Bands of hype and glory

As the new year dawns, groups are touted as the next big thing, only to vanish within weeks. Fiona Sturges says: enough!
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The Independent Culture

January is a slow time for pop music. Record sales are at their lowest; musicians are at their laziest. Every year, a major record company, anticipating the lull, throws a ridiculous amount of money at some hapless band and declares them the future of music. The music press thanks its good fortune that at last it has something to write about, and, before you can utter the words "media hype", the band are sucked into a vortex of interviews, record-store signings and, if they're lucky, a spot of TV. Then there are the packed-out gigs, followed by hysterical reports of fans queuing around the block. More often than not, those "fans" are made up of record-company stooges, radio pluggers and PRs, all instructed to go to the gig or face imminent unemployment.

January is a slow time for pop music. Record sales are at their lowest; musicians are at their laziest. Every year, a major record company, anticipating the lull, throws a ridiculous amount of money at some hapless band and declares them the future of music. The music press thanks its good fortune that at last it has something to write about, and, before you can utter the words "media hype", the band are sucked into a vortex of interviews, record-store signings and, if they're lucky, a spot of TV. Then there are the packed-out gigs, followed by hysterical reports of fans queuing around the block. More often than not, those "fans" are made up of record-company stooges, radio pluggers and PRs, all instructed to go to the gig or face imminent unemployment.

This year is no different. Before Christmas, the trade magazine Music Week consulted a gaggle of record-company executives about whom they were tipping for 2001. Most name-checked Starsailor. What a surprise, then, to find them splattered across the national press over the last fortnight. Named after Tim Buckley's 1971 album, Starsailor are rumoured to have been recruited for a six-figure sum by EMI. Their press release hails them as "the first major stars of the new millennium" despite the fact that until last week no one had even heard of them. True to form, the press followed suit. "Check out The Starsailor EP. It'll blow yer head off," shrieked The Sun. "They create undeniably passionate, evocative anthems," gasped The Guardian. The NME could hardly believe its ears: "The timeless nature of their perfectly sculpted melodies convinces you that you know these songs already." In the past fortnight, Starsailor have also been tipped by The Observer, The Times, The Sunday Times, the London Evening Standard and The Sunday Telegraph as the bright new hopes in British music.

Given that the biggest-selling band of last year was the Beatles, I don't hold out much hope for a band hailed in many quarters as the new Coldplay. I would bet good money that when REM, the Stereo MCs and Radiohead surface with their albums, Starsailor will be a distant memory in the minds of journalists and record-company executives alike. Don't get me wrong - I'm sure they are a perfectly competent band. But then again, I wouldn't know. Like the majority of people, I haven't heard them yet.

My Vitriol, A and Feeder were the flavours of the month this time last year, though none troubled the charts. Then there was poor old Terris. Last January, the South Wales quartet found themselves on the front cover of the NME's New Year edition, touted as "the best new band in Britain". At the NME's Carling Premier Awards (even an event created to push upcoming bands cannot resist the lure of corporate sponsorship), they won the prestigious brightest new hope award. They hadn't even released their first single. You can only imagine it was a coincidence that their debut EP was called The Time Is Now. While the major bands shake off their holiday hangovers and steel themselves for their springtime assault, groups such as Terris must content themselves with just filling in. After a year-long silence, it depresses me to report that Terris are back again this month, promoting their début album. You have to admire their persistence.

But it is the fate of Gay Dad, tipped for the top at the start of 1999, that best draws attention to the cultural desert that is January. The name alone had people frothing at the mouth. Swathes of writers with apparently nothing better to do erroneously described them as the saviours of rock'n'roll, which, of course, had nothing to do with the singer, Cliff Jones, being a journalist. You had to admit that their self-assurance was remarkable. "Gay Dad was ordained from above," said Jones in an interview with The Face. "Angels came down. The gates were opened and it was time." The press was duly sucked in. "[Gay Dad's] imminent rise to stardom seems only a matter of time," cooed the Evening Standard. "A shot of adrenalin to the soul," gushed the NME. The reality was - and let's not be smug about it - that they weren't the future of music at all. Rather, they were a second-rate glam rock band who had disappeared without trace by February.

Among the other poor saps apparently destined for big things this year are Mull Historical Society, Turin Brakes, Sizer Barker, Alfie, Simian, Lowgold and Elbow. If they are lucky, they will coast through the rest of this month without attracting too much attention. As for poor old Starsailor, just don't hold your breath.

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