, it seems that opinion is very much divided as to whether pop is now just nice stuff for the middle classes and whether any working class bands filled with teenage angst actually get the airplay and promotion they deserve? Despite what the likes of Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller might say, making assumptions that someone can’t possibly write or produce music because they have come from a privileged background is a bit churlish, though it has to be said, bands such as Mumford & Sons and Florence & the Machine have certainly had several leg-ups on their way to meteoric success, success which in my mind, seems a bit over inflated. I have two Mumford & Sons albums that I bought after someone I know, compared them to a little known Folk/Punk band who I like called The Men They Couldn’t Hang. Because of the instruments used by both bands, It was an understandable but awful comparison; if Mumford & Sons were a domestic pet, they would be a goldfish, harmless, but not particularly interesting.

As we all know, moving in the right circles carries huge benefits and the same applies to musicians. If you happen to be a talented musician at Oxford or Cambridge University, the chances are that you are going to be mixing with people who will become big hitters in corridors of the BBC and Blue Chip record companies; that is a huge head start that could create the potential to leave raw young talent side-lined. I was once told a wealthy relative of Mumford & Sons purchased thousands of copies of their first album and handed them out for free in a bed to get them noticed, though this may be an urban myth. Personally, I do think that no matter how technically excellent these so called posh bands are, a really great song always seems to be based around hardship, angst against society or a bitter tale of love lost. Despite what many people may think, no-one does a love song better than angry young men, Dry Your Eyes by The Streets, How Do You Sleep by The Stones Roses, Tender by BlurIt’s Too Bad by The Jam and Train in Vain by The Clash are in a different league and just more real in comparison to what anything Mumford and Sons have come up with.

However, despite all these theories of privilege,  it easy to forget that whilst indie bands have a case to argue about being marginalised, nostalgia can play all kinds of tricks on us and for raw talent trying to break in to the music scene now, it is probably a lot easier to get recognised than it was in the pre-punk days. In the 1970’s, with just three television channels and when the BBC was effectively state controlled television, it was nearly impossible to get noticed or be allowed on Top of The Pops unless you were The Brotherhood of Man, Peters & Lee or The Wombles. Even The Old Grey Whistle Test was full of old fart stadium rock bands who were best buddies with ‘Whispering Bob Harris.’ Love them or hate them The Sex Pistols blew the system apart and paved the way for all what followed after, from The Clash to The Jam, to The Smiths, to Oasis to the Arctic Monkeys. Perhaps that is what is needed now, someone who can blow Simon Cowell’s house down and pave the way for a new generation?

Because it is with Simon Cowell is where the danger to the music industry lies, not with AdeleMumford & Sons and Florence and the Machine, all inoffensive groups who personally, I choose not to bother with, but that’s just a matter of taste; at least they write their own songs and play instruments. The colossus that is the Simon Cowell Empire has the financial power to hype, manipulate and abuse the music industry into a permanent passing; he is a fan of power, not music. I believe there is always a place for talent shows (remember Opportunity Knocks?) just like there is a place for Soft Pop, Punk RockReggae, Ska, Disco, Northern Soul, Motown and Rock and Roll; diversity is what makes music great and personally I like to try all of it. However, if young talented musicians think that their only route to success is via Simon Cowell, we are heading in to a desperate period that could be potentially worse than the Stock Aitken & Waterman debacle of the mid 1980’s. We really don’t want that do we?

A friend of mine wrote on Facebook the other day “Brits 2013, the day pop music died peacefully in its sleep with Simon Cowell at its bedside.” Perhaps 2013 really does need a modern day Sex Pistols to push Simon Cowell back to the margins and help to create an equilibrium where every voice gets heard, not just ones from X Factor?

For my part, I love all music, but I have always been a sucker for bands who are raw and full of angst, they do it for me every time…This song by The Jam features Paul Weller at just 19 years old, it’s not technically brilliant, but it’s full of energy and comes from a band that is serving its apprenticeship (Weller is same guy who wrote English Rose, a classic love song) rather than waiting for the blast of a red button and a volley of degrading child abuse from a middle-aged egomaniac who pulls his jeans up far too high for anyone to truly trust.

1 Reply to "Mumford & Sons and all That..."

  • Ali
    February 22, 2013 (11:02 pm)

    Fair comments Bob, I love X Factor and I find Simon Cowell a fascinating egomaniac, but so as not to let you down to much there’s a lot I don’t like. One of those dislikes is what it does to its guest artists. An example would be Jesse J (I’m not a fan) she performed on X Factor and was terrrible, (I liked her even less). I saw her on Later, performing live but basic and she was fantastic.
    There is so much keeping up with the Cowell’s, singing a song is now a performance. How many artists just stand and sing? If they are great singers and great songs (preferably their own) that should be enough. Now they have to dance, perform acrobatics and the singing goes out the window. If you wanted a cabaret you would go and see Kylie or Michael Jackson, but now everyone does it. A good voice and a good song is not enough to make it..

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