A repeating argument

Recently I happened across an online argument between some people over the merits of tribute bands.
It was an interesting read. There were some very forthright opinions.
One particular point of view was from a “name ” blues guitarist who plays the uk circuit who seems very anti tribute bands.
When I say anti, I mean ferociously anti to the point of hatred and extremely vitriolic. He suggested that these bands were killing the uk music scene and stifling talent.
Now a long time ago, I was very anti being in a tribute band, mostly because I couldn’t see what kind of tribute I could be in, or do a convincing tribute to.
Then an opportunity arose and I joined one. The musicianship is first rate, you get a good sized crowd and the gigs are really enjoyable, also you get paid, and paid well mostly.
So are tributes the death of the music scene? In short ,No.
Live music in any form should be embraced. The pre recorded pre package cowell junk that requires karaoke with voting, now that is a threat to live music, but tribute bands, no, they are playing what people are asking to hear.
So why are tribute bands ok?
Well let’s be quite honest and frank about it, as with everything there are good and bad. The good tributes, in order to replicate another artist accurately requires skill. A great deal of skill. With cover bands songs are replicated but generally not as accurately as with tributes who go for the best replication of the tunes. Some tributes out there it is very difficult to tell the real band from the tribute. So why not go and see the real band? Well in a number of cases it just isn’t possible as they either don’t tour this country or the band no longer exists for whatever reasons, death, splitting up etc.
There are great deal of extremely talented musicians in this country alone, who have discovered that playing your own stuff to 3 men and a dog is somewhat soul destroying. Whilst people do appreciate original music, generally for a night out they want to know what they are getting, a tribute is the ronseal of bands, they do what they say on the tin. You know exactly what you are getting.
I have recently been in the situation of playing in a tribute, being in a cover band and playing with two original material bands. Here’s the breakdown;
Cover band : turn up, play a variety of songs, fairly accurately to a good number of people, pretty near to home, paid and home at a reasonable time. Set list of well known tunes that just require learning.
Original bands : write the material, learn other members material, lots of practice, travel large distances to venues far away, to play to smaller crowds who are ambivalent at best. Expenses aren’t covered and generally out off key by the time the gig is done.
Tribute band : material already written, bit more practice required, plus costumes. Much much larger crowds, better pay, treated better by venues/promoters, overall much more satisfaction from gig as feel appreciated.

Now it might come as a massive surprise which gigs I get most from. Is playing with tributes creatively satisfying? Well you aren’t writing the songs but you do understand the discipline of reproducing a song exactly. However people are generally very appreciative of your playing skills. From that point of view it is fun and a good way to go if you can do it properly, please note I am not suggesting that you form a tribute. There are a huge number out there and some of them aren’t all that. They play the songs rather shambolicly, make little attempt to reproduce the performance/ appearance of the band in question. These are essentially cover bands who are getting greedy and think that rebranding is a way to extract more money from venues. I fully understand that, but they are not “proper” tributes.

I did find it interesting that a musician was having a massive attack at musicians who are getting out there and playing. They are at least playing, demonstrating the talents equipped to play real instruments. The most interesting thing was the musician involved was a heavy duty blues musician. I love blues, but it can be very “samey”. So for someone who plays essentially other peoples progressions and ideas with just word changes to have a pop at people who play in tributes and at least are honest as to what they are playing, is a bit rich.
On reflection I think that there was a degree of jealousy at the gigs and treatment that tributes get. It isn’t selling out, it is merely providing what the market is asking for. If it wasn’t then the bands would soon disappear.

What do you think?


~ by Geoff Lea Guitar on November 8, 2013.

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