2015 – The Burning Questions: What was 2015 really all about?
Mick Box, Ginger Wildheart, Tiff Stevenson and Jaren Johnston debate the year in music – and beyond...
There’s a hand-painted sign on one of the walls of the New Rose bar in Islington, North London, which reads: Thou Shalt Not Talk Shit. This edict shall not be strictly upheld this afternoon however, for Classic Rock has summoned four opinionated, articulate individuals today with the specific intention of generating some colourful shit-talking for a round-table review of some of the hot topics in rock’n’roll and the wider world in 2015.
Only Mick Box, redoubtable leader of British hard rock legends Uriah Heep and fellow road dog Ginger – sometime Wildheart, full-time workaholic – have met previously, and the warm smiles and strong handshakes exchanged between the pair speak to a mutual respect and affection. Joining the two today are Jaren Johnston, frontman of country-tinged Tennessee rockers The Cadillac Three (winners of the Best New Band category at the 2014 Classic Rock Awards) and Tiff Stevenson, stand-up comedian and confirmed rock fan, star of BBC3’s People Just Do Nothing and founder/host of London’s excellent Old Rope comedy night. Greetings made and contrasting accents attentively deciphered, the four sit beneath the aforementioned sign, and as the Guinness and black coffee flows so too, naturally, does the conversation…
2015 then: how was it for you?
Tiff Stevenson: “I had a really shit year in 2014, so comparatively, this has been a good year. The TV show is going great – someone called it ‘the Spinal Tap of Grime music’, which I rather liked – I wrote a new one hour show, and took it to the Edinburgh festival and I’ll be touring it next year. I actually did lots of singing at the Edinburgh festival this year, and got reviewed as much for that as for my stand-up, which was odd. Basically my aim is life is to be Stevie Nicks… in fact I’ve brought a golden straw in my handbag should anyone care to use it…”
Jaren Johnston: “This year was great for me. It’s been all about constant touring - by the end of it we’ll have done about 250 shows. Over here it’s been wild. The first time we showed up here we were on the damn radio and selling out clubs, and every time we come back it’s better. I wasn’t in any TV shows about the grimes, or whatever, but I’m happy.”
Mick Box: “My year’s been amazing, the usual Heep year really, with loads of touring all over the world. It’s not slowing down at all, it’s only getting busier, which is fantastic. We recently did a reunion show in Moscow with Ken Hensley and Lee Kerslake, which was a lot of fun for the fans, and we go off to Europe again soon. I’ve been doing some guitar clinics outside Heep too, so yeah, busy, busy.”
Ginger: “That’s what all musicians want really, isn’t it, to be able to keep going like the veteran, classic bands without losing your passion. My year has been ridiculous. I don’t know whether it’s fear of death of whatever, but I just seem to get busier and busier. I’ve got one album just finished, I’ve written and recorded another two, I wrote a book, I’ve toured with The Wildhearts and Hey! Hello!, I did my spoken word tour, and I started a business, managing myself with my missus. I hear about people taking time off, but who wants that? What would you do?”
Jaren: “We’d probably all be in a bar together, drinking Guinness at noon!”
Music Festivals: Are They Done?
The same old headliners, ever-increasing ticket prices, dwindling crowds: the argument goes that the festival circuit is over-subscribed, over-hyped and on its way out.
Mick: “I hope not, because they’re still important to bands. Everyone wants to be on a festival bill, because of the sheer number of people you can play to. You can tour for three weeks and then play to more people in one hour at a festival.”
Jaren: “We’re a club band in this country, but when we did Download and Sonisphere we walked on stage at two in the afternoon in front of fifteen thousand people and it just blew our minds.”
Ginger: “Promoters spend all their money on the three main headline bands and then fill the bill with… whoever. When I was a kid and used to go to festivals, a) it was only one day b) it was only one stage, so you got to see everyone and c) there was a fraction of the people that there are now. But the headline bands are pretty much the same! Music festivals are in danger of becoming like football, where players are bigger than the game.”
Tiff: “But the cool thing about rock festivals is that the crowds are young and open to hearing new stuff, and if they see something they like, they’re a fan for life.”
Jaren: “And that’s exactly why festivals are important to new bands. One great show can make your career.”
Ginger: “But that’s also why the one-day festivals were great, because the bands further down the bill could become future headliners. I went to Monsters Of Rock in 1985 and you had Metallica and Bon Jovi on the bill in the afternoon, playing what was then the biggest shows of their lives. You won’t get that kind of exposure if you’re half-way down the fourth stage on day three of a big festival now, or someone only caught a band for ten minutes because they’ve another thirty-five bands to see. There’s a future for festivals, but they need to be downsized, because otherwise they’ll have to resort to pay-per-view to subsidise them, and they’ll forget the whole reason people go to festivals in the first place..”