An Inconvenient (Un)Truth


Posted by in May's Magazine

As I write this feature I see the über-tongued lothario Gene Simmons from Kiss has been criticising the current crop of pop stars, including Rhianna, for being karaoke tape fakes. Even in this cyberspace hyperreal time of endless possibilities, it seems that musical integrity and the notion of ‘keeping it real’ are as relevant as ever to those that care about the art form. This can be anything from posh boys Blur going all Mockney in the Britpop years to Madonna not singing live, Milli Vanilli not singing at all, and American rappers actually hailing from Dundee.

Yes, the last sentence is true, just over ten years ago, Gavin Bain and Billy Boyd, two aspiring rappers from Dundee were laughed out of London for their Dundonian accents, so they made the decision to ditch their City of Discovery true selves and ‘become’ American. The newly crowned Silibil ‘n’ Brains were quickly to become hip-hop’s ‘next white hope’ and, before you could say “aren’t they Scottish?” were snapped up by a major label and were hobnobbing with the showbiz elite.

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Clearly this was never going to work as a long term career plan, but it transpired that they’d seal their own downfall through believing their own hype and developing a liking for ‘getting drunk through the nose’. Living a lie was damaging Bain’s mental health, and after a Herculean attempt to work his way around every single girl in London, Boyd upped sticks back to Dundee. The dream died before it truly began and all that’s left of Silibil ‘n’ Brains are a handful of Youtube clips. In this online era it’s highly unlikely that such a stunt is ever likely to happen again.

Less photogenic
Milli Vanilli took things one step further, with their alleged good looks, tidy dreads and penchant for puffing their chests out and jumping into each other, Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus were the poster boys of sing-along late 80s pop/R&B, Girl You Know It’s True was genuinely catchy and they were rewarded with a Grammy for Best New Artist. It then emerged that the vocals were done by unrelated, less photogenic singers, and the duo were forced to publicly apologise and hand back the Grammies just as they were preparing to release their follow-up album. The story ended in tragedy with Fab (who struggled with the fallout of the revelations) OD-ing on the eve of their comeback album.

The recent death of Davy Jones was met with widespread grief, but during the Monkees’ heyday many purists took great exception to the made for TV posters. There was controversy over revelations that they often used session musicians on the studio recordings of their songs (although they did play) live, yet ironically the self same critics would praise the genius of the Beach Boys, who had on occasion employed the services of some of the same musicians. In reality, the band were contractually restricted and would go on to take musical control of their last few albums and tours, but the dye was cast.

It’s not just rock and pop where deception is involved, during my many years working for World Circuit Records I saw plenty of people less than subtly try and cash in on the success of the Buena Vista Social Club. The original group recorded one studio album and played only 2 concerts; with solo projects from members including Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo, Eliades Ochoa and Guajiro Mirabal, but in its wake there have been other companies trying to pass off inferior quality old recordings as new ones as well as groups insinuating that they are the real deal, in both wording and branding. As I write, there are a number of groups on the road; Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club® features 5 original members (several have passed away in recent years) but Bar at Buena Vista and Passion de Buena Vista have no members of the group in them yet they are successfully touring the world.

The Voice
The devil’s advocate in me says Silibil ‘n’ Brains had the skills and revealed hip-hop to be all about image; folks thought that Milli Vanilli’s first album was great, who cares who played on it as long as they got paid? Give me a few beers and if I think you’re gullible I might argue that The Monkees were ‘the band The Beatles could’ve been’… On the subject of fakery it’s no coincidence that the ‘reality’ show of the moment is The Voice, where they took things a step further and only judged participants on their voice, thus rendering all the other stuff irrelevant. Strike me down for saying this, but if Susan Boyle was a stunner I don’t think folk would’ve been that bothered, it’s ironic that with this feature all about people trying to look the part and record companies spending millions on image, that if you have someone with none of that but a little bit of talent folk will go doolally for them. There’s nowt as fickle as folk, you can’t fake it, that’s a fact!

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