When you find out that song is a cover

A tweet posted over the weekend sent the Internet into a frenzy, or so many news reports claimed. A throwaway comment about the song ‘Torn’ (a hit for Aussie-born singer/actress Natalie Imbruglia 20 years ago) being a cover provoked the sort of reaction most of us can only wish for:

The reactions ranged from ‘WTF?’ to ‘My life has been a lie’; the song was known at the time to be a cover of another artist, so it came as a surprise to me that so many were shocked to find that out now. (It was originally written by Anne Preven and Scott Cutler of the band Ednaswap, alongside their producer Phil Thornalley.) The song was covered by a Danish artist (Lis Sørensen) in her native language, and retitled ‘Brændt’ (Danish for ‘burnt’) before Imbruglia recorded the song, and Ednaswap themselves recorded a version although theirs is a different arrangement.

The reactions interested me as a music fan, especially one who tries to keep informed about whose song that hit actually was. Why would people react so strongly? The song reportedly still earns the writers around $150,000 a year, and there have been many examples of a hit song actually turning out to be a cover originally written and/or recorded by someone else, to far less success.

I can only speculate that a song such as ‘Torn’, Imbruglia’s cover of which made the top five in many countries’ charts, and sold over a million in the UK alone, resonates strongly with people and their memories. Of a time in their life they remember fondly, perhaps, and with a song such as that being a huge part of that memory. When you find out years later that the song you associate so strongly with a particular artist, turns out not to have been their song in the first place, it does jar with people. Perhaps it’s a case of ‘cognitive dissonance’; they have it fixed so firmly in their mind that say, ‘Torn’ is Natalie Imbruglia’s song and nobody else’s, that it is uncomfortable to discover that is not in fact the case.

It’s an interesting phenomenon, and one that’s far from restricted to one particular song. It may depend on how much the song resonated with your memory of a fondly-remembered time of your life, if it did then it must feel like part of your memory has been reset, or wiped. Another great example is the song ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’; you could ask ten people in the street whose song that is and it’s a safe bet all ten will say ‘Joan Jett’ (and the Blackhearts, if we are being strict!) However, tell them that it was actually written and recorded some years earlier by a band called The Arrows, and you’ll struggle to convince them. The song’s writers were Arrows members Alan Merrill and Jake Hooker, their version was originally showcased on a British television programme in 1975, which is where Joan Jett (then on tour in the UK with The Runaways) discovered the song.

For a song which spans generations, it is often the case that the version heard first is the ‘definitive’ one; Slade for example scored a huge-selling UK number one hit in 1973 with ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’. Ten years later, and the song crossed the Atlantic to be re-recorded by LA ‘hair metal’ band Quiet Riot; their cover was a Stateside smash but to this day many in the US consider it to be Quiet Riot’s song exclusively. The songwriting royalties from that cover must have been nice for Slade’s Noddy Holder and Jim Lea, although they could be forgiven for scratching their heads wondering how they could not succeed in the US themselves when they made their concerted bid to break through over there, just a few years before.

Essentially, once a song becomes a hit, whoever made it so seems to ‘own’ that song as it were – even if it had been written some time before, even if it had actually been a hit for another artist once before. There are numerous examples of this on TV Tropes under the entry ‘Covered Up’, and it amused me to find from that page that no less than David Bowie used to get kids come up to him and say how cool it was that he was ‘covering a Nirvana song’. (Nirvana performed Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ on their MTV Unplugged appearance, despite Kurt Cobain stating clearly whose song it was, that went over many people’s heads and they considered it a Nirvana track.) Bowie’s reaction was as understandable as it was predictable (!)

To close, here are a few songs you may or may not realise are the original versions, not the one more widely known:

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Festival fiasco in Liverpool as day 2 of Hope & Glory is cancelled

‘No festival today’

The curt message posted on social media by the organisers of the first (and increasingly likely, only) Hope & Glory Festival was the coup de grace for this event, plagued by logistical problems on its first day and cancelled altogether on the second, leaving many bands who had been booked to perform high and dry.

