So, this time last week I was unpacking at home and listening to ‘The Queen Is Dead’ by The Smiths after returning from a long weekend away with my housemate Paul. We were using up some time off work and planned to go abroad but, after leaving it too last minute, we decided to drive to Brighton instead and spend a few days checking out the popular seaside city often compared to our home of Bristol. In between watching from the pier as elderly locals braved the sea in true British summer style and sampling as many hipster cafe-bars selling craft ales at extortionate London prices as we could, we also fancied having a look into Brighton’s music scene.
After checking out the live listings for the weekend online, we noticed that a The Smiths tribute band, ingeniously named The Smyths, was playing at a venue called Concorde 2 on Saturday evening which conveniently happened to be the last evening of our “stay-cation”. Several of my friends are big fans of The Smiths, Paul being one of them, but I personally had never been exposed to them much beyond the obligatory play of ‘This Charming Man’ that was forced on me at club nights every week of my student life in Manchester. Over the years I had become familiar with a few other hits but rarely knew more than a handful of songs so decided this would be the perfect opportunity for me to introduce myself to their back catalogue. It sounds lazy but I often feel I don’t have the time or motivation to go back in time and delve into the discography of musical greats such as the Smiths, no matter how legendary they are, as I much prefer to grow with bands that are still active and know that there’s a possibility of seeing them live one day.
This was the point where I wondered whether there was more to tribute bands than just mid-life crisis men reliving their adolescence by dressing up and pretending to be their teenage idols at the same time as earning some pocket money. The Smyths really were excellent and the frontman was an extremely convincing Morrissey, from a distance at least. Everything from his hair, clothes, and slightly square jaw, to his distinctive nasal voice was how I imagined Morrissey would be in real life and, as I’d never been to see a tribute band before, I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t actually watching The Smiths. Of course, the more astute fans present would have noticed inaccuracies in the performance (for example, the fact that the other three members of the band didn’t even attempt to look anything like the musicians they were supposedly embodying) but to me, it was as authentic a gig as any and made me genuinely excited to listen to the band again when I got home.
Aside from punters being able to pay a reasonable price and hear their favourite songs by defunct musical greats played live (an experience that in a lot of cases is physically impossible), I realised that these sorts of bands really do pay “tribute” to these legendary musical acts by immortalising their live music, allowing new fans like me to become familiar with them properly for the first time instead of just knowing the same few songs by them as everyone else. Sadly enough, there may well be more commercial viability and profit to be made from belonging to an act such as this than being in an original song-writing ensemble. There are at least a couple of venues in Bristol that seem to almost exclusively book tribute acts, possibly seeing this as a safe way of ensuring attendance and maintaining a comfortable level of custom, particularly in our current time of economic instability for live music.
After the gig, the two of us got talking about how one goes about being in a tribute band as the Smyths do seem to tour pretty relentlessly (currently having dates booked up until the end of August 2017). It would certainly be possible to make a career out of doing this as the sizeable venue of Concorde 2 was more than half full and at £15 a head the band wouldn’t have gone away out of pocket. But I worry that after a couple of years touring the albums that the Smiths released in their brief career, the musicians might wish for some new music to be able to play live or the frontman might get bored of constantly donning a Morrissey-esque quiff. Despite the band being Smiths fans playing Smiths songs for Smiths fans, I worry that over-indulging in this pursuit could convert them into another frustrated band playing the same songs night after night and, unfortunately, there’s probably little chance of The Smiths reuniting or writing a new album any time soon…
Regardless, the list of bands in the past that probably inspired and influenced the majority of modern musical acts I listen to, and that I’ve also never made the effort to listen to, is pretty ridiculous (I attempted to listen to a Joy Division song other than ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ for the first time only a couple of months ago and the experience was very rewarding). So I wonder whether going to a few tribute band gigs every now and then might be an effective way of giving myself a crash-course in certain artists as, despite the fact that most bands’ entire discographies are instantly available to listen to on platforms such as Spotify, I don’t think the live experience can be beaten when wanting to listen to unfamiliar music for the first time. So, researching which tribute band I could check out next I come across such brilliantly-named acts as ‘The Rolling Clones’, ‘Novana’ and ‘Motorheadache’. Decisions, decisions.
Most listened to: ‘Ask’ – The Smiths