Performing in the style of…
In the grand scheme of things, there really aren’t that many musicians who ‘make it’. By which I mean – churning out chart-toppers, bedding down a string of groupies, or even hurling TVs from hotel room windows. Those who do join that exclusive club of wealthy, famous singers or bands often spurn clones of themselves – and in far greater measure than duplicate or triplicate. They are tribute acts. Tribute artists – or a tribute band – who earn their dough by performing as someone else.
The most obvious example is Elvis Presley. How many men impersonate ‘The King’? According to ABC News there were over 35,000 in 2002. And that was in the US alone. Goodness knows how many men across the globe are currently donning their blue suede shoes and cultivating their sideburns.
In Nevada, the King certainly reigns. Numerous wedding chapels, from ‘Elvis Chapel’ to ‘Viva Las Vegas’ and ‘Graceland Chapel’ ), Elvis tribute acts will even marry you in Las Vegas. To someone else, of course.
Tribute acts are also a popular form of wedding entertainment. As well as major players within the world music scene. Then there’s corporate entertainment. A company may hire a tribute band covering the hits of the Rolling Stones, for example, for the staff Christmas party or to woo a business prospect.
My first tribute acts
So being an Elvis tribute can be big business, especially across the pond. Who else? Well, pretty much anyone who’s anyone will have their own imposters replicating their every move. During my Fresher’s Week, I saw Bjorn Again (an Abba tribute act) and No Way Sis (Oasis tribute act) perform live. The former are still going strong; the latter had their own UK Top 40 hit in 1996. Apparently, I was lucky to see them in 1992. Just a few years later, between 1995 and 1998, No Way Sis could barely keep up with demand for their live shows. Meaning that they performed more-or-less continuously for those three years.
Moving on to more recent times, my father and his partner spent a whole weekend watching tribute acts last year. They were at the ‘Wannasee’ festival in Cumbria. By the summer of 2018, ‘Wannasee’ was in its sixth year and already selling tickets for 2019.
How much do tribute bands cost? Well, at ‘Wannasee’ you can see The Beatles, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, David Bowie and Guns ’n’ Roses. For £45 for the entire weekend – including camping. Wow. What’s the catch? They’re tribute acts, of course. Some of the best tribute bands in the business, too – Bootleg Beatles, anyone? (One of the most famous Beatles tribute bands.)
Compared to a whopping £248 (plus £5 booking fee) to attend Glastonbury 2019, that’s a steal. Add to that the hefty price tags on food and drinks in Pilton, Somerset and you’re looking at a tidy sum. By contrast, I heard that buying a bite to eat and a few beverages in Hutton-in-the-Forest, Penrith was very reasonable.
This summer, I saw ‘George Michael’ down at my local caravan park. Previously, I’d seen one of the best ‘Queen’ tribute acts there. We also recently saw a great band there called ‘Hitpinch’ who covered all sorts of classics through the decades.
Such a band is a different kind of tribute show altogether. Even though many people might not think of them in those terms. They’re not calling themselves after the band, or necessarily dressing up in their style, but many of the singers and groups who play at holiday parks, weddings, parties and pubs are indeed performing famous folks’ material. Just like a tribute act.
A global enterprise
They’re not just to be found at holiday parks or parties, either. Seaside resorts are filled with hotels that feature tribute acts in Blackpool or Bognor from all over the country – sometimes, even, the world. Tribute acts Lancashire, tribute acts Scotland, tribute acts Glasgow… you name it, there are tribute acts for hire all over the country.
It goes way beyond tribute acts UK. This is big business – on a global scale. Whether you want to see tribute acts in Tenerife, Bournemouth, Aberdeen, Benidorm or Brighton. Or dine to the tune of ceilidh, jazz or mariachi bands or singing waiters. Then, of course, there’s Las Vegas…
Worthy at least of a mention, here – if not an entire piece of their own – are those artists that some refer to as ‘hasbeens’. They once played on Top of the Pops and Radio One, graced the cover of Smash Hits and played scores of sell-out concerts, but they are no longer household names. Yet many of these people are still very active performers. ‘Sonia’ appeared at my local caravan park this summer, though sadly I missed her.
Nathan, formerly of Brother Beyond (big in the second half of the 1980s), is soon to sing live at another holiday park close to my home. He’s playing Butlin’s during the same month, too. His website homepage shows a video of him covering The Proclaimers’ ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)’. Not ‘The Harder I Try’, then. Presumably, the further away from he that’s slipping.
A tribute album
Robbie Williams is one artist to have released an entire album, paying homage to acts from before his time. Sinatra sang ‘Mack the Knife’ in 1958, and Williams wasn’t born until 1974 (the same year as me, incidentally). ‘Swing When You’re Winning’ was pretty well received – both critically and commercially, and includes a few original Willams numbers in addition to the covers. There’s also a few duets on there. Even with Sinatra, whose voice was sampled for the track. Apparently, Williams is a huge fan of the old ‘swingers’, aka the rat pack – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and their ilk – so this work was created in tribute.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery
Where would wedding singers, pub bands and holiday park entertainers be, if they could not pay tribute to their favourite stars by imitating them? This may be by simply singing one of their tunes – in the vein of the original, or otherwise. They may perform a track ‘in the style of’. Or they might go the whole hog and dress up as Queen, The Beatles, George Michael, Robbie Williams or Elvis.
If they’re really keen, their moniker might even echo a song title, or the band or singer’s own name. Absolute Bowie, The Marley Experience, Guns or Roses all perform at ‘Wannasee’, while Elvin Priestley even sang and strutted his stuff on British TV in ‘Don’t Tell the Bride’. Tribute acts’ management also make living from selling the services of impersonators.
They make money and hopefully, enjoy what they do, too. Some are the best UK singers or bands for hire around. We get a good night out, full of fond nostalgia, at a cut-rate price. What’s not to like? It’s big business, and for us, a far more affordable way to access our favourite musicians. Well, almost…
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