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What The Zimmers did next

Alf Carretta in Prodigy mode (photo: Danny Clifford/Hottwire)
The Zimmers' lead singer Alf Carretta's homage to the Prodigy's Keith Flint

By Tim Samuels
BBC

Egos, bust ups and "artistic differences" - on the road with perhaps the world's oldest rock band.

The tufts of punk red hair sticking up are familiar. The words are delivered down the lens with the same hint of menace.

But there's a difference with this latest cover of The Prodigy's Firestarter. The lead singer snarling how he's "filth infatuated, yeahhh" is 91.

Popstar pensioners The Zimmers are back.

I never knew retirement would be so full
Singer Dolores Murray, 65

The band - whose average age is nearly 80 - stormed the charts in May 2007 with their version of The Who's My Generation. After months in the studio, they're now releasing their debut album.

Alongside Firestarter, 91-year-old lead singer Alf Carretta and the Zimmers take on other angst anthems, including Iggy Pop's Lust For Life - which gives its name to their album. There's also a full-throttle cover of the Beastie Boys' Fight for Your Right To Party.

Because The Zimmers want to show that we are wrong to write off old people, as if ageing means losing your personality, sense of humour - and rock'n'roll spirit.

It's a message the band has been pushing since My Generation became the most unusual top 30 hit of 2007. Not resting on their laurels of 5 million YouTube views of their video, interviews with media from 70 countries and an appearance on the Jay Leno Show alongside George Clooney, the band became part of the UN's International Day of Older People last week.

But once the razzmatazz of stretch limos and Malibu beach photo shoots faded, it's been back to the task facing any band - working on the next release.

A task somewhat harder than usual, given that none of the group has any professional musical background. They are just 40 lonely old people I brought together for a BBC documentary to challenge the way we view the elderly.

Rock spirit

But it hasn't stopped the Zimmers from morphing into true rockers.

There have been artistic differences and temper tantrums that would do a boy band proud. Members have threatened to walk out, nearly walked out, and even have walked out...but come back through the door. Divvying up daytime TV appearances can be an egotistical minefield (proof again that human nature remains as our bodies age).

Some of The Zimmers
Laying down tracks in the studio

But there's been overwhelming dedication and professionalism, from tough recording sessions with top producers - who are more accustomed to working with U2 and David Bowie - to performing at gigs around the world.

The past year hasn't brought the material trappings of stardom, but it has given an unexpected lease of life.

"It's been so exciting, every day has been different," says sextagenarian rocker Dolores Murray, who previously immersed herself in bingo. "One day in the studio, the next on a plane to Germany, then back for a radio show, a trip to a school, off to Downing Street and then onto a photo shoot. I never knew retirement would be so full.

"People come up to us in the street and thank us for what we are trying to do. It's quite overwhelming at times when people tell us that they feel empowered after meeting us and hearing what we stand for."

Empowered. That's one way to describe Alf's twisting Firestarter.


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