Signs indicate that 1972 will be the year when the pop scene comes alive again. After a boringly long time of nothing much happening since the end of the Beatlemania era, the RM crystal ballers predict that some of the old zest, enthusiasm and direct involvement is being reborn amongst the fans.
Everything goes in cycles (or even circles) in popdom. After the super sixties with the Beatles and the Stones leaving a trail of international hysteria and adulation and multi-million disc sellers, the seventies came in with nothing much more than a whimper. The Beatles have split artistically, and the pieces are still being sorted out in the law courts and lawyers' offices. The Stones have split the British scene for the sunny south of France and less bugging from the taxman, and show no signs of hitting the road again or even doing much together in the recording studios at the moment.
For two years there has been a vacuum, which the progressive heavy trend could never fill adequately. Some fine records and great talents have emerged from the heavy phase, but now even the colleges and universities, which dug and nurtured the heavies the most, are looking around for something lighter and less heady. Something with attractive melodies, catchy lyrics and a danceable beat.
And the pop public also seems to be looking for personalities again. Artists they can clamour for outside the stage doors, some positive people who look good and sound good, whether solo or in a group.
The general consensus of opinion agreed that there's something coming, as the West Side Story song said. And there was general agreement on the identities of the groups who are stimulating life on the pop scene these days.
Jonathan King differentiated between groups who write and often produce their own records and those who don't.
'Slade is in the same bag as Marc Bolan and Rod Stewart. They are not just teenybopper idol type of artists, but they are also writers and I'm sure Slade contributed enormously on the production side with the arrangement and production ideas. They're front men, and they're creating some excitement and filling the halls because they're far and away the best live people around, mostly because they're involved behind the scenes as well as up front.'
Chas Chandler defended Slade on any charge that they might be a wind-up clockwork group who make neat records but can't do anything else.
'They're one of the fastest-rising groups in the business,' he declared. 'At least 500 have been turned away from every concert they've done in the last three months.'
Frankness was the order of the day, and Nicky Chinn was forthright about Middle Of The Road.
'If Middle Of The Road ceased to make hit records, then their bookings would stop. They are their records, that's their identification. There aren't many groups who can live beyond their records.'
Chinn reckons that Tom Jones could have 'five flops on the trot, and he's still a huge artist because he is an act.' He thinks it's early days for Slade yet, as people bought the record rather than the group. Chinn says the Beatles had a complete and total market, but T Rex will never appeal to older people.
He is equally frank on the subject of his Sweet protegees.
'Sweet mean a certain amount to a certain amount of people, and they're not a totally plastic wind-up group. They do sell on their records, and if their records stop selling, Sweet are dead tomorrow.'
Chinn's partner, Mike Chapman doesn't think that Beatlemania will return in the same proportions.
Everybody's so preoccupied at the moment, both producers and public, looking for this new image that they'll miss it when it comes along. I think the next idol will be a musician with an appeal.'
Brian Longley said that Slade and T Rex built up reputations around the country before record success came their way. He also plugged his current touring project of Christie, Edison Lighthouse and Worth, and underlined the strong response they were getting.
'Christie haven't had a hit for 14 months, and Worth have been around for two without a hit record. Edison Lighthouse were a manufactured group, but the present group have been together for 15 months, and are professional musicians who can play well. On February 2 they start a tour of 41 college dates, but a year ago people would have laughed at this idea. Groups like this have played in with the heavy bands, and the colleges want to get up and dance. They want music other than the heavy variety.'
Mickie Most believes that the progressive acts have 'got so involved in their own heads that the 14- and 15-year-olds are looking for something else.' He thinks that the new excitement will go one around Slade, T Rex and Rod Stewart and found the same atmosphere and magic at the stage door of a T Rex date as happened at the height of the Beatles' fame.
The round-table discussion was chaired by RM editorial director Mike Hennessey, assisted by RM editor Peter Jones, and the final poser for the panel was a prediction for 1972.
'It's going back into the hands of the kids,' said Chas Chandler. 'The really young kids that buy singles. The 14- and 15-year-olds are buying these records now because of the group as opposed to buying the record for itself.'
'I agree with Chas,' said Nicky Chinn. 'It's going back to the kids, and therefore the style that is emerging is something fairly simple, something they can latch on to. They like to dance, so the tempo is becoming even more important than it has been for the last few years. It's back to melody and things they can understand and simplicity.'
Brian Longley said that the peak of the heavy scene has been reached, and simple music will return.
'Slade will be mammoth by the end of 1972, but will be outdated overnight by the emergence of someone around the age of 16 or 17, a new group that will outdate just about everything we've got going. It's got to come, it's the life blood of the industry.'
'The singer has now come back,' declared Mickie Most, 'and that's what will happen for the next five or six years. The singer will be the front man, and the guitar player will go back.'
Mike Chapman's prediction is that the singer-songwriter within a group will be 'the happening thing.'
Jonathan King had the last word in typical style.
'I refuse to make any predictions at all, and just hope that when it does come along, I'm the one to spot it.'
Middle Of The Road:
Tips for the Top
Tips for the Top