Whatever happened to the punk ethic ‘Find a guitar, learn three chords, form a band’?
These days, aspiring musos seem to aim no higher than aping the mannerisms and melodies of their heroes. Inspiration plays second fiddle to imitation in the line up of tribute bands across the nation.
I thought the definition of ‘tribute’ was ‘a gift or compliment given as due or in acknowledgment of gratitude or esteem’ not a ‘shoddy knock-off job’, but it seems I was wrong. From No Way Sis to The Fab Faux, appalling puns are only the start of the dreary experience that these puppets on a guitar string are intent on inflicting.
Like a lot of objectionable trends, the roots of the tribute band can be traced back to Australia. Given the lack of bands willing to haul their gear across the world for a two-night stint in a Sydney pub, it fell to locals to recreate the magic of heavy rock, showbiz schlock and sixties cheese. Following in the wake of Neighbours, INXS and Russell Crowe, these bands eventually imposed their gifts on the world at large.
North Cumbria has much in common with the land of Oz. The scenery is beautiful, the people have an uncomplicated view of life and there is hardly anywhere for thespians, musicians and other aesthetes to test their talent. During a visit to Penrith recently, I met up with my friend the photographer Linda Mellor and her family and we caught Fire and Water (Free meets Bad Company meets whatever) doing their thing at the Rose and Crown in Low Hesket. Not a natural environment for a night of musical mayhem, you might think, and you’d be right. It wasn’t so much bad as surreal. For a start the crowd had more energy than the band; the lead singer suffered from terminal shyness; and the backing track was doing all the work. If you are going to copy a band, I think you should at least form the original line up. Listening to some guys with a guitar and mix tape isn’t a concert, it’s karaoke.
By way of coincidence, I happen to part of a team organising a night of open mic, karaoke and other live shenanigans in Brighton later this month. If you are in the area, bring your talent and earn yourself a few cocktails. Be your own tribute.