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Brit Awards Tuesday, 29 February, 2000, 10:53 GMT
Tribute bands: The next best thing
Bjorn Again
Bjorn Again: Not just an Abba tribute act
By BBC News Online's Darryl Chamberlain

Going to see a concert of cover versions was once the preserve of the scampi and chips brigade.

It was all part of a night of variety entertainment - a few jokes, a few songs, maybe a touch of dancing, then it'd be "drive home safely, everyone" and home in time for midnight.

But now their sons and daughters have discovered the joys of cover versions - and tribute bands are packing out venues across the UK.
Abba in 1974
The real thing: Abba in 1974
The attraction is obvious. Rod Leissle, co-manager of Abba tribute act Bjorn Again, says: "People are intrigued. Bands like Kiss you'd see from far away at an arena show, but you don't see them up close.

"With tribute bands, you can see them in an intimate setting - you can almost reach out and touch them. And you know what you're in for, you know what you're going to get."

Leissle, 41, was a founding member of Bjorn Again in Melbourne, Australia in 1988. After playing a few shows as Bjorn Volvo-us, he moved to the backing band, and now manages the band with fellow founder John Tyrrell.

After success in Australia, the band relocated to London in 1991, and now Volvo-us, Benny Anderwear, Agnetha Falstart and Frida Longstokin have played more than 1,750 shows in 42 countries around the world.

Leissle explains: "We are a parody on the whole 70s scene, and not just Abba. We like to give it a rock 'n' roll treatment - Spinal Tap meets Abba."
The Complete Stone Roses
David Jeans in action as Stone Roses drummer Reni
Bjorn Again was born out of his frustration with the Australian music scene of the late 1980s.

"Bands weren't trying hard. I was a big fan of the band Split Enz and they had an amazing stage show with great sets and big costumes. I loved that crossover with theatre."

It was clearly not just him: Bjorn Again now play up to 250 shows each year. The secret, he says, is close attention to detail.

"You have to look impressive. Most people won't notice the attention put into the costumes, the music, the lighting, the choreography.

"But if you fall short of the mark, your audience will subconsciously know it."
the Complete Stone Roses
Ian Brown - or Complete Stone Roses singer Ricky Hughes?
Peter Lamb - who manages The Complete Stone Roses - agrees.

"If you're not going to do it to your full ability, get the hell away - you'll give the rest of us a bad name," he says.

Whereas Bjorn Again have conquered much of the world, TCSR's successes in their two years have been closer to home, playing to packed shows across the UK and Ireland.

The foursome - from Glasgow and Edinburgh - have even been joined by genuine Stone Roses bassist Mani for a show in Dublin.

He says: "We try and recreate as much of the original sound as possible. We work from their CDs, as most of the audience would never have seen the Roses live, and wouldn't recognise their live sound."
Ian Brown
The real thing: Ian Brown in 1998
Lamb has great plans for his charges - but despite rave receptions further north, he is having trouble getting shows in London.

"We haven't played in London - there's only a couple of venues there that do tribute shows regularly, and they pay half what we'd normally get - only 500 or 600. Yet we put on a much more professional show."

Drummer David Jeans - Jeansy to his friends, Reni on stage - says there has even been vicious rivalry between them and other Stone Roses tribute bands.

"We've had our posters ripped down, and they've had people go around saying our gigs cancelled," says the 25-year-old, who quit a job as a sculptor's assistant to be Reni full-time.

But, encouraged by his band's successes so far, Lamb has his sights set on the rest of Europe - and Japan.

"You can go to Japan and half the audience would think you're the real Stone Roses. I had an e-mail from a Japanese promoter the other day - and I had to send one back asking him to confirm that he knew we weren't the real Stone Roses!"

With guitar rock music still firmly in the mainstream, Lamb is sure TCSR have a rosy future assured as old fans relive their memories and new Roses fans who come and see what the fuss is all about.

Mamma Mia! sign
Mamma Mia! The West End show has kept up interest in Bjorn Again
"The Stone Roses' music still sounds fresh today - at least half of our audience are younger people. Their albums came back into the charts last year, and we're getting more fans as time goes on, from all over the world."

But, at the top of the profession, Bjorn Again's Rod Leissle thinks tribute bands are due to "fade to a certain degree".

"There's only so much you can have of everything, and I'm wondering how long you can go on for."

But, he adds: "When we first came to the UK in 1991, we gave it two years at best. But that hasn't happened - there were always cornerstones like the Erasure Abba-esque single, the Abba Gold album, and the Mamma Mia musical in London to prop us up."

Bjorn Again start a tour of Great Britain at Blackheath Halls, London on 14 April.

The Complete Stone Roses start a UK and Ireland tour at the Cockpit in Leeds on 3 March.

See also:

02 Feb 00 | Entertainment
06 Apr 99 | Entertainment
05 Nov 99 | Entertainment
06 May 99 | Entertainment
23 Oct 98 | Entertainment
09 Mar 99 | e-cyclopedia
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