Musical Ghosts and Other ABBAritions

For a moment, I feared the worst.  Last week my birthday came and went without any sign that I’d get my wish.  Perhaps I’d been too subtle.  Even though I’d distributed a list that catalogued my preferred gifts in order of preference, it was largely without result.  Whilst publishing it in billboard form on Punt Road seemed inspired at the time, it has since occurred to me that my family rarely has cause to travel to town.  I don’t mean to be petulant.  Certainly, I received some of the things I’d longed for, just not the big-ticket item I had sitting at numero uno.  Until now.

When news broke that ABBA’s record label had issued cease and desist letters to ABBA tribute bands, it was as though all my Christmases, at least three of my Easters and a couple of flexi-time days had all come at once. The apparently irony free monikered ‘Polar Music International’ has declared that it wished to ‘create clarity’ in the names of ABBA Tribute Bands.  In short, they want to stop people using the name ABBA in their tribute band or a variation thereof.  The reason?  The record company insists it received complaints from people who had assumed a connection between the real ABBA and the tribute bands.

But as the manager for the group ABBAlanche noted, they were yet to have a single audience member confuse them for the real thing, especially since they were paying $8.50 to get in.  He has a point.  If you genuinely believe that one of the most successful bands of the Twentieth Century has reformed after nearly thirty years in order to pick up a Thursday night residency at the Chelsea Heights Hotel for an eight buck cover fee, notwithstanding its strict ‘no denim’ policy, you may well have bigger problems. Granted, the lure of a twelve dollar parma and pot would tempt the best of us, but it doesn’t seem enough to lure them from Sweden.

Bands such as FABBA have already received such a threat.  Abba’s Back are, apparently, seeking legal advice.  The fate of ABBAration remains unclear.  And as for ABBAracadabra – an ensemble that renders the Swedish supergroup’s tunes in the style of The Steve Miller Band – it’s anybody’s guess.  Should this prove successful, it might devastate the tribute band industry and alter forever the on-board entertainment of many of our finest cruise liners.

This has particular connotations for Australia, which has been identified (or, if you prefer, blamed) in Britain as the source of the tribute band industry.  Whilst I have long campaigned for the removal of ABBA tribute bands, albeit not for reasons of potential infringement of intellectual property rights as much a sense of pure musical decency, it occurs to me that other, more noble tribute acts might get caught up in the mayhem.

I, for one, struggle to come to terms with the idea of world in which Mini Kiss – a KISS tribute band comprised entirely of midgets – is no longer able to go about its business.  Or what of that very special category of tribute bands who subvert the traditional rock and roll machismo by forming an all female tribute?  The Iron Maidens, AC/ Dshe and Lez Zepplin are so much more than mere pastiche.  They have a powerful point to make.  So too, for that matter, does Mandonna – the all male Madonna tribute.

    Consider this.  In 2005, a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band called The Saturday Night Special Band contained in its ranks more original members of Lynyrd Skynyrd that the actual Lynyrd Skynyrd.  (Beyond ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, I must profess a stunning lack of knowledge and, indeed, interest in Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Surely the key attraction of forming a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band is the promise of an early night.)  Even the recently immortalised Little River Band (if, indeed, having your music appear in a Will Ferrell film can be considered ‘immortalised’) had their troubles when three founding members were prevented from using the name.  As Glen Shorrock put it at the time, ‘We’re not the Little River Band but we sure sound like them.’

Indeed, tribute bands have long been bullied in the musical playground.  Sony Music threatened legal action in 2005 against tribute band Beatallica, a band that play songs by The Beatles in the style of Metallica.  Whilst the idea of going up against a massive musical conglomerate must have seemed terrifying, Beatallica managed to prevail, in part thanks to the assistance of fan Lars Ulrich from Metallica.  Bless him.

There’s an old saying, ‘be careful what you wish for’.  Like Dan Ackroyd in Ghostbusters conjuring up the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, so too have I unintentionally opened a Pandora’s worm.  As ABBA tribute bands begin to fall like bewigged satin-coated dominos, the time has come to make something of a stand.  Back off Polar Music International.  If people want to attend a dodgy nightclub, drink their own body weight in bourbon and coke and kid themselves that ABBAsolutley Fabulous are the genuine article, what harm does it do?  Having called up this firestorm, I recognize that I must now do my bit to get things back on track. As for ABBA tribute bands, let me say that I’ll gladly lend my support to GABBA, who perform ABBA songs in the style of The Ramones.  Now that’s something I can respect.  I may even hire them to play my next birthday.

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