Sounds like Madness (or Fleetwood Mac . . .)

But it isn't. Sean Thomas on the case of the advertising pop pasticheur s

THE MIDLAND Bank's latest catchy ad tune, with its jaunty chorus ``Is that too much?'' is a deft reworking of the classic Labi Siffre hit ``It must be love''. And the pop group Madness are very unhappy with it; they see it as a dubious pastiche of their version of the Siffre song, right down to the lolloping Nutty Boy feel.

``The style of the commercial is extremely close to the group's original version, and to their video. It makes it look like the band support Midland Bank. And I'm not sure they do,'' said a spokesman for Madness, who are considering legal action.

``It's clearly all our own work, we weren't even aware of Madness's style when we made the ad,'' retorted a Midland spokesman.

However this particular spat is settled, ``pastiche pop'' is a burgeoning phenomenon in the ad world. David Reynolds is a thirty-something publisher who imitates original music in his spare time. Anyone who's watched a television commercial and thought ``Hey, I know that song . . . I think,'' has experienced David's work or that of his colleagues: such as the chocolate biscuit ad that mimicked, without replicating, the Dave Brubeck jazz classic ``Take Five'' or the recent motor oil commercial that closely imitated, without actually plagiarising, Fleetwood Mac's anthemic Grand Prix-linked instrumental, ``The Chain''.

So how is it done? Playing one of his proudest creations, a re-jigging of Burt Bacharach's ``Walk on By'', David Reynolds explains the process. ``All you need is a CD and a digital sampler. You take a song and you deconstruct it, strip it down to its constituent chords and its instrumentation and its intonation and its timbre and all that. Then, depending on how close you want to get to the original - and the usual idea is to get as close as possible without breaking the law - you juggle the melody or chord sequence while keeping the timing and instrumentation and tone.''

The reason television commercial producers employ people like David is, of course, money. Music libraries can charge the earth for the privilege of broadcasting famous tunes. A song like ``Is You Is Or Is You Ain't'' - the one used in the current Access campaign - costs upwards of pounds 50,000 for one year's publication rights.

Pasticheurs are distinctly cheaper. A part-timer like David Reynolds will earn pounds 500 for an evening's work; a top man in the field (``I can't tell you what I've done, but I guarantee you've heard it'') may make between pounds 2,000 and pounds 5,000 per jingle, stretching to pounds 10,000 for a really big budget. Pastiching is also a rather successful micro-industry - top British imitators find plenty of work in Europe, Japan, and the United States.

Guy Jeffries runs a studio in a south London business park; over the years his venue has become one of the centres for musical mimics. ``We've got a regular band of guys who come here and write that kind of stuff. And this is just one studio - there are lots of others with many more pastiche writers making a pretty nice living. It's a genuine cottage industry, although most people don't even realise it exists.''

Much of his business comes from the parodists' freemasonry; he is equivocal about the ethical question. ``I'm not sure there really is a moral problem in this field. Though I suppose if a song was a bit too close and was a total steal I might have some qualms.''

His relaxed attitude is not shared by every member of the music industry. The Performing Rights Society and the British Association of Songwriters and Composers would like to see the current copyright laws, which date from 1908, updated to take into account the huge advances in technology of the last few decades. A very average musician can now steal a guitar solo or embezzle an entire vocal line at the touch of a computer keyboard.

``It's a terribly grey area,'' says Carol Humphrey, a sound producer for television commercials. ``About 18 months ago I saw a toiletries ad and the beginning was a complete rip-off of George Michael's 'Freedom Ninety', no question. It was identical and it really annoyed me. The whole practice is lazy and cheapskate.''

Her opinion is shared, con brio, by the composers who have seen their works lifted. Songwriter Guy Fletcher, chairman of the British Academy of Composers, says ``Everybody knows what's going on - but that doesn't make it right. The only reason there isn't more litigation is because it's too expensive to go to court.'' Another composer went so far as to confess that he would gladly garrotte the parodists with their own guitar strings - ``that's if they had guitars. Or knew how to play them. Which they don't.''

But according to David Reynolds, a slight haziness hanging over the originality of musical sources is by no means new. ``Recently I had to rejig an early Rolling Stones song. The Stones had ripped it off Bo Diddley, of course. So I was doing a pastiche of a pastiche - this is how popular music has evolved. Led Zeppelin stole from old bluesmen. The Beatles weren't above nicking a few chords. Most modern dance music is an amalgam of sampling and borrowed riffs. Maybe we are just a bit more honest about it these days - in my field anyway.''

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

    Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

    Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

    £70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - SQL Server, T-SQL

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Data Analyst (SQL Server, T-SQL, data)

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst...

    Day In a Page

    Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

    Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

    Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
    General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

    All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

    The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
    How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

    How Etsy became a crafty little earner

    The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
    Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

    King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

    Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

    The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
    Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

    Don't fear the artichoke

    Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
    11 best men's socks

    11 best men's socks

    Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
    Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

    Paul Scholes column

    Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
    Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
    London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

    Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

    Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

    Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
    Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

    Khorasan is back in Syria

    America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
    General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

    On the campaign trail with Ukip

    Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
    Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

    Expect a rush on men's tights

    Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
    Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

    In the driving seat: Peter Kay

    Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road