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Friday 10 September 2010


Tribute bands eh? Don't you just love them?
Or not, as the case may be.

I've been having some discussions recently, with a musician friend of mine, about tribute bands and their worth. And, because of my involvement, as a compere, at an upcoming local gig, headlined by an AC/DC tribute band, i posted a blog post on the Hastings Rock MySpace site, advertising the event and subsequent gigs as well.

But, after further discussions, since that recent blog post, i decided to share my own personal thoughts about this whole topic and this seemed like the best place to do it.

Anyone who knows me, knows that i am a big music fan and through my involvement as a DJ with Hastings Rock, i've developed a huge appreciation of local music and local musicians generally. But, as a DJ, i've only tended to play original music by those local musicians, rather than any cover versions and that is where my real interest lies.

Like anyone else, i go to pubs and watch the local covers bands doing their stuff and very good the vast majority of them are too. They provide a great service to those who just want to go out, have a few drinks and generally have a good time. And with that i have absolutely no problem at all.

My problem, if that is what it is, is with the, seemingly, ever increasing amount of tribute bands that do the rounds and have probably visited your own town recently.
These are the bands that are effectively a carbon copy version of the real thing. Often going as far as having members who look like the original members and certainly dressing the same as them.  They try to use the same instruments and also copy the stage acts and mannerisms of the original artists.
They also charge you quite a lot of money for the priviledge of seeing them too (I wonder if they have to pay any royalties to the original act? And if not, why not?)

The first band that i remember who fitted into this category, were The Bootleg Beatles. No prizes for guessing who they were copying. I did see them, many years ago and enjoyed them. They even split their set into two parts, to cover different periods of The Beatles career. Complete with a costume change.
Since then, the whole tribute band scene has developed and is now a pretty lucrative business. There are tribute bands to all of the major acts, both from the rock and pop world. These acts can be seen touring all over the UK and beyond. I've even seen whole festivals devoted to rtibute bands.

So, there is obviously a big market for this type of entertainment. But, that doesn't mean that i have to like it.
It's not that iwsh to stop people going out and enjoying themselves. My own problem with all of this is the effect that it might have on the nurturing of up and coming local, original, talent.
The whole world has gone copy cat mad and there is just no room left for new and original music.
I realise that this can be seen a a bit of an exaggeration. But, i do think it does have a noticable effect at a local level.

Local musicians, that i know, speak of their inability to get gigs when showcasing their own, original, music. All of the gigs seem to be taken up by bands doing those crowd pleasing cover versions. And, maybe, that's where, ultimately, the problem lies? People are voting with their feet and with their wallets and saying, "we want to hear familar music".
And, if you're the owner of a venue, the customer is always right. Aren't they?

So, maybe we've only got ourselves to blame for this situation? The problem is, where is all of the future original music going to come from?
And, is this yet another effect of the "X Factor" etc?
Yes, i know that tribute bands have been aroung longer that the "Pop Idol" type of shows. But, maybe those shows have had an effect on the popularity of the many tribute bands around and actually helped to increase their number?

Years ago the tribute bands that were around, like The Bootleg Beatles, seemed to only copy those acts that you just could not see. Whether that be The Beatles, The Doors, or Led Zeppelin etc, who had split up and therefore could not tour anymore. Or, maybe, some of those really big bands who toured infrequently and often only in huge arenas, miles from home and who were, quite frankly, past their prime anyway.

These days, just about everyone seems to have a tribute band based on them. It's probably become almost a badge of honour amongst acts, to have your own tribute band.

And that brings up another aspect to this whole topic.
I can understand why people might want to go and see a good tribute band, for an act like Led Zeppelin, or The Beatles. Those acts, as i said before, that it's just not possible to see live anymore, for whatever reason.
But, i can't see the same attraction in going to see a tribute of an act that is stil going strong, still in their prime and still available to see. For example, a local venue in my hometown recently booked a tribute act to the Kings Of Leon. I have no idea how many people turned up on the night. But, i wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't a roaring success.

I suppose that it could be argued that by going to see the tribute act, of an existing band, that you are getting an approximation of the original band and at least you don't have to sit through all of those boring new album tracks, that you've never heard before! But, personally i'd rather save up and make the effort to go and see the real thing.

