The most successful tour of 2012 so far has been Roger Waters’ The Wall extravaganza, selling out stadia worldwide and grossing over £84 million. Upwards of 1.2 million fans went to hear Rog intoning the deathless mantra “We don’t need no education”, and hammering home the climactic roar of “Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!”
That song, ‘Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)’, was written by Waters for Pink Floyd in 1979. But somewhere along the way, a new generation of rock’n'rollers has started not just cosying up to the education elite, but donning the master’s robes.
The news that Peter Hook, 56, bassist of Joy Division and New Order, is launching a music industry degree at The University of Central Lancashire, has slipped out to muted murmurs of establishment approval rather than howls of anarchist rage against the machine.
Strange. For its first three decades, rock’n'roll was a polar opposite to education. (Let’s not forget, it came to public attention via The Blackboard Jungle, a low-budget 1955 movie about rebellious teens in school.)
Since then, though, the dividing line between them has been erased. By 1990, the University of Georgia was offering Music 418, History and Analysis of Rock Music. California State University had Music Video 454. Come 2008, Boston’s College Of Arts And Sciences had WR 100 – also known as Bob Dylan’s Lyrics – and a year later, Liverpool Hope University started its course on The Beatles, Popular Music and Society.
Today, the business side of things is being embraced with courses for stage managers, marketing managers and sound engineers. Last year in the UK, Brighton Institute of Modern Music (BIMM) launched the first ever A&R apprenticeship.
With Bob Dylan, Donovan, Midge Ure and Jeff Beck among the ever-growing throng of former rebels now contentedly accepting honorary degrees, is it any wonder that Peter Hook felt the time was right to jump in there?
Teach your children well
“Life is a balance between idealism and realism,” says Peter Hook. Factory, the much-loved label which released Joy Division and New Order’s records, was run by idealistic, creative but naive people who “never looked after business”. He says: “That’s why all those businesses crashed.”
It was, he believes, only the success of the bands that paid for all the business mistakes they made.
With that in mind, Hook has drawn on his experience to create a course intended to help the coming generation avoid making the same mistakes as he did. He is also determined to help the young musicians who, because of their non-conformity, would be rejected by today’s music hierarchy.
Cue Jon Stewart, formerly the guitarist of Britpop band Sleeper, and now Senior Academic Lecturer at BIMM, teaching a BA Hons degree in Professional Musicianship. He teaches with a hands-on approach, balancing academic studies with solid practical advice.
“We teach our students about the things they need to know. If they get a contract, they can bring it to me and I will point out the pitfalls in it.”
Then there’s Johnny Hopkins, for many years Creation Records’ spokesman for Oasis, Primal Scream and others, who is now passing on his accumulated wisdom to students in his lectures at the University of Sussex, Goldsmith’s College and elsewhere.
“My course looks at the evolution of the British music industry and the way in which PR helped to shape it,” he says. ”I still do PR, through my company Triad Publicity.”
Does he, with his background in the business side of the industry, see anything incongruous about the increasing involvement of frontline rock’n'rollers in education? “No,” he says, “and there’s going to be more of that going on.”
Well, yes, but keeping office hours doesn’t come naturally to rock musicians, many of whom famously arrive on stage up to an hour late in order to heighten the drama of the event. Try doing that in a university and the timetable will ensure that your audience has beetled off by the time you hit the chalkface.
There is also a certain irony in the fact that, among his students, there will almost certainly be as many future moguls as musicians.
The odds are that the future Simon Cowells will be listening intently, picking up tips on how to screw musicians to the floor, while the musos sit dreaming up new melodies and doodling meaningful lyrics in their notebooks, snapping to attention only when their superstar lecturer begins reminiscing fondly about the days of free sex and unlimited drugs.
“Yes, my students do enjoy the backstage anecdotes,” says Hopkins. “But I try to make sure they understand that a lot of hard work goes into being successful.
“Oasis were party animals, but they also played 200 gigs in their first year, and they did every bit of promo I asked them to. You need that work ethic to succeed.”
Whatever happened to the teenage dream?
In the days when no one warned aspiring musicians how the business functioned, the music industry proved itself capable of quickly learning how to deal with threatening new musical developments. The populist anti-stardom ethic of mid-Seventies punk, for example, was promulgated by a rash of small companies, which became known as ‘indie’ record labels.
How did the music biz react? It waited until it saw which of the indie acts could in their terms, ‘shift units’ and then simply bought them. It also formed alliances with indies so that they too became part of the system. In time, ‘indie’ stopped referring to the business model of the punky independent labels, and started to mean guitar-based corporate rock played by young men sporting Beatle cuts.
Jon Stewart, however, is undismayed, because he feels the traditional music business is fast disappearing. He references Californian duo Pomplamoose, who “make records in their front room, record their own videos, get millions of YouTube hits and loads of sales on iTunes. They could do a sell-out UK tour no problem, and they don’t have a record company.”
Artists like these are, he feels, the next wave. To become the next Lady Gaga or U2, they might need a record deal – but not if they’re prepared just to make a decent, steady living like a good tradesman.
It’s a development that must resonate with Johnny Marr, the legendary former guitarist of The Smiths, who now maintains a parallel career as a Visiting Professor at the University of Salford’s School of Media, Music And Performance.
For Marr, a lecture can be as much a thorn in the side of the music biz as an educational tool. His very first, back in 2008, was entitled Always On The Outside: Mavericks, Innovators And Building Your Own Ark. It included a dire warning that following music industry convention can result in musicians ‘castrating’ themselves.
The new breed of educators – such as Hook, Marr and Stewart – has been through the mill, made the mistakes and survived to tell the tale. So it may just be that the next generation of rock’n'rollers can learn something of lasting value from them, whether or not the existing music business survives the cataclysmic changes being forced on it by the internet.
And maybe, one day, pass the knowledge on.