The Who set the tone back in 1965. “I hope I die before I get old”, Roger Daltry sneered on ‘My Generation’.
And, but for a slight deviation from the rock ‘n’ roll rule book thanks to The Beatles’ ‘When I’m 64’ a couple of years later, the majority of purveyors of popular culture have stuck hard and fast to the party line: two legs good; two legs and a walking stick bad.
As time has worn on, the mood has changed. Pulp were perhaps the first to raise an eyebrow at the notion with their ‘Help the Aged’ back in 1997 (“One time they were just like you/drinking, smoking cigs and sniffing glue”).
And now that a lot of the first generation of rock acts are well into their 70s and 80s, the lyrics of ‘My Generation’ are probably due for extensive revision.
Enter Theatre Royal. Their latest single (a preview from their forthcoming album Portraits) takes growing old disgracefully as its main theme: “moving fast when you’re told you’re slow”.
It is – as we should have come to expect by now – a perfect piece of indie-pop. A rich, energetic beast of a tune – a nod of the head somewhere in the direction of Modern English’s ‘I Melt with You’ – filled with punchy lyrics and sharp observations.
Theatre Royal can never be accused of letting a good melody dominate at cost of the lyrics. Lines like “I don’t want the undertaker stealing my sins” and “a young man’s death in an old man’s show” demonstrate, once again, that Theatre Royal are not just in in for the chord changes and bouncy choruses; they’re here to tell a story.
Unlike the elderly subjects of Pulp’s song, the old man at the centre of this tale doesn’t see himself in the past tense; he wants to “ride [his] bed right down the hill”. And this is no Sunday teatime Last of the Summer Wine caper: it’s more frenetic than that, more heavily charged.
This isn’t just death or glory. This is death and glory: “Hold the end in your own hand/two fingers raised as you make your last stand.”
The title of the new album implies there will be more of these character profiles and sketches to come. More people with multi-faceted lives to meet. More people, hopefully, with rich lives defying expectation.
And that’s bound to be better than half an hour in the company of Compo, Clegg and Foggy.
Buy the single from Theatre Royal’s Bandcamp page.
Read my review of the band’s EP ‘Incidental Friend’ here.
You can read more about the history of the band – and other Medway acts in my book, Do it Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.