The event, which has been advertised for several months, was something I had not taken a great deal of notice of, as the bill featured mainly indie fare which wasn’t my cup of tea. One or two acts looked interesting but I thought at £55 for a day ticket and £85 for the weekend was a bit much to see maybe a couple of bands I might like. The event did however generate interest nationally and internationally, with fans coming from across the country and some had flown in from other countries. Held in St Johns Gardens, behind the neoclassical St Georges Hall in the centre of Liverpool, the organisers promised a range of bands playing across three stages, which right there should raise red flags to anybody who knows that part of the city.  A video that the event organisers released on Facebook shows the intended layout of the site, which they claimed would be suitable for up to 12000 attendees:

Hope & Glory Festival site layout

Hope & Glory Festival site layout (screenshot from organisers’ promotional video)

One glance at that layout makes it clear that there’s no way that site could accommodate 12000 fans comfortably. For those not familiar, the garden area is set from the street to the right (William Brown Street, site for the main ‘Great Exhibition Stage’) by a wall, accessible only by steps in one or two places.

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Location for main stage (screenshot taken from organisers’ promotional video)

Straight away that creates bottlenecks, if people wished to go from one stage to another. In addition, the main stage being set on that narrow street would create yet more overcrowding. The site was just not big enough to hold three stages – one would have been enough, and sure enough on the Saturday (the only operational day), reports of sound from one stage bleeding over to the other stages were coming in via social media. (There was a third stage, set aside for smaller acts).

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Second stage location (screenshot taken from organisers’ promotional video)

On the day itself there were enormous queues snaking down Lime Street, around the corner into St John’s Lane (to the left of the picture), leading to what appeared to be the only entrance into the site. Tickets had been on sale right up to the day of the event and reportedly also available on the day itself, going off what took place it is clear the festival was massively over-subscribed. Questions on facebook before the day were asking about wristband pass-outs, a system which was initially going to be put in place but had been withdrawn at the eleventh hour, leading to some frustrated comments even before the event began. As it became clear that nobody was getting into the site anger grew, and before long the police arrived on the scene to deal with the massive overcrowding. Some disgruntled fans gave up altogether and headed for the bars instead, while the schedule was thrown out by the disruption with acts coming on up to two hours later, playing truncated sets. One big name (singer Charlotte Church) was axed from the bill altogether, presumably in a bid to get the event timescale back into some sort of order, but she was left stranded, having travelled from South Wales with her band only to find she had no slot in which to perform. In a prelude to the next day’s events, she put out an appeal on social media for any venues in the city who might be able to put her on. That was answered by Liquidation at Heebeejeebees, who hastily arranged a gig for her within the hour.

The scale of the problem on the Saturday is illustrated by this video from the Liverpool Echo:

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Bands such as The Fratellis, Razorlight and James did get to play, however by this time many fans had abandoned hope of getting in and had left the site, leaving those already there to queue for the bars and for the toilets, neither facilities were sufficient for the amount of people there leading to yet more overcrowding. The set by James appeared to save the day for many, but a barrage of criticism on their Facebook page and by the number of tweets condemning the organisers for what appeared to be a shameful lack of organisation followed.

Instead of trying to appease or placate disappointed fans, or even showing that they might at least have taken some of the criticism on board for the Sunday, the next day the cancellation was announced on social media with those three words ‘no festival today’. That was it, no explanation, no apology, nothing. With more ‘name’ bands scheduled to play on the Sunday including Ocean Colour Scene, the Lightning Seeds and Space, that left all of those acts in the lurch. Tim Booth of James was also scheduled to play again, as part of ‘Hacienda Classical’ but after he posted a tweet slamming the organisation, they gave only a spiky response instead of the expected contrition:
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By midday on the Sunday the stages were being dismantled, as the tag #HopeAndGlory Festival began to trend and venues across Liverpool were already mobilising to do what they could to put on stranded acts, or make some sort of goodwill gesture to the people who found themselves in the city centre with their event cancelled. Another event (Liverpool Loves) was also taking place elsewhere in the city centre, their organisers were swift to invite would-be Hope & Glory attendees to their stage. Some of the bands did get to perform; the Zanzibar put on the Lightning Seeds at short notice while other venues including Magnet, and Hangar 34 also tweeted that they would make themselves available for acts who wished to play there.  The fact that these venues had to pick up the pieces after the festival descended into chaos was reminiscent of the scenes a decade ago, when the outdoor stages at the Mathew Street Festival (a free, annual event that took place across several stages in the city centre, featuring mostly tribute bands) were suddenly cancelled with days to go by their organisers. That year, bars and venues went out of their way to accommodate bands and this cancellation prompted similar scenes.

