Girls still wanna have fun
It’s not just male rockers ageing (dis)gracefully… lisa Verrico heralds the post-50 women redefining pop
the post-50 pop stars who are still going strong
of the dozens of gigs that I saw last year, only one made me laugh out loud, dance arms-aloft down an aisle and not care that I could hear myself singing out of tune. Bananarama’s comeback concert at Hammersmith Apollo in December was a night of pure joy. Watching the “girl group” – now all in their mid to late fifties – fluff their dance routines just as they used to, gasp at the size of their
80s hair and tell stories about how they became friends wasn’t just a nostalgia trip. As a pop critic for The Times, I’ve seen scores of reunions over the years – from Simon & Garfunkel ignoring each other on stage in Manchester to The Police burying hatchets in Hyde Park. All were fantastic but none as much fun as Bananarama. The trio attempting to mimic the moves from one of their old videos, or teasing each other for being out of breath, was brilliant because of
who they are now, not who they were decades ago. It reminded me of nights out with great mates after years apart.
Whatever musicians claim, almost all reunions are about the money. bananarama’s wasn’t like that. the joy that the audience felt came straight from the stage. sara Dallin, siobhan Fahey and Keren Woodward obviously loved being back together in front of fans who shared their excitement. the reunion came about after they got drunk several summers ago at a barbecue at Fahey’s house. at 2am, they talked about touring together for the first time – Fahey quit the band in the late 80s, just before their first tour. the delay was partly due to other commitments, but there was also the worry that no one would care. In fact, when their comeback concerts were announced, all 13 dates sold out so quickly that another ten were added. as Keren joked, “that’s 23 dates in a month – at our age!” the band has since toured the states and are spending this summer playing festivals in Europe.
bananarama are by no means alone in proving that pop isn’t a career that women outgrow after a certain age. Debbie Harry, 72, has never stopped touring or releasing records. she reformed blondie 20 years ago, and began having hits all over again. and unlike, say, the Rolling stones, much of the band’s new material has been fantastic. If you love classic blondie, check out their current album, Pollinator – it has all the hallmarks of Parallel Lines, but brought up to date.
two years ago, I watched Petula Clark, then 83, rock a basement club in berlin, playing old songs and new, including the dance hits she’s been having across Europe in recent years. Crucially, Clark doesn’t try to keep up with the kids – she just writes songs she likes and performs them. she
doesn’t need the money, but as she told me, “What else would I do? It’s my job.”
In a sea of male pop stars whose careers seemingly have no sell-by date – Paul McCartney, Elton John, Rod stewart, Robert Plant, Paul Weller, the stones, the Who… women post-50 making music have often been viewed as an anomaly. When Kate bush took a decade out of the limelight to bring up her son, she was seen as an eccentric recluse. the 59-year-old has since released three astonishing albums and, in 2014, played a >>
record-breaking 22-date residency at Hammersmith apollo, which was hailed as one of the best pop performances of all time.
like bush, sade, also 59, chooses when she wants to work and records new music only when she has something to say. the excitement around the release of her first single in seven years this spring showed it’s a smart decision. sade’s last world tour, in 2011, grossed more than $30 million. she can disappear for as long as she likes; it only increases her fans’ fervour for her.
AGE IS AN ASSET
but it’s not only superstar singers who are changing perceptions of post-50 women in pop. since going solo, former everything but the Girl singer tracey thorn, 55, has made her age an asset, touching on topics including dating after divorce and the menopause in her songs. Her latest album, Record, is a must-hear for middle-aged mums. one of its highlights is Go, a dreamy pop song that describes empty-nest syndrome almost too beautifully to bear. “You must outgrow it all/Those marks on the wall/You should leave it all behind/And I should never mind,” she sings. “To wave you out the door/ It’s what my love was for.”
listening to Go or the glorious disco song Babies – on which thorn looks back over her life and compares 3am on a dancefloor to 3am in a rocking chair, feeding – I was shocked to realise that, despite being a middle-aged mum myself, I’d never noticed that next to no pop songs depict that side of my life. now, I’m in search of any that do.
my current obsession is Kylie’s new album, Golden. Released shortly before the singer turned 50 in may, it’s by a mile the best record she’s made since her thirties, partly because it acknowledges her age. Kylie mixes country with her trademark disco-pop – “Dolly Parton on a dancefloor” as she describes it. Golden is a survival album, made in the wake of Kylie’s very public break-up from the actor Joshua sasse. I love the song
A Lifetime To Repair not just because it makes me want to dance, but also because it captures a relationship break-up in middle-age, so different
THESE SUCCESSFUL ARTISTS ARE ALL MAKING MUSIC THAT SUITS THEM AND EXCITES THEM
from how it feels in one’s teens. Go listen, and while you’re at it, check out her hit Dancing, which has a killer chorus for anyone worried about losing their lust for life. “When I go out/I wanna go out dancing,” sings Kylie, as effervescent as ever, but referring to the rest of her life, not her bygone clubbing days.
What these successful artists have in common is that they’re making music that suits them and excites them, rather than trying to compete with a new generation with different ideas and influences. björk, 52, is currently making the most challenging music of her career, whereas lisa stansfield, 52, recently released an eighth album that is as classy and soulful as its predecessors.
I’m looking forward to rediscovering more of my teenage idols. last year, I saw alison moyet, 56, formerly of yazoo, on her first world tour in 30 years, for which she rightly received ecstatic reviews. this year, I’ve fallen back in love with Kim Wilde, whose new album, Here Come The Aliens, recalls her Kids In America era, but adds rock guitars. at her recent london gig, I watched Wilde, 57, play her rock chick role to perfection. It was only on my way home that I realised that the old Wilde didn’t rock at all.
Performing last year at London’s Hammersmith Apollo Bananarama The original trio reformed last year for a successful tour. From left: Siobhan Fahey, Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward
Kate Bush Her 2014 live shows – her first since 1979 – were well worth the wait. Right: in the late 1970s
Sade She has recently released a new song, much to her many fans’ delight
Debbie Harry Blondie’s frontwoman is still one of the most iconic women in music. Right: in 1978
Kim Wilde She may be in her fifties, but she’s a true rock chick!
Tracey Thorn Writes about her experiences of emptynest syndrome and the menopause
Alison Moyet last year saw her first world tour for 30 years