Tuesday, 16 October 2007

The Trouble With Tributes

To be honest, I was never a fan of the tribute band scene. The whole thing seemed kinda tragic (hey, possible name for a bad Queen tribute there!), as flat chested Dolly Partons, balding Robert Smiths and 6ft 5 Princes across the country gave it their all. It all seemed a bit too 'Stars in Their Eyes' for my liking, all that was missing was Matthew Kelly appearing at the end of the show to tweak their elbow and say - in his most insincere manner - "… you were great you were".

As a passionate music fan, I seemed to have some sort of inbuilt snobbery within, that automatically looked down on this type of act. Remember the famous John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett sketch on the British class system? Well John Cleese was my 'proper music' looking down on him - Ronnie Corbett being my 'tribute act'!

I'd always imagined that the people who went along to these shows, couldn't really be 'true' music fans if they were happy to settle for these impersonators. Why the hell would you wanna go see a Bowie tribute act when the real deal still tours? I concluded that the audiences must be made up of the same people who as kids, bought those 'Top of the Pops' albums from Woolworths, crammed with all the latest chart hits, but alas, performed by session musicians (I fuckin hated them too!).

But you know what? Finally, I get it! And although I'll never be replacing all my 'legit' gigs with tribute ones, I now see that they can really serve a purpose. The tribute scene has certainly got a lot smarter over the years, which has helped its cause no end. Originally it was just belting out the 'hits', but now a number of acts are using their talents to re-create the past. A time machine back to the 1960's and 70's for £6 and the price of a pint - what a bargain! Yeah, Bowie still tours, but he's no Ziggy Stardust anymore (more Ziggy Stairlift), and even if he does still sing material from that album, you'll be lucky if it's anything more than the title track. So tribute acts such as Jean Genie, who do a whole set that replicate the shows from that period of Bowies career, do fill a legitimate gap in the market. I absolutely love Bowie, but his Ziggy period was way before I was old enough to go to gigs, so other than watching some grainy ol' footage, Jean Genie is the closest I'm ever going to get to sampling this part of his career 'in the flesh'.

There are also some pretty shrewd tributes (particularly for some of the more 'worthy' acts, Who, Floyd, Zeppelin, Stones etc) who are now picking different 'sets' and eras for their performances. 'Whos Who' are known to knock out the whole 'Live at Leeds' album set (including the missing tracks), which is predominantly tracks from the Tommy album. So unbelievably you can now have the same grumble of a tribute as you can of the real McCoy ("can't believe they didn't do…") - but personally, I think the homing in on particular periods and sets is a smart move.

So what was the epiphany that finally won me over to the dark side? It was the Marc Bolan tribute act Too-Rex (http://www.toorex.com/). Evan as a big Bolan fan, I doubt I'd have ever bothered to check 'em out, were it not for the fact that a mates band (none other than Mr Planet Mondo himself (http://planetmondo.blogspot.com) got a support slot with them a year or so ago. We wandered along to provide some moral support, and of course, you might as well hang around for the main act. And that was it! We've been to see then 3 or 4 times now. Although a 4 piece, Too-Rex is essentially Bobby T and a backing band. Bobby is the only member who dresses for the occasion, whilst the rest of the band are happy to take a back seat in their civvies and provide the faithful reproduction of that T-Rex sound (if not the sight).

Despite what it says on his birth certificate, Bobby T IS Marc Bolan. Not only has he got the basics required (the voice, the outfits and some 'stick on' glitter), he got the stance of Bolan, his walk, his facial expressions, he's the same size and build as him, he looks like him, and incredibly even has his teeth and smile!

Bobby was a Bolan fan in his youth, and his love of the man shines through. Yes you get all the hits, but the set list regularly changes, with b-sides, album tracks and rarities all making an appearance. And if this can introduce new, younger fans to the world of Marc Bolan and keep his music alive, how can this be anything but a good thing?

The biggest compliment I can pay Too-Rex is that I take them seriously. It's not a case of leaning at the bar and sniggering, these are top quality musicians (find me a better drummer than Steevi Bacon!), who have completely nailed Bolans look and sound. Within a few minutes of them taking to the stage, your brain starts to play tricks on you (you know like the way it'll suspend belief during 4 Die Hard films, to let you think that ANY of the content could be remotely believable!), you forget Bolan died 30 years ago, you forget you've gone to see a tribute act, tonight Mathew, they ARE T-Rex.

If you are still one of the disbelievers, check out the clip below that I took a couple of weeks back at a Too-Rex show (on 30th September, the date, bizarrely, that would have been Bolans 60th Birthday).

And if you fancy a bit more, this if far better than the dodgy clip I filmed on my phone. Too-Rex performing Jeepster earlier this year:



Axe Victim said...

No no no no no - the acceptence of tribute bands is the first shot across the bows of a potential mid life crisis. This must stop - now!

Piley said...

But some of em are SOO good Axe, why only the other nite I went to a Magic Ship Tribute gig ('Not Bad Ship') and tip top they were too!!! ;-)

Mondo said...

Completely agree P - the clincher for me is main band at Wembley or tribute band at the local. Why do you go see either? Because of the songs you know.

There may be rock snobbery with trib's but you’re there for the same reason as the biggies. To hear what you know. Everyone in the audience does the ol’ ‘comfort break’ as soon as the new songs are announced. And the tributes normally do a better version, broader range and probably play better then the real deal. It’s mainly the Elvis impersonators that give ‘em all a band name

They real artists know you'r there only to catch them before they retire (again) or peg out and they’re picking you’re pocket while tickling your memories. Where as the tributes give you what you want, for less than the real band's tour t shirt – so who’s really got the most integrity out of the two.

I did see a Blondie tribute band - with a widescreen version of 'Debbie Harry' out front - still a tip top night and great value pound for pund so to speak.

Have you checked my radio grumble on Channel Mondo?

marmiteboy said...

Ah The Tribute band. Spawn of the devil and karaoke for the masses.

Mondo said...

Even the real thing's have started getting in on the act
Here's some of the big name's doing tributes to themselves performing live versions of their own albums

Bowie - Low
Lou Reed - Berlin
John Martyn - Solid Air
Human League - Dare
Sex Pistols meant to be doing NMTB, and have even the have got the Sex Pistols Experience as support

Basically it's an admission of 'I know you're not interested in the new stuff, and I'm bored of the old stuff - so how about this'

Anonymous said...

Nothing wrong with tribute bands, especially those who are genuine fans of the band they are tributing and very respectful of every detail. Best I have seen were Australian Doors, LA Doors (Marmiteboy you were there too and seemed to be enjoying the devil's spawn that night lol) Not the Jam and Who's Who!! Great fun!!!

Piley said...

Aww, pity ya didn't sign it! But thanks all for the comments, mixed feelings indeed. And having been in both camps over the years, can appreciate pretty much ALL the comments.

But it gets weirder, what about tribute bands such as "From The Jam" wich actually features Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler, two thirds of the original line-up of The Jam!!!

Weller could reform the Jam with 2 bozos and no doubt get asway with actually calling it The Jam. Truth is strager than friction eh?!