It was acceptable in the Nineties #2

…being  a piece on a ‘Battle of the Bands’ run by Leeds City Council that was maybe missing the essential spirit of pop music:

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“Thank you Leeds!’ An amplifier squeals as a sweat-drenched singer sloughs off his guitar and the drummer hurls his sticks into the crowd, a parting gift to the fans. 

Wembley Arena it isn’t, it’s the Duchess of York pub on a chilly January night where the heats of the Bright Young Things contest are being fought out.

“There was a gap  and we needed to fill it” explains Krista May of Leeds City Council. “We realised that we don’t really do anything for musicians that play guitar-based music”. Hence Bright Young Things which, for the past five years, has offered young bands a bridge from draughty garages and pub function rooms to the prestigious stage of the city’s Town and Country Club, where the national final will be held on March 14th.

As well as the chance to tread in the footsteps of their idols, the bands are competing for £2,500 worth of top-notch musical gear. But the route to that ultimate end, maintains May, is as important as the goal itself.

“The bands get to learn what it takes to be in a band, if that’s what they seriously want to do as a career” she says. “They have to realise the amount of work that’s involved in rehearsing, getting a following, getting an image and the realms of promotion”.

The two Yorkshire bands that have reached the final, Brass Monkey and Brace, have taken this message to heart. Brace drummer Rob Atkins anticipates the final with a mixture of nervousness and elation. “It’s a fantastic opportunity” he says. “This is really big league stuff for us. Playing at the Town and Country Club us fantastic because we get very cramped in smaller places and also the style of our music sounds better in large venues”.

Bouncing back after a previous unsuccessful shot at Bright Young Things, Brass Monkey stormed through the heats, their furious energy channelled by a relentless schedule of practices and gigs. Guitarist Jamie Gill is practically frothing at the mouth in his eagerness to take the Town and Country Club stage. “We’ve got some trampolines lined up and we’re gonna get [singer] Danny Call to ride on stage with a BMX bike and throw it into the crowd” he jokes (I think).

Check out many a band in a pub and it’s rare to escape the well-worn rock formulae of Oasis or The Verve. Call admits that Brass Monkey is working in a crowded arena. “During the Battle of the Bands at Harrogate we felt like an Elvis impersonator in an Elvis impersonation contest” he says. “It’s very difficult to deviate from the norm, because there’s so many male guitar bands around”.

The fact that Bright Young Things reflects the preponderance of all-male guitar groups is perhaps the event’s greatest weakness. With one or two notable exceptions, few of the bands display true originality. Of course it’s unrealistic to expect fully formed genius, but at least a willingness to (figuratively) bite the heads off fruitbats and throw colourful tantrums might signal that pop music isn’t just fit for the soundtrack to yet another car ad.

By contrast, a contest like Bright Young Things works to a highly pragmatic brief, as May confirms. “If a band are going to succeed they need to see themselves as a package, a product that’s either going to be saleable or not” she says.

Perhaps the confidence gained from Bright Young Things might encourage bands to experiment, before the industry ignores them completely, or worse still, rewards them for being so well-behaved.

 

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