When is a Band not a Band?

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As predicted by myself a few weeks ago The Bay City Rollers have reformed. To be honest that didn’t require psychic abilities on my part. The clock is ticking for the Rollers, Les McKeown has an extensive substance abuse past and lets face no one is getting any younger.

However the band is not going to be the full Rollers drummer Derek Longmuir and ‘lead’ guitarist Eric Faulkner will not be joining their former band mates.. Derek’s absence is no surprise, nt only is he totally bald but he’s got a conviction for possession of possession of indecent images of children which would probably upset some of the more sensitive grandmothers in the audience.

Eric’s absence is more significant. To many, he was as important as McKeown, he was at least the Richards to McKeown’s Jagger. Without Eric we have a lead singer, a rhythm guitarist and a bass player. There will, of course, be at least two hired hands. Far more talented than the musicians they replaced, younger but so not young as to shame the original members, and totally anonymous.

And hence the question ‘when is a band not a band?’.

This is not the Bay City Rollers its three members of the band. For a couple of years the Rollers were so massive that each member was famous and each , even Derek, had their own fan base. I suspect that a lot of people going to the gigs probably wont be the most hardcore of music fans and wont really have wised up to the fact that this is ‘Rollers lite’.

In the 60’s pop music was considered a fad that probably wouldn’t last. Even the Beatles in their early days expressed the desire to be as big as Cliff and The Shadows and no more. In other words a few hits, a couple of pantos and then probably get a real job. The Beatles of course set the template in that they split forever after just eight years. I remember Status Quo celebrating 13 years together in the 70’s which, at the time was regarded as the outer limits of a band’s longevity.

Quo are a good example of how to survive forever. Firstly they are far from the original line up, drummer John Coughlan was the first casualty followed by bassist Alan Lancaster. followed by  shifting line up ever since. Secondly they just kept going, in the late 70’s their stock was low but they stuck to their guns and today have gone full circle as one of the most popular live draws in the UK.

There has always been a Status Quo though, they have evolved which is a bit different to reforming.

And of course the main reason for reforming is always money. In the early 60’s no one really expected to make a career from pop music, there simply wasn’t a blueprint for that happening. By the late 60’s and the early 70’s it was possible to make a huge amount of money from pop music but there was no blueprint for how to manage that. Much of the money the Beatles made is simply untraceable because their finances had become so complicated that no one could keep track of it. In short ripping off musicians was expected and accepted.

So when a band dissolved amid personal, musical and financial differences most of the musicians were more than happy to walk away from the wreckage intact. However music has a life of its own. Take ELO for example, by the late 70’s they were a soft rock embarrassment, the sort of music beloved of sales reps and Alan Partridge. Over the years our appreciation of them has grown almost to the point were they are regarded as some sort of continuation of the Beatles, aided and abetted of course by Jeff Lynn’s involvement with later Beatles recordings. ELO are about to release a new record which has caused intense levels of excitement among people who think Chris Evans has the best show on radio.

Now I remember ELO with mixed affections, there was grinning perm head Bev Bevan on drums, the bloke with the funny beard on bass, the bloke with the funny name on violin and at least one guy on cello, not to mention Richard Tandy on keyboards. ELO now has Lynn playing all the instruments which leaves no room for all the other guys so I would guess that really the new record should honestly come out under the name Jeff Lynn rather than ELO (to be fair it may be released as Jeff Lynn’s ELO which legally I consider to fair enough).

And so we’re back to the issue of money, there is no pension plan for rock and roll and I cant really blame any musician, many of whom have been royally ripped off, for trying to get some of it back. But in order to do that they might have to be ruthless and disingenuous. The name is all, Mike Scott having trouble filling a pub back room under his own name became the Waterboys again and was back on the profitable festival circuit. David Gedge started calling his band ‘The Wedding Present’ and found scores of old fans willing to pay good money to see him fronting a different band.

To be fair The Waterboys do not really have an identifiable line up so if Scott’s kept the phone number of the fiddle player he’s got a semi credible act. At the other end of the scale are the Who. What made them so great for a while was the mixture of personalities and temperaments. Along with a normal rock singer you had a unique drummer and bass player who completely re defined what a rhythm section should be all about. This reduced Townsend to the roll of being the main keeper of the rhythm which in turn created a totally original sound. Townsend remains one of the most deluded and essentially dishonest people in rock and after the death of Keith Moon decided that he was only the drummer and could be replaced. There then followed the lowest point of the bands career when Townsend decided he was the lead guitarist and the mighty Kenney Jones showed Moon was not replaceable. They then split but money problems particularly on John Entwistle’s part led to them getting back into show business. Entwistles death seemed to pose no real moral problems, get a new bassist. Daltrey and Townsend know they make a fraction under their own names that they would under the WHO banner so they are still the WHO playing with a battalion of professional musicians who can replicate the record note for note if needed.

