Monday 19 May 2014

Why Bands Have The Right To Play Reunion Shows

Warning: This is basically a rehash of a blog post we wrote back in 2012 about The Stone Roses reunion, in a slightly different form, following recent online debate about the forthcoming Libertines gig at Hyde Park, London. It’s rather like a reunion blog post (except that we’ve never actually stopped) about reunion gigs.

Before we start this piece can we all agree two things? 

1. That musicians have the right to play music. (This might sound obvious but it's a core point).

2. That professional musicians have the right to earn money from employing the skills of their trade if they are good enough? 

Ok, let’s move on….

The biggest debate that has consumed the music industry over the last few years undoubtedly revolves around the internet revolution and its effect on those within the industry to earn money from what they produce – from the destruction of the physical press and journalism to low payments to musicians through streaming. It shows that whilst the art is important, money is equally so.

At the same time that this unresolved debate has been going on, there’s been a growing trend for older bands to reform and play live again, often with the reunion announcements facing criticism from fans and the media. Remember when The Stone Roses announced they were getting back together after 16 years? Of course those who didn’t like the band in the first place criticised the decision, but there was also a vocal number of fans who felt that reforming was like desecrating the grave of the group.

In 2010 Frank Black of The Pixies, speaking about the band getting back together and touring told The Quietus “We're interested in anything that's going to earn us a fair wage. It's not to say it's not about art, but we made that art fucking 20 years ago. So forget the fucking goddamn art. This ain't about the art anymore. I did the arty farty part. Now it's time to talk about the money. How much do you think we should sell the tickets for? Where do you think we should play? How many shows do you think we should play?"

This year The Libertines have announced that they are reforming for a huge show at London’s Hyde Park with Doherty admitting he had severe financial problems, the money being offered for the gig being too lucrative to turn down. "I was recently called to family law court after a young girl I knew had told me I was the father of her baby. I have a year and a half old girl and I need to pay a lot of alimony, I'm in debt. It's very complicated for me to say no right now, I have financial problems,” he was quoted as saying on various websites including Gigslutz.

But with these reformations comes all the arguments against bands just doing it for the money: That the shows tarnish the act's legacy. That the gigs will just be a band going through the motions. That nostalgia is a bit sad and not very cool. That the audience will be full of old bald men and their wives. That art suffers when commerce takes over. These arguments may all be true, but are they arguments to deny the very existence of reunion gigs? That bands shouldn’t do them?

Let’s go back to the start of this piece. Is it really so wrong that a musician should be able to play music to an audience that wants to see it? Is there really anything wrong in that? It would be like telling an actor who had taken a few years out to do something else that he was no longer allowed to act again. It’s their profession. It’s what they’re skilled to do. They should be allowed to do it and if people want to pay them to do it then they should be allowed to do so. And even if the musicians earnt decent money when they were younger, why as they get older should they stop for good? Why shouldn't they or their audience be able to start again? The idea that rock ‘n’ roll / music is only for the young is not only an outdated one,  it’s pretty ageist as well.

Of course the shows may be bad. We all have days at work when we don’t perform at our best. If we perform badly all the time we’ll probably be out of a job fairly soon and it’s no different for musicians.

But a reunion show might also be great. A few years ago we saw the reformed Pulp and their gig was gloriously uplifting. Likewise we’ve heard good reports from other high profile reunion shows by bands such as Suede and the above mentioned Pixies.

However, a word against our own defence argument. Just because we believe that as a core principle a professional musician has the right to play music and earn money from it, neither do we believe that reunion shows are necessarily a good thing for creativity or something that we personally would regularly attend. Resting on your laurels and playing the hits might be fantastically entertaining for the fans but constantly looking into the past will ultimately sell the music industry short in the future.  Old bands become old people who will eventually die; there needs to be new blood to replace them. However, criticisms of artists playing reunion gigs just for the money, well we’re fine with that. After all, any artist who puts any price on anything they release – a vinyl record, a CD, a stream on Spotify, a piece of merchandise is at least in part doing it for the money. Otherwise why not just give everything away for free?


Anonymous said...

Your argument falls apart with The Libertines - yes bands should get played when they are producing something good. The drug addled horse shit that comes from The Libertines isn't worthy of anyone's cash.

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

I'm guessing you mean 'paid' not 'played'?

I guess I have to come back to the core belief that:

1. I believe professional musicians deserve to be paid
2. Musicians have the right to play music

Admittedly The Libertines past approach hasn't been particularly professional so there's an argument against them being paid anymore, but that's down to the customer to decide.