Stones warn Clones: get off our cloud

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What's a tongue and two big red lips between friends? Nothing, according to "Mick Haggard", lead singer of the Rolling Clones - but a threatening letter, according to the management of the rock heroes to which his band pays tribute.

The suits behind the Rolling Stones have taken exception to the Clones (five rockers from Bristol) and their use of that mouth-logo, and in so doing have shown how unstable a stage the proliferating "tribute bands" may be rocking on.

Tribute bands are topping the charts in terms of popularity and success. While they used to be groups playing songs from old rock outfits that had split up, fallen apart or simply stood the test of time, tribute bands are now substitutes for current chart bands.

Neil Harrison, who plays John Lennon in the Bootleg Beatles, says it's an indictment of today's music scene that so many copycat bands are covering current acts.

He said: "The music scene is undeniably a precarious profession, even more so now than when we started out, but this is a pretty sad reflection when there are countless bands out there copying others."

The Rolling Clones play classic Stones hits, dress like their heroes and do their best to sound like them. It seemed only natural to use a slightly altered version of the Stones' Andy Warhol- designed tongue-and-lips logo to promote themselves. But this decision is causing big problems for Mick Jagger clone Haggard, and his sidekicks Keef Riffhard, Charlie Rocks, Bill Wigman and Ronnie Wooden (none of whom is keen to reveal their real identities).

They were stunned to receive the fax threatening legal action unless they changed their name and stopped using the logo. Haggard said: "When we got the fax we just couldn't believe it - we thought it was a joke."

So far most groups, the Rolling Stones included, have been happy for bands to cover their back catalogue of hits if they lay off their registered trademarks; so much so that Oasis have come out vociferously in favour of their doppelgangers, NoWaySis.

Haggard appears amused by the way the new rock establishment is putting the old to shame: "We've had a very different response to the one NoWaySis got. Noel Gallagher has actually said they're the second best group in the world.

"I hope the Stones don't know anything about this situation. We reckon Mick and Keith themselves just wouldn't have anything to do with it."

Unless the real Stones have been scouring the West Country press, it's unlikely they know anything about their Bristol-based imitators. They employ a Dutch company, Promotone, to monitor infringements of their trademarks.

"The Rolling Stones have lost a lot of money over the years through people using things like the tongue-and-lips logo," said a spokesman for the band. "They don't mind tribute bands, but when people start cashing in on their trademarks, the solicitors step in."

The Stones are so comfortable with tribute bands that Mick Jagger's wife, Jerry Hall, decided to drop in on a performance by the Counterfeit Stones in the Hard Rock Cafe. Lead singer Nick Dagger, who was strutting his stuff in mid-song at the time, paused as he recognised her, then blew her a kiss and welcomed his "missus" to the show.

The latest group to have wannabes emulating their every bump and grind are the Spice Girls who have at least five tribute bands cashing in on their success. Nice 'n' Spicy, the Spiced Girls, All Spice, the Wannabe Spice Girls and the Spiceish Girls are as manufactured as the real thing, although it's clear which is the choice of the next generation. The Spice Girls' deal with Pepsi-Cola is rumoured to be worth around pounds 1m to each of the girls, while clones can expect to make between pounds 500 and pounds 2,000 for an evening's appearance.

But some tribute bands, while undoubtedly making money, say they are not in it to cash in - well, not completely. The Bootleg Beatles have been around for 17 years and are the veterans of the tribute scene. They command ticket prices equivalent to any major acts, supported Oasis at Knebworth last summer and recently sold out the Albert Hall.

They don't come in for the same criticism as is levelled at newer tribute bands because they have been around for so long. Harrison says: "We're not knocked as much as others because we are not just doing the Bootleg Beatles. Although we play about 100 nights a year as the Bootleg Beatles, we're all doing other creative things."

Harrison's "other things" include writing plays. One is called Great Pretenders and is about the neuroses and problems faced by a group of lookalikes. Wonder where he got the inspiration for that?