Sometimes its not about greed its about survival. Disparity of income is one of the biggest destroyer of bands which is why the really clever ones like U2 and Coldplay pay royalties equally to all members even if the Drummer’s biggest contribution was making the tea. Jimmy Lea and Noddy Holder were the song writer’s for Slade and lets face it created some pretty great songs. When the band slit they were able to go into semi retirement while at the very moment Guitarist Dave Hill is probably pulling on his extra small leather trousers prior to joining original drummer Don Powell and some hired hands in Croatia to recreate Slade’s hits. Despite sharing, tough gigs, travelling in the back of vans for years,impractical footwear  and appearances on Crackerjack together, when it came to payout time there was a two tier system in operation. Lets face it its unlikely Dave Hill could ever fine a normal job.

When the band starts to shed members there is one way you can replace them with maximum credibility in terms of representing your product to the punters.

One is to replace them with the children of band members. I have serious concerns for the children of musicians who want to do the same as their parents let alone ones who want to join the same band but such people do exist. Rick Wakeman’s son Oliver has a parallel career as a shadow of his father, ‘Sorry, I cant make it tonight but I’ll send Oliver over’ is that OK?’ Eddie Van Halen brought his son Wolfgang into the band so poor Wolfgang was forced to play with his Dad and his Uncle, how much fun was that for a 17 year old? The family business only works once the band are old enough to have children who are old enough to leave home. The other option is to replace them ,this only works with a singer, with a recognised sound alike, either from a tribute band or some TV show such as Stars In Their Eyes. This sounds totally ridiculous but works. Hot Chocolate now perform with an imitator covering for the late Errol Brown and very well they do with this arrangement. The lines therefore become very blurred between original and tribute act, no one will expect a new album from Hot Chocolate but they will get a very passable rendition of ‘Sexy Thing’.

The most bizarre band in this respect is Yes. The band has had so many incarnations that there is no way of telling who Yes is anymore. The one most likely to maintain the brand was Chris Squire who is now dead. There is a huge pool of people who could be part of Yes. You might have thought that singer Jon Anderson was pretty essential but in 2008 he was replaced by tribute act singer Beniot David as Jon couldn’t be arsed with producing more Yes product. David has himself been replaced when he got ill. With Yes we might be entering a new era of band product. Already Rick is sending Oliver along to to his work and there are so many ex Yes members presumably they are also producing a reservoir of child labour who can be called in when someone gets sick or just feels a bit tired. Frightenly this means Yes could last forever.

So a band is pretty much down to owns the name. There was even a time in the 70’s when Fleetwood Mac’s (ex?) manager put out a band with no Mac members calling themselves Fleetwood Mac just because he thought he owned the name.It didn’t work for long.

Possibly the greatest travesty of name possession is the case of Dr Feelgood. The band are of course synonymous inspired original R&B which has a direct influence on punk. Wilko Johnson and Lee Brilleaux produced one of the most electric live acts ever and certainly are in my personal top ten ever bands. After Johnson left it was a law of diminishing returns, with each new guitarist the quality slipped a notch, the original rhythm section quit and even with a front man as dynamic as Brilleaux the band was struggling and by the mid 80’s were no more than a passable blues band

Brilleaux died in 1994 aged only 41. He had been diagnosed with Non Hodgkins Lymphona so had been planning his death which included a final gig. Unfortunately one of his final wishes was that the band continue, Brilleaux was a professional musician and he knew how hard that life could be so perhaps he just wanted to make it as easy as possible for his band mates. This had led to a scenario where a band of equal quality as hundreds found playing pubs in any British city any weekend is trading in the same blues standards in slightly better paid venues. No harm in that really but following Julian Temple’s film ‘Oil City Confidential’ the Feelgood’s stock has been high so it could be exciting news for the uninitiated that that magnificent band are still touring.

They aren’t, save your money and go and see a bunch of old blokes churning out ‘Route 66’ down at your local for free instead.

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