What’s in a name? There can exist a natural predilection for forming an opinion on a band (or solo artist hiding behind a particular nom de plume) before clapping ears on what matters most: the music. First impressions count after all, but we also know that we mustn’t judge a book by its cover. I always remember seeing the name "Radiohead" in print before hearing a single note, and wondering just what the head of a radio might look like, or why any right thinking band would want to be named after one. Then of course I heard second album The Bends, swiftly followed by a witnessing of the hypnotic video for “Fake Plastic Trees” on Top of The Pops, and I was hooked – any issues I might have had about the name disappearing almost instantly. Similarly, “The War On Drugs” might suggest a House of Commons Select Committee – militant MPs doggedly debating the merits of anti-drug legislation – but is in fact a band led by Adam Granduciel and Kurt Vile specialising in a beautifully realised kind of ambient rock and roll. Lucid, laconic and liberally lovely, it certainly doesn’t push any right wing agenda.
Picking band names is a horrible business. My very first band was the dubiously monikered “The Initials” (although in my defence I was 11 years old, so back off right?), the names hurtling steadily downhill from there. Next came “Starsky” (why we didn’t opt for “Hutch” remains a mystery to this day), then “Red Star Belgrade” (“It’s an obscure Serbian football team, it’ll be cool” insisted a fellow band member), until finally “The Dendrons” – a truly terrible play on the name of a particular woody plant being all you need to know before swallowing your own fist in embarrassment – marked the final nail in the coffin for that particular band incarnation. It’s no wonder I decided to go solo for a number of years, preferring to recite my own Sunday name whenever anyone asked in the pub, “what’s your band called?”. In fact only recently did I find myself mired in the painful business of pinging potential band names back and forth with my merry band of players, finally settling on the nomenclature Australian firefighters give to a modest blaze responsible for starting a bush fire: The Lonesome Fire. Never mind whatever other connotations it might have, something with humble beginnings which grows to be massively fierce was a strong enough metaphor for us.
Love or hate the name, and leaving etymological discussions for another time, the point is you don’t truly know what the band is like until you listen to the songs. Some are simple ( “The Band”, “Television”, “Elbow”, “Suede”, “Pulp” ) and some excruciatingly ornate ( “Dananananakroyd” , “Dogs Die In Hot Cars”, “…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead” ), but a quick scan of all of these names tells us that there is nothing unifying them stylistically. They are simply a banner helping us to identify them; they tell us little about the genre of music each act belongs to. It’s once you start investigating the music that your own prejudices are tested.
Vampire Weekend perform Diane Young at Glastonbury 2013
“Vampire Weekend” is a classic example. Perhaps more suggestive of a morbid goth band, moody and mascara-d, they are anything but. Preppy, sharp and coiffured, they trade in neat one-liners and sparse rhythmic pop. Their new album “Modern Vampires of the City” (yet more misdirection) is a strong collection of songs, just as quirky as their breakthrough debut and more instant than their second long player “Contra”. With touches of the Graceland-era Paul Simon sound that they visited earlier in their career still in evidence, combined with more sophisticated digital tricks than heard before, it’s a confident album and our Record of Note on the show this week.Also on the show is some Live on Arrival from a band who began life as The Shakedown Sound only to end up borrowing their name from a Willard Manus novel about an eccentric who works in a circus freak show: Mott The Hoople. Undercover comes from a solo artist who needn’t have worried about whether his name worked, such was the eternal nature of the music from a certain Neil Young. Add that to music from Deer Tick, Laura Veirs, The Lumineers, Electric Soft Parade and more and you have a veritable smorgasbord of appellations ready to be examined. And the name of our little show? Simple! The Roddy Hart Show, this Thursday at 10.05pm on BBC Radio Scotland.