Cross Words: Battle of the bands

Head to head: Is the cover album the ultimate tribute or tragic rip-off? Stephen McGann of The McGanns defends their debut album against Tony Szuminski of Puressence


"I've been in all the parts of arts and entertainment, and music is the only area where people get pretentious about reinterpreting work. Are you going to slap Kenneth Branagh and say, 'You should never have attempted Henry V because we already have a wonderful version by Laurence Olivier?' If the Royal Shakespeare Company were in music, they would be a covers band.

One of the problems of the music industry is that it's plagued with ideas about what is 'cool'. If it's old it seems you've got to preserve it in aspic. But the lovely thing about music is that it's all open to individual interpretation. Reinterpreting work is simply part of the creative process. Everybody thinks they own pop music and they bloody don't. No one is forcing punters to buy cover records. When we do covers we are telling the songwriters what is cool about their song. The only person with copyright is the person who wrote the song, so ultimately it is their decision whether they get covered or not.

If you don't like the interpretation, you can easily pull out the original. The song itself does not suffer. There is some art that is primary and some that is essentially secondary and interpretive. Both require a certain amount of skill. People might think it lazy not to do your own stuff, but have you ever tried to do a Temptations track? The challenge lies in doing it as well, if not better. If I could sit the world down and have them listen to all my own stuff, that is exactly what I'd do. But people have to be a little realistic about the industry. Some punters simply like familiar tunes."

The McGann brothers' album, `The McGanns', is out on Monday on the Coalition label


"Hardly any covers are better than the original. I can only name one that has been any good and that is 'All Along The Watchtower' by Jimi Hendrix, which was a Bob Dylan song. But most covers are done badly and without any soul. A large proportion of songs in the charts are covers and the kids don't even know where they came from. That French song [`Lady Marmalade'] by All Saints, that's a cover, isn't it, but I bet their fans don't know that. The original is miles better.

Badly done covers damage the credibility of the original songwriters. If bands keep doing covers, our concept of music's evolution is going to be destroyed. Being in a band is about being pioneers and pushing music forwards. If you've got to make it through other people's songs then that is pretty sad. The Fugees are massive but they have made their name through covers. I simply cannot hold any respect for a band that does that. It's just glorified karaoke isn't it?

There are realms in music where a certain amount of borrowing is acceptable. Oasis and the Stone Roses have utilised Sixties songs, but both bands took the idea to another level and brought it up to date. Nicking whole songs and ripping off melodies just shows the artist's lack of creativity. I'm in a band where we want to take music forwards rather than peddling backwards. If we did covers we couldn't be proud of ourselves and if some naff idiot tried to copy one of our songs we would definitely try to stop them. You wouldn't want Mr Blobby doing a cover of your song now would you?"

Puressence's single `All I Want' is out on Monday on Island Records

Interviews by Fiona Sturges

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