Wednesday, September 03, 2003

“A Tribute to Tribute Acts”

I often make a point of pilfering “Broadcast” and “Music Week” from the desks of my superiors, but it was a copy of “The Stage”, the publication for the committed thesbian and those of an artistic bent, found stuffed down the back of a seat on a train to Bournemouth that really opened my eyes to the realities of life on the other side of the microphone.
False Freddie
Fred. Probably.

Amongst all the fluff, the pleas for work and reviews of productions in front of three men and a dog in a village hall in Cumbernauld, I found the sad truth about the state of variety in modern Britain. To be perfectly blunt - I never realised there were so many tribute acts out there. In fact, the “Agents and Management” pages had nothing but tribute acts, with one forlorn contortionist going by the name “Rubber Ritchie” stuffed in the corner, his legs folded behind his neck in a pose you’d only find in *other* specialist magazines, begging for a booking. Jim Davidson, for all his faults, was right - variety is dying on its arse.

I’ve touched on the futility of tribute acts before when our local “music” festival turned out to be nothing but ringers and Slade who, as it turned out, were performing a tribute to themselves. In my locale, Weymouth’s top musical acts are a white Tina Turner in a fright wig and five unemployable Steps look-a-likes who have the Pavilion Theatre to themselves of a Friday night. With the karaoke crooners of Pop Idol back on our screens, the likelihood of any original acts ever appearing in our lifetime is slim to say the least. We have slipped over the tribute event horizon, and there is no going back.

So, what’s appearing at your local holiday camp or working mens’ club these days? A flip through my oilfered copy of The Stage makesfor depressing reading. Apart from the myriad Abba, Queen, Beatles and Robbie almost-lookalikes, the barrel, I’m afraid to say, is being well and truly scraped.

First up for your delight and amusement is a Rolf Harris / Dam Edna double act. Then there’s a Del-Boy who presumably comes on stage, says “Lovely Jubbly you plonkers”, collects his fee and leaves (This time next year, he’ll be a millionaire). And then there’s Kris Kenny. Mr Kenny’s professional life is spent as a tribute to Roy “Chubby” Brown. He’s fat. He wears a funny suit and a flying helmet. And I bet he swears fucking loads. But how do you do a tribute stand-up act? Do you use his old gags, or do you tell your own? One thing’s for sure, he can’t be any worse than the real thing.

Sting. Frank Sinatra. Michael Jackson. Cher. George Formby. Is there no end to this madness? Madness. There’s a Boy George clone called Keith George, a knock-about double-act called Haurel and Lardy, and some bloke in a syrup vcalled John’s Elton. Enough! I once saw an Animals tribute band that gave up halfway through their set and started doing Jam covers - a bizarre two-for-the-price-of-one evening, and both were shite.

Now, there’s a couple of avenues worth exploring here. One: Do these tribute acts get morework than the real thing? Obviously, Jim Morrison’s career has been in a bit of a free-fall recently, what with him dying and everything, so cobble together a band, call yourself “Early Doors” and you’ll be raking it in. But this doesn’t answer our question. Does Debbie Harris get more work than Debbie Harry? One thing’s for certain from recent experience - I bet the counterfeit Blondie doesn’t dance like your drunk aunt at a wedding disco. And more to the point, does “Justin” get the real Mr Timberlake’s groupies, and can they tell the difference?

And finally, with a world gone mad, sloshing around with all these lookalikes, how long will it be bofore we see the emergence of tribute bands tributing their favourite tribute act? There’ll be swarms of them. “Abba Gold Gold - celebrating the magic of Abba Gold”, “Bjorn Again Again - ditto”, “Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be that geezer with the funny teeth who did Freddie Mercury”.

Come to think of it, it’s already happened. There are whole legions of bands out there performing reasonable facsimiles of Liam and Noel Gallagher, right down to the eyebrow. And we all know that Oasis have been tributing the Beatles for years. Who wants to live forever? Society is doomed. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Try as I might, I found no Jim Davidson tribute. And we thank God for even the smallest of mercies.

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