FEATURE: More Tea and Biscuits Than Beer and Cigarettes: Where Have All the Hell-Raisers and Envelope Pushers Gone?




More Tea and Biscuits Than Beer and Cigarettes


IN THIS PHOTO: Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) of the Sex Pistols and Public Image Limited captured by GQ in 2016/PHOTO CREDIT: Martin Schoeller

Where Have All the Hell-Raisers and Envelope Pushers Gone?


THIS is not a feature condoning those artists who...


 PHOTO CREDIT: @diesektion/Unsplash

are caught in controversy because of sexual assault allegations or applauding those who are criminal and perverse. I am keen to distinguish between the classic idea of the hell-raising, hotel-trashing Rock icon and those who, in the modern day, are grabbing headlines because of a different form of destruction. This piece does not only apply to the male icons of the past: there have been plenty of female artists who have carried this incredible reputation, cool and, at times, notoriety. I am not suggesting we have absolutely no standout, edgy artists at the moment but the culture has changed so that this kind of attitude is being reduced. I remember, as recently as the late-1990s and early part of the last decade seeing these cocky and cool artists with a definite swagger and the tension that surrounds them – you are never quite sure whether they’d light up a cigarette in an interview or drive a motorcycle into a swimming pool! Maybe it would be unwise to embrace a new generation of Keith Moons and Jim Morrisons and, in an age of #MeToo and suspect morals, I feel their breed would be extinct within a matter of days. What I miss if that sense of excess and chaos that used to come from music. Certain quarters were renowned for their sense of chaos, disquiet and rebellion. I have written before about the lack of rebels in music and how everything seems so mannered and soft.


 PHOTO CREDIT: @sarahlouisekinsella/Unsplash

There are some great Punk and Rock bands out there and, whilst they are happy to create a rowdy and sweaty gig; that behaviour does not seem to extend beyond that. I love a gig that has a bit of unpredictability and rabble but, when you head away from the stage, are we too afraid to promote a certain fashion that might seem gaudy and provocative today?! Music tastes have shifted and we are seeing technology drive our choices more but I would have thought that, away from this, we’d get some modern artists who had a bit of personality about them. We have some fascinating and loveable artists but I am seeing older stars like Patti Smith, Madonna; Paul Weller, Noel Gallagher and John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) who, back in the day, were responsible for plenty of tabloid column issues and raised eyebrows! Perhaps movements like Punk and Britpop came with a certain flexibility and need to project a bit of flair. Chart back to the 1960s when we had these big and bold figures such as Keith Moon, Mick Jagger and bands such as Led Zeppelin and maybe there is no return. One of the rather unpleasant aspect of this old-time icon/hell-raiser is the sexual component. That old image of the band being inundated with groupies is a rather unseemly and horrible side that, I hope, has been vanquished. You never know whether it still happens but I’d like to think it is a practice that has moved with the times.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Oasis caught in cheeky mood in 1995/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

What seems to bother me is how mannered and controlled music has become. Even independent artists exercise too much self-control and I do think it is possible to be controversial, brash and have a swagger without stepping into a rather dodgy and black area. I do a lot of interviews and, whilst some artists have an attitude and can be spiky; you never get anything that rivals the rockers and punks of the past. The rebels and hell-raisers of the past and not genre-specific either: every corner of the industry, at some point, boasted its own poster-boy/girl of non-conformity and rebellion. I am hearing some attitude in music itself but one rarely sees these standout figures that play by their own rules and imbue that flame of trouble. In order to clean up music in terms of sexual allegation; have we sanitised it to such a degree where we are ensuring every musician plays nice and does not say the right thing?! Social media ensures we can all connect with one another but has this revolution meant freedom of speech has been compromised somewhat? One of the reasons why I am draw to artists such as Madonna and, say Oasis, is because you had real and bold personalities coming through. They didn’t need to be endlessly rude but there was a confidence and sense of the provocative that seems to have gone away.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna in 1992/PHOTO CREDIT: Steven Meisel

The Gallagher brothers, Liam and Noel, still have a bit of a cocky side but they are different to the chart-ruling gods there were back in the 1990s. Potent and inspiring female artists like Chrissie Hynde and Madonna, say, should have inspired others to push the envelope and project but, more and more, modern artists are too safe and bland. Perhaps one could not promote a sexually-vivacious and near-scandalous artist but what has happened to bands that, once in a while, raise some eyebrows; interviews filled with political anger and spit; an artist/band that opens the eyes and you think, right away, they differ from everyone else out there. I remember growing up around the Britpop age and seeing these larger-than-life bands really light up interviews and, even off stage, had something special about them. I think we gravitate towards certain artists because there is something thrilling, raw and unpredictable about them. Not that the scene has been neutered but it has been a long time since we have seen someone come along that does not court tabloid attention for bad reasons but definitely peaks interest and seems to be on their own path. It is important we set a good example to the young generation but I think that should revolve around the more criminal and sexual side of things – you can draw a line and not compromise a sense of freedom and controversy. The fact social media is so powerful and prevalent means, inevitably, any action someone feels is ‘inappropriate’ or ‘flammable’ and they will be scolded and flogged.


 PHOTO CREDIT: @anete_lusina/Unsplash

I do worry that, in order to stop music going down a very dark hole, it has made artists afraid to be themselves. You might say the reason we are not seeing modern-day Gallaghers, Morrisons; Madonnas and Rottens is because of the times. Post-Punk is very different to the first wave of Punk and Pop is not as it was in the 1980s and 1990s. You could argue some of the boundary-pushing artists from the past were vying for MTV attention and trying to get ahead of their peers. Now, with social media, streaming and a particular way of working emerging; maybe artists risk losing support, money and following if they step outside of accepted boundaries. I know some artists have tarnished music but have we adopted this policy where we are scared stiff of artists with any sort of confidence and bold personality doing something regrettable? I am, as I said, not condoning the groupie-collecting bands and drug-taking, for example, but it is easy enough to avoid that and still get people talking. It seems there was a distinct cut-off point when we lost the icons, the rebels and the hell-raisers. Some might say the end of Oasis’ career signalled a decline but I think we can go a bit later. Maybe the early-2000s was the last time there were these sort of figures in music.

 IN THIS PHOTO: The Doors’ Jim Morrison is captured in 1967/PHOTO CREDIT: Guy Webster

It is tricky distinguishing between recklessness and rebellion; between the gone-too-far and the genuinely thrilling artists in some cases. Perhaps we need to let it be known that, of course, any artists who guilty or accused of sexual assault or go too far should be punished and suffer the consequences but it is possible to allow some free reign and not need to be so stuffy. I hope we do see a musical shift where there are these brash and potent stars; the big Pop artists who push the envelope and mark themselves out; the rare spirits unafraid to speak out and cause a bit of commotion. Rarely do we see music papers filled with the sort of battles we saw during Britpop; those artists trashing hotel rooms or the queens and kings of various genres showing why they are head and shoulders above their rivals. It is not that music is boring but I think there is too much fear and this feeling that too much could go wrong if we loosened the lead and let them run free. I hear plenty of potential and some charged songs but that rarely spills out into the open. I do not want to promote yobbishness or blur boundaries but there is a real need and yearning for something a bit more thrilling and rebellious in music. There is nothing wrong with a nice cup of tea and biscuit after a long day but you’d like to think, soon enough, we will start to see some artists out there who put one in mind...


 PHOTO CREDIT: @veeterzy/Unsplash

OF the decades-lasting hell-raisers of the past!