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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The party’s not over at 50: why midlifers are refusing to give up on fun

When did you last go out-out? Not just out to the pub, but home-at-2-am, clear-your-diary-for the-next-day out? Ask around your friends and you’ll find it’s not just Michael Gove who loves a late-night boogie. Whether it’s a Covid-compliant festival, gig, club night or “do” in a friend’s back garden, partying is strictly back on the menu for midlifers hell-bent on having a good time.

The rules about ageing with quiet decorum have been torn up. Unlike our parents’ generation whose social lives were limited at best, growing up in the late 70s and 80s makes us 1part of a unique generation approaching ageing in a completely different way. And if you grew up loving live music, clubbing and carousing, why on earth would you stop?

For one thing, we are in better shape than previous generations at this stage of life. “When I was a kid, by 50 you were clapped out, mainly because the working environment was much tougher,” says Andrew Harrison, former editor of Q, Mixmag and Select magazines, and now producer-presenter of The Culture Bunker podcast. “But nowadays we have more stamina. We’re healthier, fitter and we eat better than our parents’ generation who would have been too exhausted for raving at the weekend – had it existed.”

In 2015 marketing communications brand JWT published their ground-breaking report The Elastic Generation, highlighting the fact that people in their 50s and 60s are simply refusing to grow old the way their parents did, benefiting from a longer life expectancy and working life. According to a report by the Think Lab: “No other generation that has faced life after midlife has been able to participate in society in such vital condition and with such endless technological possibilities.”

If you’re now in your 50s, the experience of growing up through an explosion of youth culture left its mark. The 1970s were dominated by glam, punk, disco, ska and metal. With the 1980s came a plethora of style tribes like soul, goth, new romantic, hip-hop, grunge and rave. The clothes and haircuts defined us, while our passions were fed by MTV and The Tube and informed by the NME, The Face, Smash Hits and ID. With era-defining films like Saturday Night Fever and The Breakfast Club, it was all about the music, the looks, the dancing and disaffected youth.

We had a lot of freedom to explore that culture and going to clubs and gigs was a massive part of our lives. Nikki Spencer is founder of Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet (haventstoppeddancingyet.co.uk), a club night with an ageless door policy and a disco playlist. “All those teenage experiences gave us a taste of freedom and fun, and we’re not prepared to put a lid on it once we get a bit older and the responsibility of parenthood is behind us,” she says. “Why sit on the sofa and watch dancing on Strictly when we could be out dancing with our friends?”

Whether music festivals were part of our youth or not, the urge to don glittery face paint and dance in a field has become widespread. In fact, 31 per cent of Glastonbury attendees in 2016 were over 40. “People going to Glastonbury in the 1980s when they were 20 are still going in their 50s, and it’s changed with them. In fact, I think it’s miles better,” says Andrew Harrison. Smaller grown-up festivals like Latitude and Wilderness are chock-a-block with over 40s, with glamping and upmarket cuisine catering to those beyond the “roughing-it” stage.

An increase in pleasurable leisure options has had a huge impact. The popularity of gigs among the middle-aged is partly due to the experience becoming considerably more agreeable. Venues are simply more inviting. “Instead of being jammed into a stinky hall with a crap PA, it’s now standard for every band to put on a show, with proper lighting and back projection in a decent venue,” says Harrison. And with bands like the Rolling Stones and the Specials still touring, the shift away from recorded music into the live show has encouraged people to keep going out and seeing the bands they grew up with.

Of course, the health and wellbeing benefits of remaining socially adventurous go far beyond fun. A study by O2 found attending live music once every two weeks can increase life expectancy by up to nine years. People who experience goosebumps during live entertainment form stronger relationships, are higher achievers and are happier and healthier than those that don’t, according to a study by Barclaycard.

This desire to keep the party going isn’t even borne out of a need to hark back to our younger days, says Harrison, but the fact that we never lost interest in pop culture in the first place. And having the stamina to keep going out means we can stay engaged. “You don’t need to recapture your youth because you can continue living it through your life. If you have an interest in music, film and culture, you no longer lose interest in them once you have kids.” And, unlike previous generations, whether it’s a big-venue concert, a club night, a festival or a party with a gang of like-minded mates, the energy to keep going out-out can last long after those kids have left home.

‘I love the euphoria of festivals’

Wendy Rigg, 63, south-east London

The first major gig I went to was to see the Rolling Stones in Glasgow in 1975. After that I was properly hooked on live music – the thrill of being in a crowd, the elation of being in the moment. Nothing beats that euphoric feeling of togetherness. It’s such a magical sense of community that you don’t get anywhere else. In 1978 I moved to London and was always at venues like the Roundhouse, the Marquee and Dingwalls, seeing bands like Ian Dury and the Blockheads, and the Stranglers.

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