Kids and gigs – will it work?

Jonathan Gibbs

Taking our three boys to their first proper pop concert hit a stumbling block before it even began – the gig, booked long in advance, clashed with a friend’s seventh birthday party. Their priority: party, not gig. We reluctantly overruled them, in the interests of their general cultural development, and set off for the South Bank on a sunny London Saturday. The big question: could they be won over?

Times have certainly changed. I didn’t go to a gig until my teens, but these days child-friendliness comes pretty high up the list of features for festivals such as Latitude, Green Man and The Big Chill. A festival is certainly on our to-do list, and the boys (7, 7 and 6) have been dragged along to a couple of family classical concerts, but it was the arrival of They Might Be Giants in London that spurred us on to take them to their first gig.

TMBG 300x225 Kids and gigs   will it work?

They Might Be Giants at the Royal Festival Hall

I was a fan of TMBG back in the late 80s and early 90s, but their kooky New York pastiche-pop had gone off my radar until three years ago, when we spent the summer driving down the west coast of America. I wanted some kids’ music to play in the car and picked up their “family album” ‘No!’ along with The Johnny Cash Children’s Album and another CD of childhood standards (who knew that Woody Guthrie had written so many kids’ songs?).

The selection went down very well indeed, and the boys quickly progressed from They Might Be Giants’ kids album to their grown-up ones (though you’ve got to say there’s not that much difference between them). Their current CD, ‘Here Comes Science’ is particularly good, like a hyper-smart Sesame Street tie-in, with such educational tunes as ‘Meet The Elements’, ‘Photosynthesis’ and the Creationism-bashing ‘My Brother The Ape’.

And after all why shouldn’t kids have their own music of quality? They have Shrek and Toy Story in the cinema, Harry Potter and his descendants on the bookshelf and pantos at Christmas, so why should they have to put up with the Wiggles on the stereo? There’s certainly precious little out there, but anyone with kids and a vaguely alternative music taste should check out the Giants albums, and Johnny Cash, plus two kids compilations featuring top-notch indie bands: Colours Are Brighter (with original songs by Belle and Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand and Jonathan Richman) and Songs For The Young At Heart (mostly covers, including an awesome rendition of ‘Puff The Magic Dragon’ by Bonnie “Prince” Billy).

Which is all well and good for the car stereo, or for dancing around the sitting room, but how would they deal with a live gig? Well, the result was a 2-1 vote of approval. For one of the boys it was just too loud and, at about an hour and twenty minutes, too long. For the others, it was a great experience – most of the songs they knew, and were happy to sing along to, getting up and dancing in the aisles when they could.

The band kept things moving quickly along, swapping things about to give different members the chance to sing and slowing down for the occasional impressive saxophone solo. There wasn’t much in the way of stage trickery beyond some powerful confetti cannons and a live sock puppet interlude projected onto a screen. So, yes, an experience to try, but let’s face it – gigs are something for them to discover themselves, as teenagers, not to be dragged along to month in month out by their determinedly hip parents. Though, if these boys’ pogoing in the aisles to ‘I Am A Palaeontologist’ is anything to go by, they’ll have a great time gigging when they get there.

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