Cancellation notice (pic: David Munn/Liverpool Echo)

The whole debacle does little for the image of the city, other than to show that there is still a defiant spirit among the bars and clubs to make something of a bad situation and try to give something to those who’d wanted to spend the weekend watching live music. Those venues deserve bouquets, while brickbats are fully merited for the organisation behind Hope & Glory, a PR company called tinyCOW based in the Midlands.  This would appear to shatter that company’s credibility once and for all, however over the course of the weekend stories emerged that the people behind tinyCOW have previous history of staging events which went wrong. In a particularly disgraceful twist, their twitter account not only passed all blame onto a production manager, condemning him for not installing walkways in time and – worst of all – publishing an email address for all complaints to be directed to him as opposed to the organisers themselves. This was rightly condemned on social media by fans who saw it as the buck-passing exercise it was. Meanwhile, the fire was turned up still further on Tim Booth who got a post from the festival organisers’ account telling him to ‘go back to your yoga’ – a bizarre comment from the organiser to one of their main acts:

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When the dust settles on this debacle, there are questions to be answered. First of all, did anybody do any due diligence on this company who arranged the festival? It has emerged that they have a track record of disputes for previous events, were no questions asked of these?  Secondly, how did they get a licence to stage this event in a space so obviously unsuitable for the amount of people who came? The site was far too small for a projected 12000 people, there were bottlenecks owing to the layout of the land, there were obstacles everywhere and getting around must have been nigh-on impossible. With all that in mind how could it possibly have been passed as safe? Linked to that, and thirdly, who signed it off? Presumably the city council must have cleared it, questions must be asked about their role in this fiasco. On the evidence of the reports, it must be considered miraculous there was not a disaster at this event, which would have been catastrophic for this city. At the very least there should be a resignation from within the council department who passed this event as safe to go ahead.

As said at the top of this post, the musical fare offered at this event was not to my taste, nevertheless when live music events are staged here I want them to pass off well, leaving visitors with good memories – not the frustration and anger which must be felt by visitors after this fiasco. The tickets were not cheap – unsurprisingly there are many calls for refunds, which have also been batted away by organisers referring people only to their ticket agents. That, like so much of the attitude from them, is insufficient and insulting. It is to be hoped this has not caused lasting damage to the city’s hard-won reputation for staging events, nor the ability of the city to attract name acts to perform in Liverpool.

As it was, there was better and more effective communication from artists performing at the event than there was from the festival organisers, which should mean that this company will never be trusted again to deliver a large-scale event in this, or any other city.

Dio back on the road – as a hologram

It used to be said death was a great career move for musicians; at least for those who still stood to gain from the music they left behind that was certainly the case, as albums would be repackaged over and over again with ‘unreleased’, ‘demo’ or ‘rare’ material often added. Until now it was never considered that the deceased artist could actually be sent back out on tour, but that’s all changed now with the news that a holographic recreation of Ronnie James Dio is to go on the road, backed by a live band featuring musicians part of the last Dio line-up to tour while he was still alive.

Perhaps presumptuously, this tour is called ‘Dio Returns’ and several dates across Europe have already been announced for November/December this year. The holographic recreation of Dio made its ‘live’ debut last year at Wacken Open Air festival in Germany, at the end of a performance by Dio Disciples (formed from the surviving members of the last Dio line-up), with a rendition of ‘We Rock’ using vocal taken from a DVD issued in 2002. The hologram is the work of Eyellusion who collaborated with Wendy Dio (Ronnie’s widow/former manager), and it made a further appearance at this year’s Pollstar Awards with the band performing live alongside the hologram.

At the time of writing there haven’t been any further dates confirmed, although the camp have promised a ‘world tour’ taking in many countries including the UK. I consider myself one of Dio’s long-time fans, having first seen him with the original incarnation of his own band at the 1983 Donington, going on to see many performances afterwards including three occasions with Black Sabbath/Heaven and Hell. The blurb promises a set taking in his spells with Rainbow and Sabbath, as well as his own band, and they have created a stage set reminiscent of the tours in support of the ‘Sacred Heart’ and ‘Dream Evil’ albums. This, then is surely a must-see for a fan such as myself?

