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Geriatrics singing Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen? Sarah Tierney looks forward to one of the odder events of Manchester International Festival

Published on June 26th 2009.


'How old you are is not as important as how you are old.' That's a line taken from the This n That curry house calendar – Confidential's preferred supplier of pseudo-philosophical wisdom. It's also the ethos behind Young@Heart, a chorus of amateur crooners aged 70-upwards from Massachusetts who are appearing at the Manchester International Festival.

Hits on their repertoire include The Clash's 'Should I Stay Or Should I Go?', The Bee Gees' 'Stayin' Alive', and The Ramones' 'I Wanna Be Sedated'.

Their approach to growing old seems to involve a determination to enjoy themselves and ensure that younger generations don't lay sole claim to all the best songs. Hits on their repertoire include The Clash's 'Should I Stay Or Should I Go?', The Bee Gees' 'Stayin' Alive', The Ramones' 'I Wanna Be Sedated', and Coldplay's 'Fix You'.

The latter has become a YouTube hit. The now-deceased Fred Knittle, who slowly ambles to his seat in the middle of the stage, manages to make even Chris Martin's lyrics sound profound. The first few lines: 'When you try your best but you don't succeed, when you get what you want but not what you need' don't sound like cheese-laded clichés when they're sang by a man with an oxygen bag by his side. The result is unexpectedly sad.

Other songs have the opposite effect. Despite its downbeat lyrics, Bruce Springsteen's 'Dancing in the Dark' becomes a life-affirming, defiant response to growing older. Young@Heart performed this at a US prison to a transfixed crowd of inmates – it's one of the scenes in an award-winning feature film that was made about them by British director Stephen Walker.

The film built on the international exposure that Young@Heart were gaining through tours in Europe, Australia, and Canada. They get rave reviews wherever they go and their arrival in Manchester could be one of the highlights of the festival. They've created a new show called End of The Road, and reports suggest that it will be something special.

Far from a patronising gimmick, or a well-meaning community project, Young@Heart are artists – in the finest sense of the word. They make audiences see ageing and older generations in a new way, they transform familiar songs into something extraordinary, and best of all, they rock. They're not the biggest name of the festival, but they may turn out to be one of the most memorable.

Young@Heart in End of the Road by No Theater at the RNCM, Friday 10 July to Saturday 18 July, £15/£27.50. For more information and tickets click here or call 0844 815 4960.

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Man of the WorldJune 26th 2009.

Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen ARE geriatrics.

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