Monthly Archives: June 2017

Music’s oddest pre-gig rituals

Singing live requires preparation, both mental and physical. Muscles need loosening up and anxiety kept to a minimum as performers get ready to go out there and do their stuff, developing many tried and tested remedies for their pre-gig jitters.

Some are practical – Todd Rundgren told the Salt Lake Tribune he always scoffs a heartburn tablet to prevent on-stage burps – while others are simply there to focus the mind and prevent panic.

1. Mumford & Sons

In the first flush of his band’s success, Marcus Mumford used to suffer from intense tension headaches before a show. He told Rolling Stone that he had gone to extreme lengths to try and tackle them: “I’ve tried everything, pills, even went and had my brain scanned.”

In the end, it was a suggestion from producer T Bone Burnett (whose surname is curiously apt, in the circumstances) which sorted the problem out. We don’t recommend you try this, but Marcus lights a stick of palo santo, an incense wood found in South America, and breathes in the fumes. He found it to be so helpful at clearing his head he jokingly took to calling it “the holy wood”.

2. Selena Gomez

Some opera singers swear by the efficaciousness of a teaspoon of olive oil before singing; it’s said to lubricate the throat, and prevent undue stress and tearing. Selena Gomez has taken this on as part of her pre-performance routine, but only after reading about it in a magazine interview with Kelly Clarkson.

When she appeared on Ellen DeGeneres’s US chat show, Selena revealed that this is not something she would do for pleasure: “It’s awful. You let it go down and it coats your throat. I gag every time.”

3. Rihanna

It’s not uncommon for artists to go into a huddle before showtime. Rihanna leads her team in a prayer, asking God to bless each note, a ritual that, according to the International Business Times, is so intense it supposedly once caused her to be 70 minutes late on stage. Passion Pit (who are American) have a far quicker way to get themselves pumped. As Vulture reported, they gather in a circle to shout “roote to scoot mate!” in very bad Scottish accents.

And country star Zac Brown and his band are so committed to their backstage huddle – particularly the moment they all scream, “Ooh girl!” in unison – that on the rare occasions where they’ve forgotten to do it, they’ll come back off stage and have another go.

4. Coldplay

Coldplay are another band who like to gather together for a quick hug before taking to the stage, and whether it’s due to this moment of intimacy or just to put his mind at rest, Chris Martin admits that he’s taken to making sure his mouth is minty fresh before heading into his bandmates’ open arms.

He told Australia’s Melbourne Herald Sun: “For me, there are about 18 things I have to do before I can go out to perform – most of them are too ridiculous to repeat! One is I have to brush my teeth before I go on stage, otherwise I just don’t feel smart.”

5. Adele

Adele is not someone who approaches performance with a calm demeanour. Quite the reverse, in fact, as she revealed to MTV: “I’m scared of audiences… I’ve thrown up a couple of times. Once in Brussels, I projectile vomited on someone. I just gotta bear it. But I don’t like touring. I have anxiety attacks a lot.”

But it was only after meeting Beyoncé, and collapsing in a state shortly afterwards, that she had an epiphany: “I had a full-blown anxiety attack… I went out on the balcony crying hysterically, and I said, ‘What would Sasha Fierce do?'”

So she created her own alter ego, taking Beyoncé’s alter ego Sasha Fierce and adding the spirit of June Carter Cash. And when she’s feeling nervous about an important gig, that’s when she assumes the ferociously confident personality of Sasha Carter, if only to save passing stagehands from a wet and unpleasant shock.

6. Lorde

Lorde has taken to dealing with the backstage collywobbles by first retreating to a safe place, then nourishing herself in a way that won’t have unpleasant consequences later, which for her means berries and seaweed. In 2014, she told the Guardian: “Usually before a gig I have a sleep in my dressing room under a blanket I take everywhere with me. I eat some berries or some dried nori (which I get all over my face) in place of dinner, because a couple of hours before the performance, my stomach starts heaving and I feel like I’m going to throw up – even when I’m not that nervous. It’s the weirdest thing.”

