Magazine article The Spectator

Music: The Golden Age of Pop Obituaries

Magazine article The Spectator

Music: The Golden Age of Pop Obituaries

Article excerpt

The golden age of pop music may be long gone, but the golden age of pop musicians' obituaries is definitely with us. Soon I shall have to start apologising for returning to this subject with such regularity, but barely a week now seems to pass without some rock legend turning his or her eminent toes up. Last week it was John Renbourn, gruff beardy guitarist for Pentangle, and the week before Daevid Allen, who founded Soft Machine and about 73 different manifestations of Gong. On social media Nick Hornby asked us to name which dead people we had seen live (when they were alive, obviously). His list included Bobby Womack, Luther Vandross, Bob Marley, Joe Strummer, the Ramones, Rory Gallagher and Lee Brilleaux of Dr Feelgood (a lot). Hundreds of people responded. Some contributors' lists were so long that you started to worry for their health.

Not quite everyone who goes, though, makes the Telegraph obituary pages (where croaking pop stars have supplanted the second world war veterans who were dying in droves a decade or so ago). Pop music, as we know, isn't just about fame and critical acclaim and platinum records and poor decisions about cars and swimming pools. It's also about critical neglect and commercial failure and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For most musicians, obscurity rather than opportunity knocks. Some keep going because it's the only thing they want to do. Some keep going because it's the only thing they can do. As someone who makes his living only by writing, and has no other useful skills of any description, I can sympathise with that.

So I was sad to see the death last month of a Scots musician who was born Christopher Harley in 1946. In the early 1970s there was a preponderance of performing Harleys, led by Cockney Rebel's Steve, so this one changed his surname to Rainbow, which may or may not have been a good idea. Chris Rainbow was a geeky-looking singer-songwriter utterly in thrall to the genius of Brian Wilson, and he recorded three albums of light, clean, polished pop between 1975 and 1979. They did not do well. In fact, as far as I am aware, they did nothing at all. He might have had a minor cult following in Japan, but in those days you only had to be able to stand up and sit down unaided to acquire that. …

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