Tuesday, 1 October 2013

When should a band change their name?

Is it okay for a band to continue with few original members? What about none? When is it okay to keep going under the name, and when should a band start to re-think their moniker?

Recently, I've been rocking out to some of the tunes off The Black Star Rider's debut album, and to call it anything short of Thin Lizzy-worship would be a lie.

The celtic-influenced, blues-metal approach is hardly a surprise, considering The Black Star Riders were touring under the Thin Lizzy name, featuring one original member and a shifting line-up of previous members and new faces not too long ago.

I saw the final incarnation of Thin Lizzy opening for KISS and Motley Crue on their recent Australian tour. I was pretty skeptical, to be honest: feet propped up and my arse half-way off the seat ready to bail if their set failed to impress me - but I stayed for the whole thing.

I don't think I'm alone in saying it simply wasn't Thin Lizzy. An amazing, loving, well crafted tribute with some incredible musicians? Well yeah, definitely - but this is not the band Phil Lynott fronted, and that thought hung over me the whole time, saying to my mates a few times: "Ya know, if they were just using a different name..."
But the members of Thin Lizzy were well aware of this, and were in fact planning on retiring the name at that point. The phenomenal musical legacy of Phil Lynott, Gary Moore and many other fantastic musicians who moved through the ranks of the band had been successfully carried for some time, but as the five-piece got closer and closer to releasing new music decided the right thing to do was to hang up the name and continue on as their own animal.

It got me thinking, however, about how many bands exist with little - and in some cases no - original members, continuing to tour and record under the same banner. The reaction from fans varies wildly: sometimes one or two legacy members are considered fully within their rights to carry on the name they helped make famous, while other times people start throwing around names like "Hitler" to describe the new guys.

So, when is it okay, and when is it just not on? I'm really not the one to say, but let's look at some examples...

One that springs to mind immediately is Napalm Death. Formed in 1981, Napalm Death had completely extinguished all original members by 1987, with a slew of demos under their belt and a single full-length, the :eternally-influential, Scum.

After that, the band continued for a short time with a fairly stable line-up, but as the 80s drew to a close, so did the grindcore-era of the band, and their time as a death metal band (with a different line-up) began.

Now, the band is well known for featuring Barney Greenway on vocals, Mitch Harris on guitar, Danny Herrera on drums and Shane Embury on bass (who joined the band in '87 and is the longest standing member).
Embury might not be an original member, but he has been
there for a bloody long time.

Because of the band being broken up into these phases, the group really means different things to different people. It would seem at this point odd for the band to feature any original members, as their noisy-legacy seems to thrive on the fact it is bigger than any single line-up.

The band have certainly met criticism over claims becoming more metlalic was a move to sell more t-shirts, but they garner far less rage than some other bands with similarly volatile line-ups.

This is perhaps because while Napalm Death having no original members is kinda their thing, there are other bands were the link to the band's spirit is really starting to fray. I'm referring to the NWBOHM bands Tank and Handsome Beasts.

Tank are a damn good band. A big influence on Metallica and many other thrash bands, the group - lead by Algy Ward - combined punk, pub rock and metal to craft something that sounded vaguely like Motorhead and Venom, but with an air of melody neither really went for.

Algy formed the band in 1980 and put out two pretty awesome records before Mick Tucker entered on guitar, followed by Chris Evans a year later. It'd be hard to deny that Tucker and Evans had a big impact on the sound of the band, and were arguably just as responsible for the ensuring albums as Algy himself was. When the band reformed in 1997, both rejoined Ward on stage.

However, things started to take a turn for the worse when Ward began experiencing some pretty serious health problems that prevented him from taking to the stage or recording in the same capacity as he used to. This was where Evans and Tucker decided to continue under the Tank name without Ward...or his permission.

Algy has expressed his intentions to continue the band he founded,
but Evans & Tucker have their own incarnation of the band

What is  commonly referred to as the Evans/Tucker Tank has put out two albums featuring new members, while Ward has expressed online his outrage at this and recorded his own music under the Tank banner. While Evans/Tucker have expanded on the more melodic side of things, Ward has taken his version of the band to a much darker place.

Are Evans/Tucker truly justified in using the name? They believe so, due to their contribution to the sound. While we don't know what went on in terms of negotiation, it does seem that Ward isn't too happy with the band touring under the name of a group he founded.

Okay, jumping in a few years after the band's formation and carrying on the name isn't exactly an insane prospect, and other bands have done it such as In Flames. It isn't like any of these bands are comprised entirely of members who had absolutely nothing to do with the band's legacy, right? Well, about that...

The reality with a lot of the bands listed is that only the members really know how the groups functioned and who were the most important members. Some bands are a democracy through and through, whereas others are truly the vision of one or two members, and maybe that gets shifted during a career. Those involved will know the score, but from the outside looking in it is pretty hard to judge, and this is complicated further when considering a band like The Handsome Beasts.

Despite no longer featuring any original members, Dalloway did
indicate he wanted the band to continue after his death.
To be fair, these guys weren't exactly prolific in their original incarnation, although that kind of makes things a bit more odd.

The Handsome Beasts put out a few demos and one full length in their original incarnation. Reformed in 1990 by their singer Garry Dalloway with an all new line-up, the band put out one album before cycling most of the line-up again for album number three.

Dalloway passed away in 2006, and one might think the name of the band would be retired with him.

However, the members of the band continued on and have had a number of line-up changes since then - which, to be fair, does appear to be the desire of Dalloway, who, according to the band's website, hinted that the band should find a new singer after his death.

The band really is in a pretty constant state of flux, and don't at all resemble the original group. You'd be hard-pressed, however, to really fault their actions - playing in The Handsome Beasts  hardly seems like a profitable venture, and the band are upfront about their legacy and desire to continue in tribute to Dalloway. I'm not going to deny, however, that it does feel odd seeing bands like this tour under the name of a band formed long before their time.

At the end of the day, it really is a peculiar thing to continue on with a band when it doesn't resemble that which came before it, but I can certainly see the logic.  In the same way organisations exist long after their founders move on, some bands seem to do the same. At the same time,a band is much more closely aligned to its members, with authorship a very important part of music.

Plastering the name of a band you didn't build behind you on stage as you play songs you were never around for really is quite an odd thing to think about, and perhaps that is where the majority of the backlash comes from.

I'm not saying these bands shouldn't be doing what their doing - no one knows what goes on in the inner-workings of a band but the musicians themselves, and perhaps the line-ups continuing now are nothing short of where the band should be, but if a founding member is coming out about how the whole thing is a rip-off, you have to wonder...

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