And after the nap and berries, it’s time for the stagewear, which at the time of the interview was her suit: “There’s something about putting it on that feels like a ritual, entering into a kind of pact with the stage. Once I’ve got my suit on, I can do anything.”

Band names with surprisingly mundane origins

Asking a band why they gave themselves the name they have has to be the single most obvious question in pop. Very few acts have a decent answer beyond “we just liked it”, and certainly no one has managed to reach the gold standard set by The Beatles, whose common response was something along the lines of: “I had a vision when I was 12. And I saw a man on a flaming pie, and he said, ‘You are The Beatles with an A.’ And so we are.”

The fact that it’s just a pun on both Buddy Holly’s Crickets and beat music was felt to be too obvious to comment upon. So, to save at least 10 bands and further interview awkwardness (and unnecessary storytelling), here are the less vivid, and more humdrum accounts of how they got their names.

1. The Jam

Popular culture has found a few uses for the word ‘jam’ that could have been invoked in the naming of Paul Weller’s first band. It’s a term for improvising music, it denotes things which are stuck or crushed together, there’s a thrillingly urban traffic connotation that echoes The Clash naming themselves after a newspaper headline about conflict… It could all be so, so punk rock.

However, the true origin came from the breakfast table. Young Paul was wondering what name to choose when his sister Nicky piped up “We’ve had Bread and Marmalade, why not The Jam?” And lo, their legend was preserved forever more.

2. Nickelback

Outside of North America, Nickelback may be among the most commonly misspelled names in rock – NickEL, not NickLE – possibly because it’s too similar to the name of a fish (stickleback) and nickel isn’t a commonly used word. But the humdrum reality of the name is that it came from bass player Mike Kroeger’s day job serving coffee. As each drink routinely cost an amount of dollars and 95 cents, he’d spend his time giving customers five cents (or a nickel) in change, and saying, “Here’s your nickel back.”

Fun fact: Nickelback were originally called Village Idiots.

3. Sleater-Kinney

DIY music scenes like to take ordinary things and give them mythical status by taking them away from their original context. So, when Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein formed a band in Lacey, Washington, and started rehearsing in a room near Sleater-Kinney Road, it seemed natural to make use of these two angular and opaque words for their new musical project.

As a band name, Sleater-Kinney is so opaque it could refer to anything from a supergroup to a lawsuit, and they will already have known what it would look like to see their name in lights, as at appears on the road signs for exit 108 on Interstate 5.

4. Tangerine Dream

With a name like that, you’d think Edgar Froese had either literally woken up in a citrus trance and feverishly scribbled the words in his dream journal, or that he was being deliberately colourful, to try and approximate a psychedelic reverie. However, the slightly more boring truth is that he misunderstood the lyrics to the Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (which is, to be fair, exactly that kind of trippy vision).

As English is not his first language, he thought John Lennon’s “tangerine trees” was “tangerine dream”, and named his band in homage. Mind you, he wasn’t the first to make such a lyrical mistake. The Mystery Trend took their name from the “Mystery Tramp” in Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone, and The Lightning Seeds got their name from Prince’s Raspberry Beret: “The thunder drowns out what the lightning sees.”

Music legends we can’t believe never toured the UK

Previously on BBC Music, we brought you 8 bands you probably didn’t know are still touring. Now it’s time to turn the spotlight on those you might have assumed had toured the UK at some point in their illustrious careers. A few have made appearances here in some capacity – a one-off gig or TV performance, or in a different guise – but they’ve never played their music out across the nation. And with regards to the top two on our list, great news – they’ll be here soon.

DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince

DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince will be in the UK in August, playing what Newsbeat called a rare UK date in Blackpool as headliners of this August’s Livewire. Ah, Summertime. And although the news seems to have come out of the blue, Will Smith has actually been talking about getting his old hip hop duo back on the road for some time. In October 2015, he was interviewed by Zane Lowe for Beats 1 and said: “Jeff and I actually have never done a full tour… This summer [2016] will be the first time we go out on a full world tour.”