As for those bands who are no longer in their prime, or who just don't exist anymore. Maybe, those good tribute bands are a worthy substitute?
After all, what you get to see is a re-creation of whichever band, in their prime and playing a greatest hits set. A band that you quite possibly never had the chance to see in their heyday.

I was lucky enough to see Led Zeppelin in their prime, The Who with Keith Moon, AC/DC with Bon Scott and Lynyrd Skynyrd before the plane crash and i would not wish to spoil those good memories, by paying to see a re-creation of those days.
And maybe, that is at the heart of my objections?

Having said that, is a tribute band any worse than a band using the original name, but having very few, if any, original members in the existing line up? To me, that is just plain wrong.

I've just read that Big Country are re-forming. Despite the fact the band's founder, singer, songwriter and main guitarist, Stuart Adamson, died 9 years ago. WTF?
To me that is just as ridiculous as The Jam without Paul Weller, Thin Lizzy without Phil Lynott, The Doors without Jim Morrison and just in case they get any ideas, Led Zeppelin without Robert Plant.

Just don't get me started on that one!


  1. Interestingly enough, I'll be going to see a U2 tribute band tomorrow night called "U2Zoo." I saw them earlier this summer as well. They dress like U2 and even have an effects machine for "The Edge" to get their sound that has the same design as The Edge's. I'm never sure what I think about it. I've seen U2 almost a dozen times in concert and all this does is make me want to see them some more.

    I know that woman who hired the band for this gig. It's quite possible that I'll be able to "meet the band backstage" and even hang out with them at an after party. Cool, right?

    But it's not U2!

    They're a good...hell, AMAZING facsimile of them...but I have such mixed feelings about it. I mean, what do I say to them if I meet them? "Good job at imitating my favorite band??"

    Their version of "The Edge" actually friended me on FaceBook (getting my email off of a mailing list). I've had one or two FB conversations with him. In the end, he's just an uber U2 fan like myself who loves playing their songs. I guess that's not a bad gig to have!

    For what it's worth, I've seen a Pink Floyd tribute act twice now ("Project Pink") and a Beatles Tribute Band ("American English") once. I always leave these shows with mixed feelings. It's great that I got to spend a night listening to my favorite songs....But it's not really THE band.

    Great post! :)

  2. I'm sure that some of the bands do it because of their love of the music & the band. But, i suspect it's sometimes done for other reasons too.
    I understand those mixed feelings & that's pretty much how i feel too. It's just not the real thing is it?

  3. When I feel myself getting worked up over this, I just have to remind myself, you can't knock a performer (musician, actor, whatever) for taking a paying gig. I may not like to waste much time on tribute bands, but a lot of people (far less uptight about music than I am) love them.

    An old friend of my brother's from High School spent many years on Broadway as Ringo in Beatlemania - but that show did rise above the status of tribute band into another territory.

    My other brother spent his college years in a Fleetwood Mac tribute band. Considering that F-Mac were touring quite regularly in that period (just following Rumour), it does raise the question of "why?", but the real F-Mac weren't playing many campus pubs in San Diego; only the sports arena.

    And, yes, there are bands that end up as tribute bands themselves when the closest they are to what you remember is a rhythm guitarist who's second cousin was married to a guy from the original line-up.

    If memory serves, at one time "Herman's Hermits" were touring with one original Hermit and a new Herman. Peter Noone, meanwhile, was touring as well (and sounding great). I think Peter finally won rights over the group name, as it should be.

    Several former members of the Kinks play around as the Kast-off Kinks.

    I guess we have a surplus of old rockers who just refuse to retire.

    I think I'll organize a Tommy Roe tribute band, it's all making me Dizzy, my head is spinning...

  4. Ken: I agree that a gig is a gig & i don't really blame the musicians, as such. It must be pretty easy money. But, probably a steady gig as well.
    And yes, there sure are a lot of old rockers still out there. So the temptation must be to "get the band back together", even if most of them did "Die before they got old".
    The fact that people are so willing to go & see these tribute acts & reformed bands, must mean that i'm in a bit of a minority here.