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I still vividly recall the shock, the horror, the sheer scandal of it. We were already in mourning following Ronnie James Dio’s shock departure from Rainbow but this news only made it worse.
His replacement. Graham Bonnet, not only had short back and sides, his trademark look was a garish Hawaii shirt. No wonder the bloke wore sun glasses all the time!
Around the same time there was similar anguish among the adolescent rock fratenity as rumours circulated that Michael Schenker, the erstwhile UFO guitarist, had cut off his blond locks in a drugs-fuelled rage.
Whatever next? Jimmy Page kitted out in collar and tie? Lemmy swapping leather for Marks and Spencers cotton or ZZ Top agreeing to a sponsored shaving session?
Or perhaps a working class Geordie with a flat cap fronting AC/DC?!! Back then, image counted. Boy did it count. Hair and clothes betrayed your musical tastes. Identity mattered. Those of us into rock grew our hair as long as parents and school would allow.
Mums were instructed to wash every pair of Wranger/Levi jeans 642 times until the denim had faded into the coolest shade of insipid blue.
Denim jackets were proudly emblazoned with logos of our favourite bands, girls wore cheesecloth and burnt joss sticks to demonstrate their hippy credentials. Leather wristbands, Sabbath-esque crosses, bullet belts and sharktooth earrings were sought-after accessories.
It had all started with the Beatles, abandoning their pudding haircuts and tailored suits in favour of the psychedelic look of the Sergeant Pepper era and ended about 20 years later with the preposterous fashion of the Hair Metal age when spandex ruled the world and guitarists burnt a hole in the Ozone layer with their hairspray to get that Poodle look just right.
Looking back, wasn’t it all just faintly rididulous?
One listen to Rainbow’s excellent Down To Earth proved that Bonnet was indeed a worthy successor to Dio and that slicked-back hair look and those screamingly loud shirts were secondary to a titanic vocal delivery.
For me and my mates, there never was too much of a clothes rulebook. While I’ve kept my hair relatively long throughout my adult life, I owned my last pair of denim jeans about 20 years ago, initially preferring black cords before becoming far more flexible in my choice of trousers.
The denim jackets ended up in attics, the concert T-shirts were reluctantly mothballed as waistlines expanded and for some, nature dictated what they had “up top.” If the swinging 60s formulated fashion and the 70s compartmentalised us into our respective genres, 20 years later it had dawned on just about everyone that the sound mattered far more than the look.
Today no-one would turn up to a concert still wearing the suit you had on for work but there’s no particular musical uniform either. In Newcastle, drinking in Times Square observing the throngs heading down to the Arena, there are few clues in their make-up.
Age rather than fashion is the usual giveaway with those of us over 40 preferring the classic rock gigs, the 25 to 40 age bracket dominating an indie audience with teenage girls making up the vast majority of a pop band’s market. In 2011, you’d even get away with wearing a Hawaian shirt for a Motorhead gig. Then again…..