Wednesday, 19 June 2019

On The Beach

Lyme Bay from Black Ven

We're back from a long weekend with our "children" (there must be – or ought to be – a better word for mature, independent young people in their mid-twenties) down by the sea in Lyme Regis. It never ceases to amaze me that this is something they still want to do: I can think of few things that would have been less attractive or likely, around 1980, than spending more than a few consecutive hours in the company of my parents. Times, parenting, and, um, childrening have changed quite a lot since then.

The weather forecast was not looking good, but on Saturday we had a day of perfect early summer sunshine by the sea, while the rest of the country was suffering heavy rain, strong winds, and perpetual grey skies. So much so, that Lyme featured on the national news, as an anomalous bright spot in the broader meteorological pattern. We made the best of it, and had what can only be described as a Perfect Day (I'm glad I spent it with them).

To top things off, after returning from a fine evening meal out, we headed along the seafront promenade to catch the last forty minutes or so of Guitars on the Beach, a slightly bizarre local festival situated on the flat sands beside the Cobb which, during the day, encourages people to bring their guitars and play along with a succession of local cover bands. Later, it becomes an intimate beach festival with an audience of a few hundred – by then in an advanced state of blissed-out intoxication – flailing about and roaring along to a rich diet of crowd-pleasing anthems, "Summer of '69", "Sex On Fire", that sort of thing. It was great!

Which made me reconsider the joy of cover bands. Now, I've always enjoyed a good cover version. It often seems to be the case that an artist of equal stature can often uncover nuances in a song that its creator or original interpreter had overlooked. I hadn't known the Kings of Leon's "Sex On Fire" before Saturday (luckily I had my daughter's encyclopaedic knowledge of pop at my elbow) but was intrigued by its incendiary effect on a crowd, so started looking for it on YouTube, where I found this version by Sugarland, for example. Even better, no? In the end, I suppose, every first-rate performer is, in effect, doing fresh covers of their own material when performing live, the extreme case being Bob Dylan.  Otherwise they'd die of boredom. But I have to say I'd always lazily regarded self-declared covers-only bands as a second-rate thing.

But, if you want to have a really good time and you can't afford Bruce Springsteen – at a party, say, or a wedding, or kicking up the sand late at night on a beach – what you want is a really good covers band. Nothing lifts the spirits quite like a familiar, favourite song, professionally well-performed live, bringing out all the musical hooks that made it a hit in the first place. There's a time and a place to listen to some earnest young musicians setting out with their own original-but-derivative compositions, but a special occasion – one where you want multiple generations to cast off their inhibitions in a joyous, communal way, where Cliff Richard can rub shoulders with Bob Marley and The Jam  – is not it. Besides, most good musicians are surely performers at heart, not composers, and there is something magical about the symmetry of pleasure shared between performer and audience – we're all fans here! – when the originating spirit is successfully invoked in absentia.

As it happens, the son of one of my old college friends is one half of a successful, high-end covers operation, Truly Medley Deeply; you can see from their videos (they seem to have pioneered the use of drone cameras in a party setting) the sort of frenzy they can whip up. Music can be a deeply serious business – see my previous post about Angela Hewitt – but it can also be sheer fun, fun, fun. And what is more serious than fun?
On the beach
You can dance to a rock 'n' roll
On the beach
Hear the Bossa Nova, played with soul
On the beach
You can dance, twist and shout
On the beach
Everybody hear me, come on out
On the beach 
Come on, everybody, stomp your feet
On the beach 
You can dance with anyone you meet
'Cause your troubles are out of reach
On the beach 

Guitars on the Beach


mistah charley, ph.d. said...

1)i can't think of a one-word term - but useful descriptors could be

adult children

grown children

[as time goes by]middle-aged children

aging children

2)dylan, in particular, has written several songs whose covers became hits - i like your point about how the audience and the performers can share their love for someone else's song

old_bloke said...

Well, I've lived by the beach for thirty five years, but those seagulls are still out of reach.

Mike C. said...

mistah charley,

True, though it's been a very long time (AFAIK) since anyone had a hit covering a Dylan song!


The gulls will have your chips or icecream in a blink, if you're not careful, though.


mistah charley, ph.d. said...

i didn't know this until i searched for it - but there have been a couple of dylan-penned hits this century - from 'The Wrap'

In 1972, Dylan was tasked with recording the soundtrack for the film "Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid." While doing that, he wrote a chorus for a song called "Wagon Wheel" that he ultimately decided to scrap. Recordings of Dylan's chorus lived on through bootlegs, and in 1995, the Americana group Old Crow Medicine Show fleshed it out into a single that went platinum. In 2013, Darius Rucker did a country cover of "Wagon Wheel" that won him a Grammy.

Dylan released the song "Make You Feel My Love" in 1997 a month after Billy Joel released a cover for it as part of a greatest hits compilation album. Later, Garth Brooks released a cover that earned Dylan a Grammy nomination for Best Country Song. Then, in 2008, Adele covered the song as part of her debut album, "19." As a single, Adele's cover went gold in the U.S. and platinum in the U.K.

Mike C. said...

mistah charley,

Well I never! I should have thought of the Adele cover, though, that album was inescapable.

You'd think someone might give "Idiot Wind" a go, in these darkly idiotic days. Perhaps they have -- it's not really a toe-tapper.


Kent Wiley said...

Mike, your mention of Guitars on the Beach, which does sound like a blast, reminded me of this amazing video. They've even turned it into a business model. And what a cover band!

I'm mildly surprised about you being new to Kings of Leon. They had their first major success in the UK. The Sugarland version of "Sex is on Fire" is too country for the likes of me. Jennifer Nettles has the better voice, but I still prefer the slightly hoarse croaking of Caleb Followill. No doubt because that's what I was familiar with first. My 2 cents, anyway.

Mike C. said...


What an amazing video (Italians...) -- that's pretty much how it felt!

I'm not really up on rock and pop these days -- I know what I know, but the rest is a vast mystery. There's so much great stuff I've never heard, and probably never will, unless I happen to catch it on the radio.