Tribute: a word which has become increasingly associated with overweight Elvises, sub-par Spice Girls and too-old Take That’s. A word which conjures mental images of dimly lit pubs with a lonely solo vocalist in the corner trying his best to be better than last night’s karaoke superstars.
I see it differently to those common misconceptions. Being an agent who has been at the centre of the tribute business for the past decade and beyond, I’ve come to adore it for what it is – a labour of love - for many of today’s brightest and best musical impersonators.
Something that people outside of the industry won’t appreciate is the incredible camaraderie that exists amongst the tribute ‘family.’ Backstage at our last showcase, which was almost entirely comprised of tribute acts - a testament to the direction of today’s live entertainment industry - I have never experienced such an immediate ‘click’ amongst people who have never met before. It was more than just being at a surreal fancy dress party. There was a mutual respect and a shared sense of what it takes to be a successful tribute act - dedication.
The stars of the market at present are those who put their heart and soul into it; the ones who idolise or at least admire their chosen subject, and so devote themselves to producing an imitation so perfect that it might involve them permanently changing their own appearance. For me, the single thing that elevates some tribute acts head and shoulders above their rivals is that (admittedly an over-coined phrase these days) ‘x-factor,’ which only comes with that intensity of professionalism.
And they need it. Today’s field of tribute acts is a broad and deep one. Over the past few years, every half-decent vocalist (and many others who don’t even qualify for that mediocre descriptor) have jumped on the tribute bandwagon. Gone are the days where a tribute act had to have some natural resemblance to the singer they wanted to mimic. Hence a massive influx of tributes especially towards the stars whose songs are less demanding regarding image or vocal range. Yes, there is a huge demand still for Michael Buble and Robbie Williams tributes, but the market is so saturated with them these days that you can’t go anywhere near a showcase without meeting a half dozen of them, clambering over each other for a gig.
This has led lately to a drop in artiste’s fees amongst these ‘popular’ tributes, especially in the public house industry, largely due to supply and demand factors as well as the current depressing economic climate. But the top acts have their base customers tied up and can still make a fantastic living in a thriving marketplace. Ask any agent – more and more agencies are deserting the sadly fading working men’s club scene and taking tribute acts on management. It’s where the money is.
From pubs to hotels, from holiday centres to casinos, and from cruise ships to even the aforementioned working men’s club scene, the leisure retail world has realised this and the clamour for quality tribute acts is as high as it’s even been. For the in-demand shows; the Freddie Mercurys, the Madnesses and the Bee Gees bands, for the Abbas, the Take Thats and the Tom Joneses and even for the rising-in-popularity ‘modern’ tributes; the Olly Murses, Jessie Jays and the Lady Gagas, a lucrative living is there to be made for those who apply themselves and who inject that energy that steals the limelight from their less passionate peers.
It’s an industry that divides opinions. You either love tribute acts or you hate them. They are either revered or reviled, but one thing can’t be denied. It’s the busiest sector of the grass roots UK live entertainment industry and I for one look forward to it where it goes next.