Audiophiles #270

An Ode to Bands

Alice Blu Live

The recent demise of REM has got me thinking about the power of a good band. I saw REM at the Hordern Pavilion in 1989 and the gig still ranks as one of the best I’ve seen. Individually they weren’t the greatest musicians but put them together and they made a marvellous racket. There are many other examples of great bands that are certainly more than the sum of the individual parts. The Triffids, Cold Chisel, The Pixies, The Velvet Underground, Radiohead, Wilco or most of Miles Davis’ bands, just to name a few of my other favorites. The mysterious alchemy that is conjured up by certain collections of individuals is truly remarkable.

Bands have often been compared to marriages. Asked recently if Oasis might reform, Noel Gallagher said to the interviewer – “would you go on holiday with your ex-wife?” To which the interviewer replied – “no, but then again you didn’t make great albums with your ex-wife”. A nice reminder of where the band/marriage analogy stops, but then again there are plenty of couple/band stories, Fleetwood Mac surely up near the top of the list.

From the inside, as a musician, bands can be both torturous and transcendent places to be. Offstage, relationships can be as cold as ice yet onstage the music making can feel sublime. Lose one member of a band and the whole edifice can crumble - a lesson I learnt very early on and part of the attraction I felt for a long while toward the ‘hired gun’/lone jazz musician model. However I am always drawn back to the collaborative band model. Bouncing ideas off someone else invariably leads to stronger music. Really listening to other people’s ideas makes for an openness that can produce fascinating results.

Apart from the internal politics, there are lots of obstacles in the music industry to the viability, let alone success of a band. Try putting a tour together for a five piece band and you’ll quickly be faced with the financial realities. I’m sure that’s why duo acts and loop pedals are so popular these days. Not that I have anything against them, I just lament the lack of opportunities for bands to work together and build their own sound over years.

At the Northern Rivers Conservatorium (where I’m currently Acting Head of Music) we have been running new Certificate IV and Diploma of Music courses that have a major focus on bands. Students have been put into groups and had to write and record original songs. There have been plenty of issues, as you’d expect when you combine a drummer interested in death metal with an indie-folk singer. How the groups resolve these sorts of conflicts develop the sorts of skills that are at the core of making a living in music – namely communication and collaboration. (Skills that readily transfer to all sorts of situations, like airline disputes perhaps).

Anyhow, (insert shameless plug here) the bands from the Con will be performing live at the Tatts Hotel in Lismore on Friday 18 Nov, starting at 6.30pm. On the bill is a young band, Alice Blu, who will also be appearing later in the month at Mullum Music Festival and are soon to launch their debut EP. I predict big things for this band; I hope they stay together because they certainly make a marvellous racket when you put them all in one room.

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