Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Who's who?

My first gig of 2009 and it's Dr. Feelgood at The Horns in Watford. These days The Feelgoods are a controversial bunch for some people as the current line-up features no original band members. If you're interested the full story can be found on their website, and I guess it does raise an interesting ideological question- when is a band not a band? As a fan of The Who (you might just have noticed!) I've spent more than my fair share of time wondering about this one- there was no debate when the 'three-across-the-front' were all present and correct, and since we now have the singer (i.e. the 'face' of the band for many) and the guitarist/songwriter (the 'brains' if you know what I mean) fronting things that one is reasonably easy to follow, and of course if it said anything else on the posters they'd attract a fraction of the audience... in the case of Dr. Feelgood all the musicians worked with original singer Lee Brilleaux for many years, so for me this means they get in under the wire although I know a few people who aren't quite so convinced. Nothing alters the fact that they're still a damn fine rhythm and blues band 'though, and 'new' singer Robert Kane (he's recently given his 1,000th performance with the band!) is a great frontman and a fine singer to boot. I felt they sounded a bit awkward on some of the Wilko Johnson era material- 'She Does It Right' and 'Roxette' sounded a bit forced to me although there were no such problems with 'Back In The Night' which stood out as a crowd-pleasing sing-along anthem for the assembled hordes- and it was great to hear 'Ninety-nine and a Half (won't do)' and 'Baby Jane' from the Gypie Mayo era sounding as good as ever. And I'd all but forgotten what a great venue The Horns is- every town should have a pub like this! A fine evening.

Last night it was off to The Oxford Academy for a double bill of The Buzzcocks and The Lurkers that for an old punk like me could politely be described as 'unmissable'. The Lurkers feature Arturo Bassick and in doing so wind the controversy meter up a bit- he was on their first two singles 'Shadow' and 'Freak Show' and was a prime mover in the band reforming in the late-'80's but he wasn't in the band during their most successful and therefore most recognisable times in 1978/9. Many (including other original band members) would say that The Lurkers without guitarist and main songwriter Pete Stride isn't really The Lurkers- then again Arturo has led the band (often billed as 'Arturo's Lurkers') for many years now producing several albums of original material and gigging all over the world in the process. It's a complex argument in many ways and in the end there's no correct answer- it all depends on how you feel when you're watching the band. As someone who's seen them play in pretty much every format since it's inception (and in The Price played many gigs alongside them in the late '80's/early '90's) it is a bit strange seeing them as a trio as opposed to a 4-piece, and it must be said that without Mr. Stride there it doesn't 'feel' like The Lurkers if you know what I mean- but the old songs sounded as great as ever (well they did once the soundman had remembered to put the guitar into the P.A. system- oops!) and the newer material fitted in well especially 'Come and Reminisce If You Think You're Old Enough' which Arturo wrote for a fan who told him that they never listen to any punk rock released later that 1979. Judging by the audience reaction few if any were too bothered about any ideological questions posed by the band's performance- maybe it's only me that worries about these things?

The Buzzcocks sidestep any doubts about their validity as an 'original' band as both principal songwriter Pete Shelley and punk rock guitar hero Steve Diggle have been in the band from the word go; I think the drummer was there the last time I saw them just over two years ago 'though I haven't seen the current bassist before- I wonder where Tony Barber is? Billed as the 'Another Bites' tour they've taken the unusual step of playing their first two albums 'Another Music In A Different Kitchen' and 'Love Bites' in their original track sequences along with the contemporary single's A & B sides (remember when there were things called 'singles' that had 'A & B sides'?!?) and were absolutely brilliant. Beginning with the snippet of 'Boredom' that opens the first album and finishing with a final chaotic encore of 'Harmony In My Head' (Diggle slipped and fell over as the song began, recovering to give a fabulous performance of what is surely one of the greatest punk rock songs of them all) they played for over an hour-and-a-half and left no one in any doubt that they are one of the best bands to come out of the punk rock era. I've always thought of them as more of a pop band than anything else, with a greater emphasis on melody than many if not all of their contemporaries; maybe this is why I feel their music has dated far less than a lot of the other material from that time. With 'Ever Fallen In Love' all but thrown away mid-set in it's original position of track 2 side 1 of the 'Love Bites' album (remember when there were things called 'albums' that had 'tracks' and 'sides'?!?) rather than being saved for the encores I was reminded how just great some of the lesser known songs are- 'Love Battery', 'Nothing Left' and especially 'Autonomy' all sounded like they'd been written last week rather than (gulp!) over 30 years ago and were performed with an energy that belies the fact that they've probably played them hundreds if not thousands of times before. A tremendous gig, and a great night all round.

So, back to my original question then- when is a band not a band? Clearly in the case of The Buzzcocks the situation doesn't apply but with both The Lurkers and Dr. Feelgood it seems to me to be a case of carrying on the original band's legacy without being, for want of a better term, a tribute band to yourself- a difficult road to travel if you think about it. If the rumours are true The Smiths are likely to reform this year- would it still be 'The Smiths' if only say three of them were involved? Suppose one of the missing members was Morrissey or Marr? Then again look at From The Jam who are currently enjoying great success despite not having the principal songwriter and focal point of the original band present- who'd have predicted that? Maybe it's a case of 'it's the music that matters' and if the performance is strong enough it can override any doubts in the audience's mind regarding the originality or otherwise of the performers involved. As I say it's a complex argument which will no doubt be returned to at some point in the not-too-distant future; in the meantime I'm off to look for some current music that excites me as much as the songs that I heard at these two shows- and I've a funny feeling that it'll take some finding...

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