Sitting in the green room of the Crescent Arts Centre a (male) songwriter beside me lets out an exasperated sigh, “Ah, this is a young man’s game”.
I immediately begin pressing him for answers:
Why does he think this?
Is it the miles travelled?
Or irritation at dealing with the industry as a whole?
Writing this six months later, these questions still intrigue me, but one major question stands over all of them and that is, does age matter in the music industry?
With a quick glance at the industry, especially in Northern Ireland, the answer is, seemingly, yes.
Enquiries on this question will elicit the following responses; that older musicians, usually, find it hard to gain much headway in the music industry because they have family commitments or preferred musical styles and sensibilities, and therefore tend to be harder to market to a wider audience.
That there are inbuilt prejudices is obvious, (this line of argument reminds one of the barriers put forward to hinder the promotion of women in the workplace), and let’s be clear, marketing and money trump ability by and large.
The Over the Hill Collective aims to challenge the industry presumptions by supporting older musicians who it, justifiably, argues are under-represented in an industry which due to “a focus on looks and youth” denies many skilled artists the chance to publish and showcase their work.
Formed in 2012 by musician Paul Kane, its aims are simple: to facilitate more representation for mature artists, to offer skills development and support for all musicians regardless of age, gender or race. Beyond that, OTH also organises recordings for its members.
The collective’s most recent album Kodakchrome, is the latest recorded output by the collective. As stated, the aim is to showcase the songwriting and composition abilities of the collective’s members and perhaps open a door to the industry for musicians who are neglected.
This album might be judged in a number of ways.
Firstly, does it succeed in helping its members to showcase their abilities and secondly does it show that age does not have to be a barrier to the creation of dynamic, vibrant and interesting music?
There is another element which takes assessment outside of the standard parameters of the music industry.
That is, the important process that this project gives rise to; finding people who might never have been able to develop given the vagaries of the industry and its priorities, then offering the necessary support to aid in the development of the participants; again something that the industry ignores completely. Finally, Over the Hill organises the studio time to realise the recording of people’s work.
This largely undocumented process is vital in allowing the participants to produce material, and build confidence to the point where recordings can take place.
With all of that in mind it is obvious to the listener that there is a high degree of enthusiasm from each artist which shines through on the tracks on the album. One can imagine that this would have been a joy to record and produce.
On offer is the pop punk of Leif B, Liz Kelly’s lounge groove, Chip Bailey’s homage to the no 11 bus which has a decidedly English mood, and Syd Morgan’s rock folk tale “Angelita” which has a bit of Spanish (I think) thrown in for good measure.
Bernard Jackson has a country feel to his track, Neil Lavery’s “Rudderless” has a solid rock orientation, Alice La’s “Sisters” has that west coast rock ballad sound and Paul Kane has two tracks, the war time reminiscence of “Meriel”, and the country groove of “Good Advice”.
It might be unfair to single anyone out but certainly “The Lines of Time” by Martin Carter, a melancholy Dylanesque piece with expressive singing, a soulful underlay and a fair chunk of heart, left an impression.
One might say that the album by and large maintains a connection to the artists’ influences and so it is possible to discern the listening preferences here. That might be an avenue worth looking at in future recordings. There is a tendency here to stick to the tried and true, although the tracks generally have a uniquely eclectic element to them.
There is no doubt though, that whatever the age of the participants, there is an energy here, which suggests that mature musicians are perfectly capable of crafting material which belies any idea of fatigue.
The Over the Hill Collective has created a development space for musicians that by and large have been written off by the industry.
Where other artists have had to go it alone, OTH is providing essential guidance, education and studio time.
A good example of older musicians going it alone are the Sleaford Mods, consisting of Jason Williamson and Andrew Fern.
They released their first album as a duo in 2012 while their members were in their early forties. Both Williamson and Fern spent many years on unsuccessful musical projects and working in dead-end jobs, taking almost two decades to find their “commercial” voices.
Since the release of their first major album, Austerity Dogs, in 2013, they have gone on to achieve widespread success and acclaim.
One of the crucial elements to their success is that they were able to achieve this by doing something radically different to many of their more youthful contemporaries.
The music they produce is politically charged, evocative and Williamson has a unique lyrical approach which has, it might be fair to say, been able to gain traction and appreciation from an audience of younger, and older, music fans.
They are a good example of one of the central arguments made by the Over the Hill Music Collective, that age is not a barrier to creativity.
And the Sleaford Mods have done this almost entirely independently.
Imagine the possibilities had an Over the Hill Collective existed in their area.
OTH provides a path to create not just to create music that would otherwise never have been recorded but a path for future artists, older musicians like Sleaford Mods, to develop and that is the essence of this project.
The album is a testament to that commitment.