April 30th sees the release of the Albion Band's latest album 'The Vice of the People'. On the face of it there is nothing particularly startling about this: over the past four decades there have been (including compilations and live recordings) 43 albums from the Albion Band in all its guises. What marks this one out is that it is the first without founder member Ashley Hutchings (and, therefore, the first with no original members) so can this truly be an Albion Band release?
Like it or not a bands name is important. At the start of a career it can get you gigs, then, with the right design, it can be eye catching on posters to get bigger gigs and then printed on tee shirts and hoodies and caps to sell at those gigs. Even more importantly now is that when many bands think that career is over they realise that they can continue to make a living trading on past success.
Bands may not have gone to war over the rights to a name but there have been plenty of battles fought in the courts over what which members can use it. The Eurovision winning, skirt ripping, blondes, Bucks Fizz have been involved in court cases in both 2001 and 2011. In 2002 the courts ruled that there could be two versions of the white suited, flat capped glamsters The Rubettes so long as it was clear who fronted the respective bands. This lasted about three years until a court found there had been a breach of the conditions and the damages awarded caused Bill Hurd to go bankrupt. In the late eighties four fifths of the 'classic' Yes lineup recorded and toured as ABWH (Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe) as they didn't hold the rights to the name. It didn't stop the tour being billed 'An Evening Of Yes Music' and using the name in promotional material which started proceeding by the record label.
As an Albion Band without Hutchings was Hutchings' idea, there are no such disputes with the name but it is still relatively unusual for a band to have no original members. With the departure of Keisha Buchanan one of the most successful female acts of the twenty first century were without an original member (which also sparked a legal challenge to the use of the name Sugarbabes). Following the death of front man Lee Brilleaux and his wish that the band continue, South Essex bluesmen Doctor Feelgood have been playing and recording for the past seventeen years without an original member although the current drummer, bassist and guitarist have all been in Doctor Feelgood for over twenty years - at least twice as long as the originals. There are now no longer any original members of the Dubliners alive ('Banjo' Barney McKenna died just the day before I sat down to write this piece). John Sheahan joined in 1964 (so only forty eight years, not the full fifty) and is as recognisable as any member past or present.
What is particularly unusual about the current line up of the Albion Band is that is now led by Blair Dunlop, the son of Ashley Hutchings.
After resisting calls to re-form the Albion Band, Hutchings said: "The way forward was to allow a new generation to take over the baton of The Albion Band. The next day I asked my son Blair what he thought of being part of a new re-invented Albion Band. His reply was that he couldn't think of anything he would rather do."
Does the passing of 'the baton' from father to son matter? Is it right that a band can be inherited like a family business (or a peerage)? Does this version of the Albion Band rely on the family connection to justify it?
The closest example I can think of is Jason Bonham replacing his late father in Led Zeppelin for a few live performances including the only full length show (the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert) since the death of John Bonham. A colleague was lucky enough to go to that concert and I asked him if it made any difference who the drummer was? He said that it did and it felt right that son had replaced father. The circumstances are completely different but it is interesting that this link was seen as important and added something that hiring one of their contemporaries could not.
Therefore, I believe that the new Albion Band does rely on the family connection. Considering the number of musicians that have been part of the Albion Band, Hutchings is obviously a good judge of talent. He would be unlikely to make the suggestion unless he thought that these new musicians could successfully both continue and enhance the reputation.
In any other genre this would be seen as a cynical attempt to cash in on a name but in folk music it will be seen as part of that most essential aspect; the tradition.
John 'The Jacket' Hawes
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