“We’ve played in countries the real thing have never been to!” proudly claims Shane Crofts, having just finished a gig at London’s The Venue.
The coarse, yet somehow quaint, nightclub has a history as a hotbed for Indie Rock in the 1990s, having played host to the likes of Oasis, Suede and Blur. But now, as suggested by billboards outside plastered with names of The Rollin Stoned, Antarctic Monkeys and The Killerz, the days of Britpop have given way to an altogether different music scene.
Shane Crofts is the lead singer of Coldplace, a Coldplay tribute band who, since forming in 2005, have toured places as far and wide as Cyprus and the Dominican Republic. It is in such countries that tribute bands are in particular demand; too small to attract the genuine article, but large enough to have dedicated fan-bases desperate to hear the music of their favourites performed live.
“Sound is the most important thing” says Shane. “People expect you to play the end of ‘Fix You’ correctly”. But that his band comes equipped with props, lasers and painted instruments suggests all parts of the puzzle need to be in the right place.
‘Fake’ bands also appear to be an ever growing industry back home in the UK, however these are no longer simply Beatles enthusiasts stringing together the chords of ‘Hey Jude’ in the corner of a pub. Or the questionable Elvis Presley imitator spoiling the ambience of a Chinese restaurant. These musicians have devoted serious time and money into forming a product as closely reflective of the original as possible.
People expect you to play the end of ‘Fix You’ correctly
One person who can speak with authority on the matter is Jez Lee – the Michael Eavis of the tribute – who, in 2005, founded Fake Festivals. Originally a one-off event, the company now holds around twenty small festivals a year dedicated solely to tribute acts. “The bands have to do everything down to the nitty gritty” he insists. “There’s always those who are top of the game, and then others trying to cash in a cheap buck. The best are taking it extremely seriously, spending time and money recreating the exact look and feel”.
Lee is unequivocal on the appeal of tribute bands: “They’re fantastic musicians, who allow fans to get closer to the action than the real deal”. Fake Festivals now acts as a franchise, licensing out to locals looking to bring the event to their hometowns. There are plans to grow year on year, targeting forty festivals by 2015.
Despite this exponential growth, Fake Festivals are not quite the peak of the tribute band mountain. At dizzying heights stand the Australian Pink Floyd Show, the ‘best tribute band in the world’ (Sunday Times). Replicating Pink Floyd in sound and appearance and scale, they have managed to fill out arenas across the globe, including Nottingham’s Capital FM Arena in February.
But they are the exception to the rule; most tribute bands realise that not being ‘the real thing’ comes with limitations. “It must be the best feeling in the world to have a crowd sing your songs back to you,” dreams Shane Crofts. For now, he will have to sing someone else’s lyrics to thousands around the world. Well, if you can’t beat them, why not join them?
Robert Smith (@robertdgsmith)