Peter Whent

June 7, 2023

Elvis on a tractor

There’s a guy call Frank who’s a farm hand in our village. Like all rural villages, everyone has more than one job and Frank’s side hustle is singing an Elvis Presley set in our pub some Friday evenings. Of course it is.

He’s a passable pub singer, that’s all. His concerts are never going to overwhelm Ticketmaster

His Elvis career started at the wheel of his plough where he spends hours on end carving ruler-straight lines in farmers’ fields.

Strapped round his skull, clinging on for dear life as he ploughs, is a set of headphones. There is only one artist singing in his ear. Elvis Aaron Presley. The King of Rock’n’roll.

Frank spent years learning the whole songbook. When he came to sing his songs in the shower, without the roar of a tractor engine competing with him, what came out was rather tuneful.

Now he sings “Love me Tender” in a half empty pub to an audience of people facing the other way. All for £60. 

There’s no variety. If you’ve seen him once, you’ve seen it all.

The Worried Men

Occasionally a covers band called "The Worried Men" plays the pub. They’re a step up in class from Frank, but they also sing other people’s songs. Their recipe is a bit more interesting. They bring their own angry twist to some classics.

The do a clever R'n'B version of “Paint it Black”

They’ll fill the pub and people will watch while they’re on. But even they only command £200 a gig, and they spend their days scrambling around for the next £200 gig.

That's life as a band singing other peoples' work.

The Jean Genius

David Bowie has never played in our pub. He was too busy filling stadiums and living in castles.

He also didn’t cover other people’s music. He was too busy writing the next ground breaking off the wall masterpiece that sold millions.

There was no-one like Bowie.

He didn’t spend his time looking round at other people for ideas and songs to sing. He was the ideas.

When he was asked who he thought his competitors were he said (I’m paraphrasing):

“Look at Bob Dylan, he doesn’t have competition, he is just Bob Dylan.

I think I’m probably in the same kind of position. I’m David Bowie”

“Look at Bob Dylan, he doesn’t have competition, he is just Bob Dylan. I think I’m probably in the same kind of position. I’m David Bowie”

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When you’re trying to find your vibe, if your first instinct is to look at what everyone else is doing and copy that, then you’ll sound the same as everyone else.

Welcome to life as a covers band.

You’ll spend a short and fruitless career in No Man’s Land where all that exists is failing founders crying into their Mocha Chocca Lattes about how unfair it all is.

So here’s a tip. Commit yourself to looking stupid. Free yourself up to try some things that are off the wall. Take some risks. Go full "Glass Spider" and see what people think and how they react, safe in the knowledge that you've given yourself permission to fall flat on your face.

You’ll be surprised.

Because if you’re bold enough to be unapologetically, unashamedly you, no matter what the doubters say, then something special will happen.

You won’t need to worry about competition. You will just be unmistakeably you.

And that’s how you win.

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