The words come from Don McLean’s fabulous song ‘American Pie’, and he was talking about the death of Buddy Holly. It is a different day that I am talking about. In the late 70’s a huge change occurred in the British music scene. Some musicians relocated to North America, while others stayed on weathered the storm, but every one of them felt the pressure. The jury is out on the exact cause, but clearly the Punk movement had a big effect, and you cannot ignore the not so subtle changes in the main stream media.

I was not a musician, but I was one of the rats deserting the sinking ship, and I took root in North America at the end of the 70’s. A new world, a new life, and new music. It was not until a few years ago that I began to get interested in British music again, and I am not sure if I sought it out, or if it found me.

My rediscovery of the music scene amazed me. The troopers that were the pioneers in the 70’s are still there, they are older, wiser, and maybe a touch cynical, but they are still actively performing. The Punk bands on the other hand are all but gone. Of course the scars are still there, and punk has been replaced with the, in my opinion even more objectionable Rap.

By happenstance, in a very short period of time I interviewed several musicians from the period, and asked their opinions. The answers I got were as diverse as the musicians themselves. Each had a unique view of the late 70’s. Some were in agreement with me, and some were not.

Al Stewart actually left England right as the Punk scene was starting, he actually feels that it was not Punk that was the problem, but a change in the mentality of radio stations, out was the singer/songwriter, and in was power-pop, “It wasn’t Punk that got me, it was Loverboy”. The stations almost overnight switched their formats to the 3 minute song.

I posed the question to Rick Wakeman and he has a divergent and very valid view. The loss of popularity for the Prog Rock scene would have happened whatever music genre had arrived.

It’s simple really… Things tend to happen in 10 year cycles. Music is the first thing that anybody ‘owns’ in their life. New generations do not want to inherit from the previous generation, so they choose their own genre and in doing so trample that which came before.

It’s very noticeable that it is only the directly previous generation of music that is hit. It will always continue like this.

Rick went on to add that undoubtedly radio contributed, the new format precluded the use of long tracks, and this was dictated to the record companies who in turn dictated to the bands, thus creating a vicious circle.

The real tragedy is the fact that we have no record industry as such today. There is no support and help for the fabulous young musicians who are out there. All the great music labels have gone. All of the great bosses have gone, to be replaced by accountants.

Ever met an imaginative accountant?

I rest my case!

The iconoclastic wild child of the keyboards Keith Emerson had a completely different view (I guess I should not have been surprised). In a late night phone call he explained that Punk was “Just what the music industry f’ing needed”.

He went on to explain, “Punk was raw, Punk was fun, it was something anyone could do”. Of course at the time that the music industry was being decimated by Punk, Keith and the rest of ELP were living as tax exiles in the Bahamas, and were pretty insulated from the effects.

Keith now lives in Southern California, and he told me that one of his neighbors is no other than John Lydon (Better known as Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols), and that if the situation ever arose he would be very happy to do a project with John.

Dave Cousins of The Strawbs made no bones about his views:

It was disappointing as we became known as ‘dinosaurs’ almost overnight (A punk rock period description). It’s a phrase that still sticks with cynical know-all reviewers in the UK, by the way. In America and Canada there’s no “ageism” and that’s why it is so enjoyable to play there.

Maybe my theory about what caused the music to die, it is more complex than I had originally thought. One thing is for certain though, good music and good musicians do continue on. These four icons of the music world are living proof. All four are active in the music world, and the music world is a better place because of them.

Simon Barrett

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