When I was 14, I played in a band along with my fellow No Taster, Samuel Hunter. We both played guitar. We were joined by Andy, who played drums, and Pube Head, who owned a bass guitar. Our band was called Sex Rain, and we practised a lot and wrote a couple of songs including ‘Jam Sandwich’, which was about nothing, and ‘Bella Bella Pizza Capella’, which was about nothing. However, our bread and butter was Arctic Monkeys covers. Always, always, Arctic Monkeys covers.
They were our favourite band. As 14-year olds in 2007, practising in a village hall, dwarfed by our full-sized instruments, of course the Arctic Monkeys were our heroes. We regularly covered I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor, Brianstorm and Dancing Shoes, and between Sam and I, we learned the riffs from every damn track on their first three albums. But then, one band practise, there came the question: were we turning into… a fucking tribute act?
After a collective shudder rolled through the assembled virgins of Sex Rain, we vowed from then on to broaden our repertoire and widen our musical horizons: we covered The Hives and The Strokes. We were safe. But now, thirteen years later, I look back on the fateful day and can’t help but wonder what, if anything, made us horrified at the thought of becoming a tribute act. Are tribute bands inarguably naff? Or are they sometimes… alright?
Come now – hold my hand. Let us investigate together.
A Brief History of Shite
According to The Internet, the tribute act first began with Elvis impersonators in the 50’s. However, I have not fact-checked this and it is probably wrong, so don’t go regurgitating it to your pals lest you be outed as a charlatan. These early Elvis tribute acts didn’t actually sing, or play guitar, or do anything besides sport a quiff and hand-jive to That’s All Right Mama in echoey American shopping malls.
The Beatles were when most tribute-actery exploded. Suddenly, in all corners of the world, young men and women were waking up to the fact that it is far easier to imitate than create, and within months of the Beatles hitting headlines all manner of jolly knock-offs had begun: The Buggs, Yellow Matter Custard, The Fab Faux, and the Beatnix, to name a few. While this first wave of tribute bands went for more subtle names, it soon became tradition for tribute acts to crown themselves with delightfully crap monikers.
A Rose by Any Other Name
Puns: the most pungent form of wit. Tribute acts today go bananas for a good self-deprecating pun in their band name: Fake That, Slack Babbath, Oasish, The Rolling Clones, The Antarctic Monkeys, Vag Halen, Lez Zeppelin, The Black Eyed Tease, and my personal favourite, Blobbie Williams, whose whole shtick is ‘being a slightly larger version of Robbie Williams’. To Blobbie’s credit, he can belt out the tunes.
I think these silly names are a key factor in my investigation to decide whether tribute acts are shit or not. Crucially, it seems a great many of these acts are not taking themselves seriously. Many of them are merely entertainers with a great love and passion for the bands or artists they grew up watching. They’ve actually managed to make a career out of fooling around onstage, cheered on by fans who, after seven pints, can no longer tell the difference between the real Freddie Mercury and Tim from Middlesbrough in a cape and a stick-on tash.
For these tributes who just want to have a good time, make a few quid, and feel good about themselves while mincing around in sequined outfits, I say do it. Do it, you beautiful lunatics.
A Question of Copycats
So – some tribute acts are harmless fun, and while it’s fun to giggle at them, we should respect the fact that they’re just out for a good time. But then there are the serious ones. Take, for example, Only One Direction, who toured the world for several years and whose Twitter has been mysteriously inactive since 2017. They sold out stadiums. Can we offer our respect to this genre of Serious Tribute Acts that do not include a funny pun in their name?
No. No we can’t. Despite such lauded publications as the Daily Mail and Mums in the Know hurling praise at the bouffant quintet, I’m drawing a line: no. Shite. Absolutely, categorically shite.
Why? By God I’ll tell you.
Anecdotal Evidence from a Humble Genius
I’ve seen several tribute bands in my life. Two that stand out are The Parrots, a Beatles cover band from Japan, and a flurry of Clash tributes I witnessed at a Joe Strummer Memoriam celebration in Berlin in 2018. At both events I got monumentally drunk, danced like a dad at a wedding, and sang myself hoarse. And I loved it. Yet these bands took themselves seriously too: there was no wry winking at the crowd, no jiggling beer guts or foolish dancing. They dressed like the artists, played like them, even moved like them. They took themselves seriously and they were excellent, and I’d pay to see ‘em again.
INTERESTING ASIDE: The Joe Strummer tribute gig was one of my Top 50 Drunkest Evenings. I drank eight pints of lager in just over two hours, attempted to start a mosh, failed miserably, fell asleep on the subway home, and woke up at the end of the line in what seemed to be a peaceful forest. Then I called my ex, cried, hailed a taxi and fell out of the door after five minutes, vomiting, still three miles from home. Winner!
A Conclusion at Last, Thank the Lord
Considering all the above (along with some key points I forgot to mention, such as the fact that tribute musicians often get called up to replace the actual band members if they are indisposed/retire, and that many tribute acts achieve fame and fanbases in their own right) this brings us to a firm conclusion:
Tribute acts are not, by definition, shit. I believe, having examined the evidence, that a tribute band can be classed as good if it adheres to either one of two principles: either it has a silly, self-deprecating pun in its band name and the whole thing is a giant piss take (i.e. Blobbie Williams); or the original band has members who have died, thus rendering seeing the act impossible (i.e. The Parrots).
If, however, there is no hilarious wordplay and all band members are currently breathing, I am afraid we have no choice but to declare the tribute act: wank. Yes, Only One Direction, I am looking at you.
Thank you for reading. Drive home safe.