- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2007

LONDON — A British rock band with a combined age of more than 3,000 years and a lead singer who was born when Woodrow Wilson was president released its first single this week and already is preparing to visit America.

The 40-strong group calls itself the Zimmers, after the steel walking frame that is popular (or perhaps not so popular) with the elderly — including its own singers, many of whom are cooped up in a home for the aged in Britain. Or they were, until their pop music breakout.

The funky oldies’ quest for fame and fortune is pinned on a reworked version of The Who’s classic rock hit, “My Generation,” with its pithy message that “Things they do look awful c-c-cold. … I hope I die before I get old.”

That may be a bit ironic, seeing that the Zimmers’ average age is 78, with lead crooner Alf Carretta a sturdy 90, and keyboard player and crochet expert Winifred Warburton, barely short of her century (she was born the year Henry Ford produced his first Model-T automobile). None is younger than 69.

On the other hand, the two surviving members of The Who — guitarist Pete Townshend, who wrote the song, and lead singer Roger Daltrey — are no youngsters themselves at ages 62 and 63, respectively.

The Zimmers’ cover version of “My Generation” was released as a single on Monday, but the group already has been pulling in music lovers, young and old alike, for weeks. Since their video, shot by Grammy Award-winning director Geoff Wonfor, was released on the YouTube Web site last month, more than 2 million people have viewed the new Internet sensations.

They continue to tune in by the thousands every day, and Tim Samuels, the British Broadcasting Corp. documentary maker who organized the Zimmers and launched them on their way, is delighted.

“This is about old people sticking it back to the society that has cast them aside,” Mr. Samuels told journalists. “We wanted to take them on a rock ‘n’ roll journey that would challenge all out preconceptions of [old-age pensioners] and give them a great time.”

Mr. Samuels said the band is expected to head to the United States within the next few days for a series of appearances, including a spot next week on the “Tonight Show With Jay Leno” alongside actor George Clooney, plus a meeting with pop music entrepreneur Simon Cowell.

But for some of the Zimmers singers, part of the reward for newfound fame is just getting out of the building where they live. Joan Bennett, who is in her 90s, said the experience marked the first opportunity she’s had in three years to leave her home in a London high-rise.

Mrs. Warburton, who lives in a care home in Derby, England, says her fondest memory (so far) was the day that the Zimmers recorded their album at London’s Abbey Road studios, made famous by another noteworthy British rock group, the Beatles, nearly half a century ago.

Also along for the Zimmers’ steady totter to the top of pop is Buster Martin, who at 100 is a year older than Mrs. Warburton and who, when he’s not making music, still works three days as a plumber.

Mr. Carretta added that, “For me, to have recorded a song in the same studio as the Beatles is just so exciting. I can’t believe this is happening.”

“I feel like the whole experience has brought me back to life,” said Mr. Carretta, who before the geriatric singing opportunity came along had spent the past 30 years playing bingo with a half-dozen pals who also would become members of the Zimmers. “I was stuck in a rut, and now I feel alive again.”

For good measure, a few of the Zimmers walked the walk that the Beatles took at a crossing on Abbey Road for the iconic photograph that became the cover for the LP that bore the name of the thoroughfare.

But most if not all of the Zimmers were approaching middle age when the Beatles hit the scene. The music they grew up with included the melodies of Nat King Cole, the Andrews Sisters and Bing Crosby, and the big band hits of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey.

All that is a long way from their current repertoire, which includes Prodigy’s “Firestarter” and Jermaine Stewart’s “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off.”

And for good measure, there’s the Zimmers’ own take on a Beatles’ classic — except in their case they have slightly retitled it, to: “When I’m (One Hundred and) Sixty-Four.”

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