Tribute bands can divide opinion. For every duff Oasis, Robbie Williams or Kylie Minogue pretender that frequents University graduation dos up and down the country (speaking from experience), there’s a standout tribute act that captivates the demands of the original band’s loving fans.
Case in point of the latter, more positive feeling is UK Foo Fighters. You may have seen these guys in a recent BBC documentary series, My Hero, which followed and dug under the skin of Jay Apperley, the UK version of Dave Grohl, and culminated in him sharing a stage with his hero.
As this suggests, UK Foo Fighters are not not just any old tribute band. The quintet – completed by Alex Bailey, Arron Warner, Jamie Valentine, and Nick Wight – play sold out tours in 1,000 capacity venues every night, play major festivals and have thousands of followers across social media. They’re a big deal, but it got us thinking about the role that tribute bands play in the modern music scene.
We had a chat with Jay to find out more, and first up asked him about the reception they receive and why there is so much demand for a Foo Fighters tribute band from UK fans. He said: “Amazing! And I never expected to have a following of die hard Foo Fighters fans. It is very humbling to receive praise from those guys.
“I think there are numerous reasons for the demand. Many fans who come to see us play have never seen the Foo Fighters play live. Cost and locality are big factors. The intimacy of a small venue offers an experience unlike a festival and / or an arena show. £15 versus £40/£50/£60 and even more per ticket can make a family night out very affordable, and without hotels and travel costs.”
The birth of UK Foo Fighters
Jay tells us he grew up learning to play the guitar and piano hooked on The Beatles and Elvis, but his playing and singing remained a personal pastime until he joined a band following a New Year’s Eve party in 2004.
As Jay explains: “I’ve been a Foo Fighters fan since 2002 but how this journey began is not a short answer. Shortly after a New Years Eve party in 2004, where I jammed with other local musicians (for the first time ever!), I received a call: ‘Jay, you were awesome the other night! I’m starting a band and I want YOU to be in it!’. Wow, I get to play my guitar and be in a band! The caller said, ‘No! We want you to front the band!’
“As it was my first band, they kindly let me name the band. And SPEEDSTA was born. We played covers by Green Day, The Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Queens Of The Stone Age, Nirvana and Foo Fighters to name a few. For two years we played the local scene in Harrogate and, fuelled by our fan base, the request for more Foo Fighters came and the set-list gradually grew in Foo!
“I had aspirations to play further afield and a local publican suggested the idea of starting a tribute band. At the time, I recall saying ‘A tribute band? To my favourite band? Pretending to be Dave? No way, that’s ridiculous! Isn’t tribute all working men’s clubs and wigs?’
“A few weeks later I was approached to headline a festival in North Yorkshire. As SPEEDSTA playing covers? ‘No, we’ve heard you do Foo Fighters really well, we just want you to play Foo Fighters.’ And UK Foo Fighters was born.”
The tribute benefits
One of the positives of being a tribute band is that it can be easier to get a crowd going than it would be for a new band, where people in the audience don’t necessarily know their music when they see them live. As Jay explains: “Absolutely! The songs can almost sing themselves from the outset with an engaged audience. The skill is engaging with the people in the room. Mucho respect for original artists, they have it all to do!”
Another aspect of tribute bands’ appeal is their ability to help people enjoy music from different eras of a band. Many long-running bands of course prefer to play their newer music that may have evolved from the sound of their earlier days, but tribute bands generally aren’t restricted by this musical evolution.
Jay told us: “As fans, we want to play the early tracks, the b-sides, the heavier ones, the live versions and even the covers the Foos occasionally do. But not everyone in the room has heard these songs and it’s easy to lose your audience.
“We try to cater for every desire, so we play the greatest hits for all the fans – album and live versions – and drop in a mixture of singles and album faves. We take most of our inspiration from the Foos’ current tour setlists. The most important part for me, is to play for as long as possible, just like Dave and the guys. Most shows these days are over two hours.”
Dave Grohl meet Dave Grohl
As a die-hard Foos fan, the pinnacle of Jay’s career was of course being on stage with his idol Dave Grohl. On that experience, he said: “Being on stage with Dave and Foo Fighters was slightly surreal. I got to front the band we pay tribute to! It’s the best we’ve ever sounded! I think he’s cool with it, and us. He said it was a little weird to the audience. It is!”
But what’s Jay’s favourite Foos song? He said: “I didn’t have a personal favourite until I performed White Limo with Dave and the Foos! Best of You is a massive live track, along with My Hero and Everlong, these songs get the same reception as they do at a Foos show.”
UK Foo Fighters prove that tribute bands can and do play an important part in the music scene. While the standard Elvis Presley impersonator or a Saturday night in your local Spoons seeing some guy butcher Rod Stewart tracks (which I saw advertised over the weekend) may not be high on your list of priorities, there are some that are noble pretenders to their heroes – especially when it comes to the cost and demand for tickets of the original band.
You can see UK Foo Fighters on a nationwide tour from October, beginning with a show at The Wardrobe in Leeds on 6 October, taking in the O2 Academy Islington, Birmingham, York, Liverpool, Glasgow, Manchester and more, before culminating at Academy in Dublin on 16 December. Check out all their tour dates here.