• Rob Butterfield


And kill off music venues in the process…

Photo by Tom Craig.

I’m extremely proud of what I do, playing bass for T.Rextasy, the world’s leading tribute to Marc Bolan and T.Rex. My shoulders are broad enough to shake off the endless criticism from the ‘real musicians’ who claim that we’re stealing their opportunity (as if it’s some god-given right) to play in the many music venues up and down the country.

One such musician, who I admire greatly by the way, has taken it upon himself to campaign on the ‘popular social media channels’ to ‘stamp out the tribute band’ (SOTTB) by asking all the ‘real’ musos to add his SOTTB badge to their profile. He’s a busy touring musician, rightly so, but he somehow finds time (he’s obviously not busy enough because the Tributes are taking up all the gigs apparently) to consistently condemn those that choose the art of the tribute to earn a living (which by the way is our god-given right). I’m normally quite amused by his consistent rantings on social media and choose not to unfollow him because I’m genuinely interested in what he’s doing musically. Although suggesting once that we should all be shot did anger me slightly… I declined to respond, I’m bigger than that.

However, his latest ‘SOTTB’ campaign made me chuckle somewhat and prompted me to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write this blog post. Why? Well, there are many reasons and I’ll try to be concise in my own personal rantings. The aforementioned musician will probably never read this anyway and even if he did he’d just shout down any of my observations on his somewhat ill-thought-out campaign and his incredibly tiresome view on what I do for a living. But I thought, at the very least, that some of my loyal Upstarts would enjoy this particular musing.

I write this piece as both a musician and ex promoter/venue owner; I think that kinda qualifies me to know a little bit about the subject but also accept that in a world of free speech and online ‘opinionistas’ everyone has an absolute right to consider my view to be absolute bollocks… and I’m cool with that.

Ok, firstly. If we did stamp out tribute bands we would see an epidemic of venue closures – the very venues that allow original musicians the opportunity to showcase their talents to a live audience. You see, tribute bands, for whatever reason, are very popular. They bring punters through the door who buy tickets and spend money behind the bar. Let’s be clear, we’re not talking about major venues who sell out 20,000 Ed Sheeran tickets in under 30 seconds – that’s a completely different ball game. I’m talking about the (sadly) decreasing number of music venues up and down the country who are struggling to stay open for the benefit of the punters. They’re a business and need to make money to survive so if it’s a choice between a good tribute that’ll pack the place out and pay the bills or a ‘real’ musician peddling his wares to a small audience then I think the choice is obvious.

A side note: I championed original music at my venue, showed massive support to local and touring musicians and on numerous occasions I footed the bill for poor turn-outs.

Secondly, there are tribute bands and there are ‘tribute’ bands. I personally have very strong opinions on this. Obviously, I’m going to say that what I do is the best form of tribute… and in all reality it probably is. We respectfully pay tribute to an iconic artist that we are all fans of and faithfully re-create his music providing an opportunity for original fans to experience that music once again in a live environment. For new fans of the music we hopefully help them experience a little bit of what it was like to attend a T.Rex concert in the 1970’s. No wigs, no gimmicks, no backing tracks, just a faithful and honest tribute of an artist sadly missed by so many.

At the other end of the scale there are many other tribute bands (acts) that don wigs, sing to backing tracks and pretend to be the artist in question. Inevitably they are neither real fans or experts on the artist and simply cashing in on an opportunity. It’s little more than cabaret. But again, if that’s what punters want to see then that’s ok isn’t it? I couldn’t be part of that kind of ‘show’ but if it brings cash into the music/entertainment economy that’s good for all musicians surely. In my opinion these acts give what I do a bad name and what we do professionally is poles apart - but that’s life, so we just have to get on with it.

Ah, the big debate about tribute artists not being real musicians also makes me giggle – well, sorry to burst this particular bubble but a musician by definition is someone who plays a musical instrument. We may not all be songwriters or composers but I can assure you that if we’re on stage playing those instruments live then we’re musicians. And in the case of myself and my band mates, we’ve all been involved in ‘original’ projects (and still are to varying degrees) but it’s the tribute stuff that pays the bills.

And finally (I could go on longer, much longer, but I respect that most of you have better things to do than reading my rantings) I strongly contest that tribute bands are the problem with todays music industry. Quite frankly it’s the music industry itself that is the problem with today’s music industry. Look no further than X-factor and you have a very real reason for the lack of creativity within popular music today – I use the word popular as there are many pockets of highly creative musicians across the world that simply do not get the exposure they deserve because those that run the industry are the ones that control what we see and hear. Is it any wonder that the public flock to see bands performing classic tunes from an age when music was, well, much better.

There’s some great original music out there and thankfully there are still places around that you can go and see it if you choose. Many of those places exist because the tribute band, or indeed the pub covers band, are doing their part in keeping those venues open.

Stamp out the tribute band? I don’t think so, they’re a very important part of the live music economy.

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