That didn’t happen, but the ambition he showed back then might well translate into more than just one UK show. Keep your eyes peeled on listings.

TLC

TLC dominated 90s RnB with hits like Creep, Waterfalls and No Scrubs, resulting in the trio becoming the most successful American girl group of all time (second only to the Spice Girls globally). Then, tragedy: Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes was killed in a car crash in 2002. Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins and Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas continued as a duo.

TLC occasionally visit Britain – they were here for the 2012 MOBO Awards – but they’ve never played a UK gig. Until now. On 9 May, they’re making their debut at Koko in London and this year will also see the release of their their first album since 2002’s 3D. If you couldn’t get a ticket for Koko, fear not – the group have hinted that this might be their last album, but they intend to keep TLC on the road.

Elvis Presley

Elvis only played three gigs outside of the US, all of them in Canada. It’s thought that the illegal alien status of his Dutch-born manager, Colonel Parker, was the primary reason he never performed outside North America, although documents that came to light in 2015, as reported by the Mirror, suggest plans were being made for The King to visit, and possibly play gigs in, Britain and Japan not long before his death in 1977.

Elvis did set foot in the UK at least once – at Prestwick airport, South Ayrshire in 1960 on his way home from military service in Germany. In 2008, however, a strange story came to light that perhaps he’d spent the day driving around London observing landmarks with English singer Tommy Steele in 1958. Theatre producer Bill Kenwright revealed Steele’s secret on Ken Bruce’s Radio 2 show. At the time, Steele was appearing in a production of Dr Dolittle in Woking, Surrey.

Pop stars who built a pub in their home

In the introduction to a 2012 Quietus interview with Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris, journalist John Doran wrote: “He comes from a different age when rock stars simply wished to achieve what their dads dreamed of – escape from the city to a nice satellite town, upmarket fishing, great seats at the football, a lot of travel and perhaps even one’s own pub inside the house for all their mates to drink in.”

Harris achieved all of those things, including the in-home pub, and he’s not alone. As we’ll find out, building a local that’s very local indeed remains an ambition for many of today’s pop stars, too. It’s an emblem of success, and perhaps also a consequence – offering those who can’t go to the pub without being bothered the chance to recreate the experience in private.

Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris

Steve Harris isn’t just Iron Maiden’s bass player, he’s the heavy metal group’s primary songwriter and that means receiving very substantial royalty cheques for almost 40-years-worth of hit records. When he first put his 11-bedroom mansion in Sheering, Essex on the market in 2013, he was asking for £6.75 million, as NME reported. You could understand why – parts of the listed building date back to 1427, and the property came with a gorgeous indoor swimming pool and gym, nine acres of land, a tennis court, full-sized football pitch (Steve’s an avid footballer and West Ham fan) as well as its own pub, thought to be called The Horse And Cart, above.

His property, which he’d owned since the 1980s, didn’t sell, forcing Steve to keep slashing the price, reportedly down to under £4 million. He now divides his time between homes in Los Angeles and Barbados.

Ed Sheeran

Judging by the time in 2014 he had an impromptu bar-side singalong at The Surrey Cricketers in Windlesham, as reported by Get Surrey, Ed Sheeran feels comfortable in the pub. Or he certainly used to. His fame is now such that he recently revealed to the Guardian that he suffered a panic attack on a flight from Spain to London, while he was on his own with “no friends, no security, at two in the morning, on easyJet, with all the p***** Benidorm lot”. He added: “I just don’t like groups of people that I don’t know any more… I can go to a pub, but only if it’s a pub that no one would go to.”

This perhaps explains why Ed has built an subterranean pub in his home. He told Apple Music’s Zane Lowe about it in January, as reported by NME: “I had a bar before, a bar where you could pour beers but now this has a selection of beers, which is cool. There’s an underground tunnel to get there that you can close off. If I have a party, everyone goes in the pub and no one can get in the house, so you get no one raiding the cupboards or smashing anything. You have to go underground to get to the pub.”