The United Kingdom is one of the most prolific producers of stellar rock bands in the world, there is no doubt about it. What is up for debate, however, is the reasons why this is the case. The second half of the 20th century has gifted us with some of the highest concentration of musical talent in a given period of time, with the UK having one of the highest rockstar-per-capita scores. Let’s explore some of the hypotheses that exist about what British rock owes its success to.
The cynical will count luck as the primary culprit for this, and this is an argument that is easy to dismiss, but there is truth to it. It is not so much luck as timing, where the 1960’s was the time of the cultural revolution for most of the western world. It may just be part of sheer circumstance that it was during that period that rock and rock’n’roll bands began to pop up in basements and garages. The geography of Britain may have also played a role. The population of many rockstar native towns was small, so making a name for yourself was not that difficult. And once a town is won over, it’s easy to move on to the next, which is exactly what happened. Put simply, the barriers to entry into the rock world in the UK at the time were lower than the US for example.
Another reason for Britain’s success in producing rock music was that their direct competition – the US – was consistently shooting itself in the foot. Rock in general owes much of its roots to blues, which was the domain of the African-American population in the west. For that reason, the west ignored the genre for a long time, unable to see past the socio-economic and racial division that seemed to be inherent in it. The Brits didn’t have a dog in that tragic race, and gladly imported the sounds of Blues into a nation that was already famous for its arguably pessimistic outlook on life. So while the US was putting pop music on top of their charts, the British musicians dug deep into the soul with the tools that they have successfully adopted from blues. This resonated with incredible strength with the western youth of that time.
Arts were always an important part of the British schooling. Education in art and humanities was often seen as a sign of high class and aristocratic heritage. Private schools in Britain were heavily focused on art education especially, which involved literature and music. This meant that the teenage garage bands that were the conception of British rock fame were far more well equipped to become successful than their counterparts who came from a culture that had a lesser focus on arts. Such famous examples as Jimmy Page and John Lennon have some level of art education in their background. And even if it wasn’t related to music directly, exposure to any art education fosters creativity, which is certainly a contributing factor to British rock.