Having been fortunate enough to have seen most of the bands I wanted to see which were around when I was able to see them, the idea of a tribute band is a slightly strange concept to me. If you are in a band playing other people’s songs then why restrict yourself to songs by a single artist? Tribute bands are getting more and more popular, to such an extent that the original bands sometimes turn into their own tribute band with classic album or greatest hits tours. Friends who regularly see tribute bands tell me that what they want from a tribute band is as close an imitation as possible.
Give the people what they want, fair enough, but not everybody wants the obvious or predictable. London’s recently reopened Jazz Café have spotted this hole in the market and have been very successful in presenting familiar music in an unexpected way.
Examples include The African Gospel Choir Presents Graceland which sold out 3 nights, Transatlantic Choral Ensemble Performs Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, a celebration of William Onyeabor with African funk band Yaaba Funk. and last night I saw the first of 4 sold out nights of London Astrobeat Orchestra Performs: Talking Heads. It was advertised as playing Remain In Light and Speaking In Tongues but wasn’t limited to those 2 albums.
I saw Talking Heads a couple of times in the early 1980s and I have been to hundreds of gigs since then, none of which have been better than their Wembley Arena gig. The London Astrobeat Orchestra are a 6 piece band, 2 guitars (one with lots of effects pedals), bass, kora, drums and talking drums. The bass player is English, the other 5 West African. At the Jazz Café last night a large proportion of the audience weren’t born when I saw them but were clearly big Talking Heads fans dancing and singing along with aplomb to the African take on the music. The kora and talking drums worked really well. Tickets were only £10.
I suspect that these projects are commissioned by the same person and worth keeping an eye out for. On Thursday the 229 Club had a spiritual jazz band take of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. Congratulations to whoever comes up with these ideas and keep up the good work.