Great band, shame about the name
Call your act something silly and you'll regret it for the rest of your career. It might even dent sales, says Simon Hardeman
Friday 09 December 2011
As Noel Gallagher releases another single from his now-platinum debut solo album, and both he and brother Liam announce major UK dates for next year, the question is: how can they have got their band names so wrong?
Noel has a knack for the musicality of a meaningless phrase ("Champagne Supernova", "Shakermaker", etc) but High Flying Birds is wrong in so many ways: the way when you say it you have to stop uncomfortably after the "high" and regather yourself before saying "flying"; the way it suggested achievement before the band had achieved anything; the way it so obviously references a classic Sixties band (The Byrds) without any elegance.
Worse, it's Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds. It falls between the two stools of putting Noel's name upfront but wanting to give the impression of being in a band of equals.
At least no one can say that Beady Eye is a mouthful. But it's still dreadful. Liam said earlier this year: "We tried a few names, but they'd all been taken. Like Monkey Eyes, Cat's Eyes. But I dunno – you've gotta call yourself something." As rationales go, "I dunno – you've gotta call yourself something" it isn't exactly throbbing with purpose.
It's extraordinary the number of bands who admit to not caring much about their name. Mogwai guitarist Stuart Braithwaite said: "The name... has no significant meaning and we always intended on getting a better one, but like a lot of other things we never got round to it."
Other bands hampered by names they just can't have thought about hard enough are Prefab Sprout, Biffy Clyro, and Smashing Pumpkins – whose bassist, D'arcy Wretzky, told The Washington Post even the band thought Smashing Pumpkins was "a stupid name, a dumb bad joke and a bad idea".
But whether you're spending night after night in the pub, or day after day in the boardroom of your record company, trying to think of a name, the effort is surely worth it. Because the moniker you choose can hang like an albatross around the neck of your guitar. A few years ago Test Icicles were making half-decent music. But their dreadful sniggering adolescent pun of a name gave them no chance among most women or men over the age of 12.
The other side of the coin features names that reek of trying to be too clever, often with tiresome punctuation. Stand-out examples are deliberately unpronounceable names like !!!. Even the band have problems with it – they have to make their website address www.chkchkchk.net. Rising band Alt-J chose a symbol for their name, except they're not called Triangle, but Alt-J – the keys you hit on an Apple keyboard to create it.
Back to Noel and Liam. Perhaps thinking up a name for a post-success band is particularly difficult. Take the supergroup formed by Led Zeppelin guitar god Jimmy Page and Free/Bad Company's lungs, Paul Rodgers. You'd expect it to encapsulate power, noise, excitement. They called themselves The Firm –about as rock 'n' roll as a packed lunch.
Noel says he liked the idea of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac in the 1960s. Ironically, the band shortened that to Fleetwood Mac almost immediately. In a second irony, the "High Flying Birds" came from a Jefferson Airplane song – ironic because Jefferson Airplane are notable for having squandered a great name. After the psychedelic success of "White Rabbit" they became Jefferson Starship (disco-shiny dross) and then simply the bland, corporate Starship. It shows that a great band by any other name does not necessarily sound as sweet.
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