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Published 02 December 2010 05:01, Updated 02 December 2010 09:56
Listen carefully at the local RSL club on a Friday night and you may hear above the jangle of poker machines, rattle of beer glasses and clink of cutlery on ceramic: “Ah ah ah ah, stayin’ alive!” Yep, another Bee Gees tribute band, performing to fans stuck firmly in the past.
From The Beatnix to Gold Chisel, many tribute acts are simple imitations, donning a costume, maybe a wig or poorly executed accent and strumming out some old dance-floor hits. But others take the next step, incorporating light shows, choreographed moves and merchandise on world tours that make being in a tribute band just as credible, and sometimes more lucrative, than starting your own.
Two tribute acts are listed on this year’s BRW Top 50 Entertainers list. Björn Again, a parody of Swedish ’70s pop icons Abba, earned $3.5 million last year, putting them in 31st position and The Australian Pink Floyd Show earned $3 million, placing them 35th.
Their earnings are derived from concert tickets, private performances and merchandise but there is no revenue from record sales.
The success of tribute bands reflects a yearning for the songs of days gone by. “Those bands present artists that are no longer performing,” the chief executive of industry body Live Performance Australia, Evelyn Richardson, says.
Music lovers and friends John Tyrrell and Rod Leissle dreamt up Björn Again in the late ’80s. After six months playing Melbourne pubs and clubs, they contacted a Sydney booking agent who had heard of the band and encouraged them to make the trip north. “I thought, ‘Cover bands don’t tour’,” Tyrrell remembers. “We had three shows completely sold out. The Daily Mirrordid a full-page article. People went nuts.
“I said ‘If we can do Sydney, we can do every capital in Australia’.” The band began touring overseas in 1991.
Now global managers, Tyrrell and Leissle no longer play in the backing band and the Abba roles (including Benny Anderwear and Frida Longstokin) have been played by many young performers. Tyrrell manages the act in Australia and Asia, while Leissle looks after a second troupe in Europe. They’ve licensed the rights for the show to another company in North America.
In 2010, Tyrrell’s group played concerts in South America, a first for Björn Again and for the continent. “Abba never toured South America,” Tyrrell says. “It was one of the best tours we have ever done. There was an incredible reaction and lots of media interest.”
The band also played alongside Lionel Richie and UB40 for the opening of the Indian Premier League cricket in Mumbai in March. “When we walked out on the pitch, we heard this almighty roar … Cameras went off like crazy.”
The Australian Pink Floyd Show had similarly humble origins. Five Adelaide musicians began playing together in 1988. Within six years, they were giving private shows for original Pink Floyd member David Gilmour’s 50th birthday. “The highlight was when David got up on stage and played with the band,” the band’s manager, Kevin Brown, says. A highlight in 2010 was playing London’s O2 arena – capacity 23,000.
Making it big requires sophisticated production. “It’s about the show,” Brown says. “We have invested in lights, lasers and an amazing road crew. It’s a big step and costly but that’s how we did it.”
A Pink Floyd Show tour can cost £150,000 ($243,000) a week – more once 3D cinema visuals are incorporated. “We have a top 3D graphics and animation artist from Los Angeles, John Attard, famous for his work on Harry Potter and Gladiator. All of the visuals are being created from scratch and as our show is over two hours, there is a lot of work. 3D is a big investment and will take two to three years to pay for itself. But it’s about innovation and the simple thought of ‘What would Pink Floyd do if they toured in 2011?’”