What's in a (band) name?

22:49, Jun 12 2014

Ian Anderson recently released a solo album (here's Vicki Anderson's interview with him from The Press) but it's been announced that Jethro Tull will be touring New Zealand at the end of the year, three dates (click here for details). This version of Tull is Anderson and a band he's had for a while, they'll play some of the solo material but the tour is being billed as The Best of Jethro Tull.

So what? That's fine. Or it is? What do you reckon?

For some Jethro Tull was/is Anderson, I've even heard people talk about Jethro Tull as if it was a person - and not necessarily because the band named themselves after a British agricultural pioneer. There was Anderson, wide-eyed, standing on one leg, a court-jester look almost, his flute pressed to pursed lips. And he was Jethro Tull for a lot of fans.

But I don't know. Drummers Clive Bunker and then Barriemore Barlow were pretty important to the sound, to the band. And certainly guitarist Martin Barre, though not quite an original (founding) member was one of the few to take a long journey beside Anderson; his playing so crucial across the band's very best records.

Earlier this week Chrissie Hynde released her debut solo album (you can click there to read my review; I think the album is a dud, really quite embarrassing, a huge misstep and a mistake). For years Hynde has been the face and voice and sound of The Pretenders - for the longest time it was just Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers from the original line-up. But Hynde has even recorded and toured as The Pretenders without Chambers. But, as I said in my review, there is a particular irony that the lead singer and songwriter of a band, in stepping out solo, seems to have lost the signature behind her sound. And clearly she's lost her inspiration if not almost entirely her songwriting chops.

I wonder if, past an initial promo run, Hynde will be back on the road as/with a version of The Pretenders - playing some songs from her Stockholm album still, but filling the majority of the set with The Best of The Pretenders.

There's the preamble then to a discussion that I'm often asked to facilitate - a regular call, when I do ask for potential topics, is made for some discussion around bands that tour with only one founding member, a lone original standing there carrying the weight of tradition and a hope for authenticity on their shoulders when, in some cases, they struggle now to carry a tune.

I go to a few of these sorts of shows - a lone star (fading star, as is often the case) hiding behind a band name, or celebrating the songs that made that person a star. It's a little of both, obviously. I go because I'm reviewing, I'm not a paying punter. I'm not sure I'd fork out for it, in some cases I wouldn't - no chance. But there have been shows where it was just one original member and I was fine with that, certainly in the case of Anderson's upcoming tour I've never seen any version of Tull and he was the conceptualist for the band, not merely the singer. It was so often his show. I'd like to go. I'd like to see and hear if he's still got it; to hear those songs I loved.

It's interesting how this is perceived - I've twice seen The Beach Boys or rather Mike Love's version of The Beach Boys. Despite still featuring Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston the media here had a field day with lines around The Beach Boy. Only Mike Love from the original band they suggested - never mind that two of the three Wilson brothers were dead. And though for so many Brian Wilson is the heart and soul of the band he was an erratic presence.

I'm not defending Mike Love here - he's a largely despicable character in Beach Boy history but that first time I saw his version of the band it was a nearly perfect roll call of hits and a great (fun) show. It wasn't art. But it was a fun night out. That's often all you need. The second time, more recently, it was a bit of a stumble, not without its moments but I shouldn't have gone a second time.

(And yes, it should go without saying that it was far more moving to see Brian Wilson with his great band recreating Beach Boys material. But if I leave it out there'll be comments telling me that I missed a great show. I didn't - it was one of my all-time favourite concerts).

Would Ian Anderson get the same numbers if he toured here as Ian Anderson Plays Jethro Tull and should Chrissie Hynde abort what is, to my ears, a very poor attempt at a solo career, left far too late?

And what are your thoughts around seeing only one member of the original band (still) parading the name and the songs? Does it never work for you? Are you offended simply on principal? Or have you had a pretty good night out - or even a transcend experience - seeing just the one band member live out the history of one of your favourite groups?  

What are the best and worst examples you have of bands carrying on in spirit with only one or two original members? Or do you think it's the correct thing to do to tour and record solo, play some of the hits from the old band by all means but front it under a new band name, or at least the singer's own name?

Blog on the Tracks is on Facebook and Twitter.

You can also check out Off the Tracks for The Vinyl Countdown, reviews and other posts