As rock star dream fades, "Kindie" takes off

LONDON Thu Feb 28, 2008 9:56am EST

1 of 11. Crowd members watch U.S. artist 'Mr Ray' play a gig at Battersea Arts Centre in south London February 22, 2008. He plays so-called 'Kindie' music - indy style music for kids - to an audience made up of three to ten year olds - together with parents.

Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville

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LONDON (Reuters) - Luke stands on his seat and strums wildly on his copycat rock guitar. Isabel and Jasper pogo and body slam with the best of them in the mosh pit. Potential crowd surfers and stage divers are held back by minders.

The gig is in south London, the star is "Mr Ray", and the audience are mostly between three and four years old.

This is "Kindie" -- a combination of kids' and "indie" or independent music and a genre which is taking hold of British pre-schoolers and bidding to oust the grinding of "The Wheels on the Bus" from the family car CD player.

Mr Ray (www.mrray.com) has played with rock gods like Bruce Springsteen and Meat Loaf, but now, he says wistfully after his London gig, "as the rock and roll star dream fades, it is great to be the soundtrack to families' lives".

The 41-year-old musician from New Jersey in the United States is part of an emerging set of alternative or Kindie musicians who want their own children to enjoy real music that engages both them and their parents.

"I'm starting to write more for families than just for kids," said Mr Ray, aka Ray Andersen, a father and Kindie rock star and the man behind such tracks as "Gimme a Hi-5" and "George the Groovy Giraffe".

"There are more and more mums and dads showing up at gigs with their kids."

With song titles like "Kalien the Alien" and "I'd be a Dinosaur", Andersen knows his market, and plays right to it.

"If I could be anything I'd be a dinosaur...If I could have anything I'd have the meanest roar," he sings as his young fans snarl and roar at his feet.

Andersen says he gets just as much of a buzz from performing to a venue full of toddlers sugared-up on raisins and apple juice as he did when he played with Springsteen.

"It's different -- it's daytime, everybody's sober -- but I love to see kids singing and dancing and enjoying the music."

"HIDEOUS NURSERY RHYMES"

Neal Whitmore, once Neal X from the 1980s cyberpunk band Sigue Sigue Sputnik but now one half of British Kindie duo Green Means Go, said the arrival of his own offspring made him take a hard look at the children's music market.

"When we took the kids to friends or neighbors or toddler groups, people would play these hideous nursery rhyme CDs.

"I think I've got quite broad tastes in music -- but nursery rhymes done by someone with a school-marm voice and a synthesizer are awful, and I thought there has got to be something better than this."

As a result Whitmore decided to close the door firmly on his Sputnik days of pink Mohawk hairstyles and fetish clothing, and teamed up with another London-based musician, Caroline Chan: Green Means Go (www.greenmeansgo.co.uk) was born.

The duo's compilations, "A Day at the Seaside" and "A Day in the Jungle", combine original songs with musically sophisticated and well-produced cover versions of children's classics.

Their live shows for toddlers run a couple of times a week in north London, and Whitmore, who also still does "adult" gigs with Marc Almond of the 1980s pop group Soft Cell, said performing for children is as rewarding as riding the charts with "Love Missile F1-11".

"It feels good. It feels like a step forward," he said. "I always leave on a real high. And the response we have had to our music has been overwhelming. I've had the best reviews I've ever had for anything I've ever done."

Kindie is taking off in the United States, where singers like Dan Zanes (previously of the band Del Fuegos) and bands like They Might Be Giants have released several albums into a growing pre-schoolers' market. And, as so often, Britain is close behind.

"Until recently I felt it was something that was neglected and ridiculed in Britain," says Whitmore. "I thought it was something that had to change, and now that change has started."

Like Whitmore, Mr Ray says he was happy, almost relieved, to be able to move on from the wilder angst of his previous musical career into a more sober daytime Kindie career.

His lyrics show he now enjoys tapping into the pre-school zeitgeist with songs like "Creepie Crawlers", "When I Grow Up" and "Do You Believe in Monsters".

And there are a few tracks, such as "Flower Power" -- "I'm a little flower, watch me as I grow into so many, many colours" -- which may evoke parental memories of the hazier days, to appeal across generations.

Excited fans queuing for a chance to speak to or touch Mr Ray after his gig are in no doubt about his music.

Luke -- the one playing along on his toy guitar -- has been to numerous gigs and said: "It's loud and it's just fun."

His mother, Paula Tindale, thinks her son loves Kindie because the movement offers something different from old-fashioned and uninspiring traditional nursery rhymes.

"The songs are more fun and more engaging," she told Reuters. "This is music that is of our time."

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