GUILTY PLEASURES (Part 13)
First off, The Real Me is a song by The Who from their Quadrophenia album but it's also the name of a three-piece band knocking out cover versions of Sixties songs in pubs, clubs and at festivals around the East Devon area. The Kinks, The Who, Small Faces, etc, etc, are all represented and delivered with aplomb.
When they recently played a free gig at the Exmouth Pavilion they did two sets, the first being their usual set of songs from the Sixties but for the second set they said they were going to try something a little different: A whole set of songs spanning the career of The Jam. And this is indeed what they did, delivering what was in effect a greatest hits show of Jam songs.
Pretty Green, Start, Strange Town, Thick As Thieves, In The City, David Watts, Eton Rifles, Down In the Tube Station At Midnight, Private Hell, When You're Young, even my own personal favourite A-Bomb In Wardour Street. They even did That's Entertainment and Butterfly Collector.
I was impressed. They were brilliant. They attacked the songs with energy, excitement, enthusiasm, and - importantly when it comes to The Jam - with aggression.
The song I came away with in my head at the end of the night, however, was Boy In The Bubble by Paul Simon; in particular the line "Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts."
You see, The Jam were one of the top bands of the late Seventies/early Eighties and when it came to mainstream musical culture they were one of the most important. They were always listed alongside other such classic bands as the Pistols, the Clash, the Damned and so on - and for very good reason. There was a time when they could do no wrong.
Whilst watching The Real Me I was thinking: If The Jam ever reformed with the original line-up they'd probably sell out the O2 Arena but would they be as good as The Real Me? I suspect not. So why wasn't the Exmouth Pavilion packed out with punters?
I'd say there were around 100 people there, a number of them obviously old fans of The Jam but a large number also looking as though they were just out for a typical Saturday night drink with a bit of music chucked in. Not that numbers count for much I know. As Anthony Wilson once said: "The smaller the attendance the bigger the history. There were 12 people at the Last Supper. Half a dozen at Kitty Hawk. Archimedes was on his own in the bath." But still.
These old Jam songs were once urban hymns. Urban folk songs that everybody knew. They electrified a generation. Their importance cannot be overstated. But then again, so once were the songs of Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and so on and so forth. Nowadays all these bands and their songs are covered by tribute acts up and down the country, week in week out. So too the songs of The Jam. None of them, however, hold any of their original power and are no longer capable of transcending into the realm of having a social impact. All that's left nowadays is the music and the nostalgia which is fair enough but what made them so special in the first place has now gone.
Watching The Real Me was very enjoyable and I'd recommend people go and see them, particularly if they do the Jam set again as they were really good at it. Walking home afterwards, however, I got to wondering: What songs nowadays are having the same impact that Jam songs (for example) once had? Has everything that can be said or done with a song been said and done already? Is any new band playing original songs simply re-hashing for a new generation what has already been sung? And what exactly is any tribute band (such as The Real Me) bringing to the table?
The answer to that last question is that they obviously enjoy what they do but they also bring enjoyment to others (which is no mean feat) along with a certain kind of weirdness. And all tribute bands, I would argue, are inherently weird often without even knowing it and I don't mean that as a sleight. Weirdness makes the world go round. "You can't be weird in a strange town," said Paul Weller. But as Hunter S Thompson said: "When the going gets weird, the weird turn professional."
Was a time when I wanted all bands to be themselves, to be original and to sing their own songs. Nowadays, however, I'm not sure if that's so important. The world has changed. What does it matter if a band sing their own songs if those songs are unoriginal? Nowadays it's no longer songs that have the power to transcend into the realm of making a social impact but the weirdness itself of the bands themselves. In particular the weirdness of tribute bands such as, for example, The Real Me.