Well, no, not for me thanks. I was fortunate to see Dio on what I estimate to be 17 times, over a period spanning almost 30 years and nothing these technowizards can do will come remotely close to what I got from seeing that guy perform live. He wasn’t just a great singer (he was arguably the best), he could deliver the goods every single night and even in his latter years, with the songs taken down a step, he still astonished, and had the energy of a man at least twenty years younger. That’s why it was such a sad day when he was unable to play that last tour in 2009 having been diagnosed suddenly, and worse when that illness finally took him in 2010. He was irreplaceable, a total one-off, and until now the Disciples have paid tribute by using current singers inspired by his music such as ‘Ripper’ Owens. They don’t try to BE Ronnie James Dio, they interpret his songs their way, but most importantly of all, they are performing LIVE. Behind the technological magic that has made this possible, what we’re still dealing with here is a recording of Dio played over a band on stage. Despite Wendy’s repeated assurances that Ronnie ‘would be giving this his blessing’, I’m unconvinced. Surely he’d want his fans to see live bands giving all they have to an audience, the frontman and the band feeding off the crowd energy in the same way he did? You can’t replicate that with a 3D image.

Another thing which has raised red flags with me is this: what if this tour actually is successful? Will audiences accept this more willingly as time goes on, and will that mean Eyellusion or another company will produce holograms of say, Lemmy, or Bowie? This technology is in its infancy and will only improve, so I fear this is the thin end of the wedge. Even as I type I can imagine Sharon getting Ozzy to stand in a studio somewhere and re-enact his stage moves so that they can be recreated for a similar project once he’s no longer here. The same with other classic bands nearing the end of their careers; surely KISS will have taken note and Gene is already looking into how to apply this technology to his own band/brand. Then there’s the ultimate long-standing rock band: this idea would allow the Rolling Stones to keep going long after all the members have left us, so you can bet somebody somewhere is working on this idea for every big-ticket rock star still capable of pulling an audience.

With that in mind, where will that leave REAL live bands, those coming up and hoping to reach the same status as those that came before? In a pickle, that’s where. If the future of ‘live concerts’ is holographic recreations of major names, then there’s only so much disposable income to spend on shows and it is those smaller bands, the ones your friends tell you ‘I’ve never heard of them’ as though that renders them non-existent, who will take the brunt of this hit. I would like to think the likes of Iron Maiden (a band who have historically tried to do right by their fans) would have no truck with this idea, but I can think of many veteran bands who may well be tempted to go down this route for when they are no longer here, yet still want to generate income for their estates.

I’m not a fan of this idea at all, despite being as amazed as anybody else at the work that must have gone into making this possible. Consequently I shall be sitting out the ‘Dio Returns’ tour when it does come to this country, and will look instead for gigs by real, live musicians standing on that stage playing and singing in front of me, not a fancy projected image going through all the motions while an archived vocal recording plays.

Perhaps in an ironic twist, it is the other Dio offshoot band (Last In Line, featuring original members, guitarist Vivian Campbell and drummer Vinny Appice; bassist Jimmy Bain was also involved until his death last year) who appear to be the preferable option for Dio fans who still want to see that music performed live. Campbell was of course infamously canned from Dio’s band in 1986, causing a rift between him and the singer which never healed, and he spent years distancing himself from his time with Dio after he reappeared, first with Whitesnake and then Def Leppard. However, since Dio’s death he has come to terms once again with the material he had a hand in writing, and has performed with Last In Line whenever possible between Def Leppard tours, and of course around his own treatment (Campbell was himself diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2013). These shows, despite some criticism, cannot be lucrative for the Leppard man so his motivation must be to reclaim his right to that music.

Speaking as a Dio fan since the 1980s however, I’d have to disagree with Disciples guitarist Craig Goldy; this new show cannot be the same as experiencing Dio ‘live’; those ‘poor quality youtube videos’ are all we have left.

To close this post here is one of those videos – there are several officially-released shows from the 1980s which have appeared on youtube and this one from 1986 shows Dio in top form, complete with stage show – including Denzil the Dragon! (A show I was lucky enough to catch twice when they came to this country in May 1986) 🙂