Tribute bands are nothing new –from the middle-aged Elvis impersonator in the pub who once followed me to the toilet (beer-gut bursting out of his jumpsuit) to the likes of One Night of Queen (a full-blown stage production where you wouldn’t be judged for questioning if Freddie Mercury had actually come back to life), it seems the world just can’t get enough of them. And why not? They provide a far more affordable, accessible way of witnessing an old favourite live and, oftentimes when the band they are covering are past it (for want of a nicer phrase) a far better experience.
There’s something lacking, however. Of course, there’s something fascinating about these almost identical bands, and mostly it’s what we want, but there’s room within these bands for a personal touch, a dose of creativity, that often seems to be ignored. And we’re bored of it. As Danielz, the Marc Bolan of T.Rextasy said in an interview with The Guardian “I wanted to be Danielz, in my own right, playing the songs of Marc Bolan. I didn’t want to be a cabaret entertainer pretending to be someone else.”
Enter The She Street Band, an all-female Springsteen cover band, and part of an increasing trend of female bands re-working and reinterpreting their icons; a different and exciting way of ingesting a fresh lease of life into old favourites. And with a sold out show at London’s Moth Club last year, and a similarly well received Valentines bash earlier this month it’s clear that there’s a demand for what they’re doing. But how, exactly, do these tribute bands start out? And why?
“I went to see my first Springsteen concert in 2016,” says bassist Jody Orsborn, on the birth of The She Street Band. “I was completely blown away by the experience. Not just by the band, who were incredible of course, but by the audience. Everyone was just so friendly and so into… I left thinking ‘I need more of this in my life,’ and then the idea popped into my head.”
And so, the band came to be. Seven women, whose hometowns span the UK, Ireland, Sweden and the US, all bringing their own dose of Springsteen to the table.
It’s not just a personal dose – The She Street Band pitch what they do as Springsteen ‘with a female twist,’ but finding the balance between staying true to the subject and giving it a female twist is, of course, difficult.
So how do The She Street Band manage it?
“We have four different singers who each represent a slightly different side of Bruce and take the lead at different times. Each brings their own ideas and interpretations to the songs which I think is important. We aren’t just pretending to be Bruce and regurgitating the tunes back to the audience,” explains Jody. The size of the band, and the amount of singers, means a new lease of life is breathed into the likes of ‘Born To Run’ and ‘Dancing in the Dark.’ As drummer Calie Hough says, “We also use the fact that we have 6 people that can sing to focus on harmonies and highlight some aspects of the songs that Bruce doesn’t.”
Certainly, The She Street Band are doing exactly what a tribute band should do: bringing Springsteen to audiences who may not be able to access his live gigs otherwise, and bringing out a new side to songs that perhaps even Springsteen hadn’t realised.
Of course, the likes of The Boss UK, and Bootleg Boss deserve ample credit for their likenesses and fierce devotion to an accurate portrayal of Springsteen’s live show, but isn’t there something so much better about seven young women portraying him?
Being in a band of seven can’t come easy, though, especially when what you do is based around paying homage to someone whose work you admire. Yet The She Street Band seems to use this to their advantage. “All of the girls are pretty in-tune with each other and collaborative about the way to do the songs. Having those different singers means we have the opportunity to do songs in a different way,” explains guitarist Mara Daniele.
And what about having a different interpretation to Bruce? “So many of his songs have really interesting male-female relationship dynamics and I think having a woman sing some of these songs gives an interesting other perspective.”
It’s this flipped perspective that seems to set The She Street Band apart from other cover bands – and perhaps, why an all-female cover band is so much more interesting than a band whose tribute is based on complete likeness. While there are men covering men, and women covering men, however, there’s an apparent lack of men covering women.
It’s a shame, of course, and one that Jody sees, too. “I’d love to see, for example, a group of guys become the Dixie Dicks.” Perhaps, though, however good the Dixie Dicks would be (and I’m holding out hope that someone is inspired by this to start the band) there’s a far sadder reason behind this. “I would assume that it’s because men make up most of the industry,” suggests Jody. “There’s just a lot more male-fronted material for women to cover.”
It’s true – a PRS report in 2017 found that only 16% of UK songwriters and composers are female. Bands like The She Street Band are a major step in tackling it, for sure, and in looking into the world of all-female cover bands rock and metal predominantly dominate the market for most covered genres – also the genres that need tackling the most. The likes of The Iron Maidens, Lez Zeppelin, AC/DSHE and – The She Street Band’s favourite name – Vag Halen are all continuously listed in top cover band lists. “These bands are a chance to take to the stage and show them what we’ve got,” says Jody, and while it’s certainly sad that female musicians may feel that the only way to get noticed is to ride off the success of their heroes, if it works, it works.
And it’s certainly good to be having an impact on an industry that so seriously needs changing. “Women want to rock out, but most rock bands can be quite male-dominated. Gibson just did a top ten drummer list, for example, and there wasn’t a single female on the list,” says Calie. “And there were only two female guitarists in the top 100 list in Rolling Stone,” adds Mara.
It’s definitely worrying, but with a sold-out gig at London’s Moth Club last year, and a heart-warming Valentine’s event in February, The She Street Band are setting a precedent for women everywhere. I’ve no doubt that the musicians behind The She Street Band would fare perfectly well on their own, completely original projects, but it also seems they’ve found their niche, and if it gives them a platform to say what they want to say, and do what they want to do, then I’m here for it.
With a single on the way out soon, The She Street Band are “plotting out” gigs – and will no doubt be bringing their fresh take on Springsteen to you very soon.