Why I’m enjoying my Portsmouth musical timewarp – SIMON CARTER
Forget the likes of Ed Sheeran, Adele, Dua Lipa and everyone else who’s currently ‘hip’, I’m living in a musical timewarp. And long may it continue.
Who needs Dr Who’s Tardis or Marty McFly’s DeLorean time machine? For all intents and purposes, it’s like the 1970s all over again - just without the flares, trade union-organised civil unrest and (a big loss coming up ...) Spangles.
I once had a boss who was a teenager in the early 70s, and he loved reeling off the list of bands he’d seen ‘way back then’ - I’m talking rock heavyweights such as Led Zeppelin, T-Rex, Bowie, Queen and Pink Floyd. All I could offer in comparison were sentences like ‘well, I saw Marillion at the St Austell Coliseum’ or ‘I had a good night watching Skid Row at the Bristol Hippodrome.’ No comparison, obviously.
Not any more, though. In the last year, in Portsmouth alone, I’ve seen Queen, Bowie and Floyd (I also saw Take That as well, but only to win brownie points off my partner you understand). And in the next few months I’ll see Led Zep and T-Rex too - and, again, I won’t have to leave this city to do so.
I know what you’re thinking - Freddie’s dead, Bowie’s dead, Bolan’s dead, Led Zep’s surviving members have only ever appeared sporadically on stage since John Bonham died in 1980 and Pink Floyd’s 2005 Live 8 reunion gig was the only time since the mid-80s they have played together.
Factually, you’re right to think that. But I’m also right - I HAVE seen them. Seriously, to all intents and purposes, I really have.
We’ve come a long way since the days of Stars in Their Eyes and fame-hungry contestants babbling ‘tonight (insert name of presenter), I’m going to be …. (insert name of singer) prior to launching into a karaoke-type impersonation.
Today, tribute acts are big business. And they are big business because they are incredibly good, sensational even, at recreating yesterday’s legends today.
Take the recent Bowie Experience concert at the Kings Theatre. Laurence Knight WAS David Bowie. He looked like him - both facially and costume-wise - he sounded like him and he acted like him. It was spooky, eerie even.
Have you ever seen T-Rextasy, the T-Rex tribute band? They’ve made regular trips to Portsmouth ever since lead singer Danielz - the spitting image of peak era Marc Bolan - formed the band in 1992. As a result, he will soon celebrate 29 years of playing Bolan - the same age Bolan was when he died in 1977.
I’ve seen T-Rextasy four or five times and they have always put on a great show. There’s always a healthy crowd - most of whom, obviously, remember Bolan in his prime. I can’t wait to see them again, and I have no shame in saying that. Smirk if you want, but there is still a market for great glam rock songs played well.
Led Zeppelin Masters are appearing at Portsmouth Guildhall next month, complete with 30-piece orchestra. I once saw the tribute band Whole Lotta Led, and was blown away. If this band are as good, it will be a blistering night’s entertainment.
If they are as good as Brit Floyd were earlier this week, though, it will be a sensational night. For Tuesday’s gig at Portsmouth Guildhall was up there with the best I’ve ever seen - yeah, up there with Marillion at St Austell. That good.
Forty years ago, a 14-year-old lad by the name of Damien Darlington received a copy of Floyd’s The Wall. So began a love affair which, four decades on, sees Darlington as vocalist, guitar player and overall musical director of a band described as ‘the world’s greatest Pink Floyd Show’. Ok, those words are from Brit Floyd’s own website but I’m not about to argue. I saw the Australian Pink Floyd tribute act three years ago in Bournemouth and was mesmerised by the quality, but Brit Floyd on Tuesday were honestly magnificent.
It was easy to forget - while being dazzled by the musicianship, light show (worthy of stadiums easily) and iconic Floyd imagery - that this was a tribute act, as far removed from kitsch karaoke or the humdrum local pub circuit as humanly possible. Given that tickets started at around £37 each, not a cheap tribute act either. Brit Floyd also offered ‘meet and greet’ sessions with band members prior to the gig, including listening in on the soundcheck and some songs that were absent from the concert set list. For that, though, you would pay over £100 - and, in honestly, splashing out that sort of cash I’d want Roger Waters and David Gilmour!
But I guarantee that everyone at the Guildhall went away thinking they’d had value for money. For one night, they had been catapulted back to their youth, two and a half hours of wonderful music that reminded them of a time when they had most of their lives in front of them.
Accuse them on cashing in on someone else’s fame if you must, but there is nothing wrong with Brit Floyd, T-Rextasy and the Bowie Experience existing to plug a nostalgia-fuelled gap in the lives of the music-lovers who attend these concerts. They are helping to keep alive some of the best rock music of all time. Yes, by predominantly playing to the converted, but also in the hope of attracting new, younger fans to some of the best rock music of all time. I’ve deliberately repeated those last words to help hammer home the message - these songs, these bands, will never fade away.
What’s more, these tribute acts are hugely popular. T-Rextasy’s longevity illustrates that perfectly, while Brit Floyd will next week start a tour of the USA and Canada which will see them play over 60 concerts in three months.
I’ve also seen tribute acts paying homage to U2 and Oasis and very good they were. And until Bono and co bring their prices down to something near what I can afford, and until Noel and Liam settle their sibling spat and reform (and they will, though undoubtedly it won’t be a cheap concert when they do), I’ll carry on watching the imitations.
I’ve seen U2 and Oasis in the flesh, but - as I said earlier - I never saw Queen, Led Zep, Bowie, T-Rex or Pink Floyd. If I’d been born 15 years earlier, I might well have done. But I didn’t, so I’m thankful, truly grateful even, that tribute bands have allowed me to witness the next best thing at a reasonable cost.
For I would rather spend £37 watching Brit Floyd than pay a heck of a lot more to see Ed Sheeran, Adele, George Ezra or, er, Little Mix. And even if I wanted to see any of the singers/bands who won at the recent Brit Awards, no way would they place a massive tick in four boxes - great songs, wonderful musicianship, stunning light show and incredible imagery/graphics - in the way Damien Darlington and co did the other night for half the cost.
That is why I’m enjoying my Portsea Island timewarp ...