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Didn’t mean to break your heart – When bands split

Everyone suffers a loss of some kind in their lifetime. Parents divorce, relationships end, budgies and grandparents pop off to the big sitting room in the sky. And bands split up or lose members.

The recent news of Steven Page’s departure from my favourite band, Barenaked Ladies, has stirred some very surprising emotions in me, none that I ever thought I would feel for 5 men who make chirpy alternative pop music.

It has been a proper grieving process; first the denial – as witnessed by my first text reply to the friend who broke the news, which read simply “fuck off”. Then came the anger, which involved significantly more swear words, as Mr Page was invited to go and perform carnal duties to his good self via the medium of twitter. Eventually the acceptance came, as the remaining band played a show last week that turned out to be not too bad. It’s not the same and never will be, but change happens.

All this got me thinking about other, probably a bit more influential (if I’m being honest) bands who have lost a member or given up the ghost, sending millions of fans into a spiral of grief and despair.

Let’s start with The Smiths. The Smiths were a shining beacon of wit and irony in the early 80’s sea of morose goth and tragic new romanticism. With a messiah-like front man and some of the finest musicianship known to man, in the form of Johnny Marr, their fans were adoring, obsessed, meniacal masses, ready to do almost anything the Moz told them to (as long as it involved throwing gladioli and wearing NHS specs and oversized floral shirts).

But by the end of 1987 it was all over. Johnny Marr was burnt out and pissed off, and left the band. Unthinkably, they actually tried to replace him, but after a half arsed search they gave up and split up.

Hearts broke everywhere, and the cult of the band served to propel Morrissey’s solo career further than the band had ever been. Rumours of reunions are frequent, and seem to serve mostly as ticket marketing for American music festivals, proving that those broken hearted fans are nothing if not hopeful.

At the other end of the scale, another Manchester band managed to soldier on far beyond their sell by date. Very similar to The Smiths in thier emergence as a seminal band at the end of the 80s, but driven not by a dynamic partnership, but by the sheer force of guitarist John Squire’s talent, The Stone Roses came out of the traps at a gallop with the their self-title debut, and it really felt that they were going to be something very special. Their swagger and arragance suggested that many good things were to come from the roses, as did the release of the b-side and rarities compilation Turns into Stone in 1992.

But it wasn’t to be. With 5 years worth of hype, expectation and cocaine abuse to contend with, the long awaited Second Coming happened in 1995. It was…OK. Lets just say that if this is what the actual second coming is like, we won’t have to worry about bigotry in Glasgow for much longer. 

This spelled the beginning of the end, but unlike The Smiths, this proved to be a slow, painful demise. Reni left first, and was swiftly replaced. Next to go was John Squire, which should have put the tin lid on things, but arrogance, or greed, or possibly drugs prevailed, and he was also replaced.

What could have been an opportunity to bow out gracefully now became the inevitable decline to a humiliating end, as bassist and singer trudged through live sets backed up by hastily recruited session musicians. Mani and Ian Brown eventually admitted defeat at the end of 1996 after dragging what was left of the good name of the Stone Roses through the mud of several European festivals.

No-one cried. But fans will always mourn the lost potential glimpsed during thier pomp. Witness the early success of John Squire’s The Seahorses, or Ian Brown’s continued steady record and live sales to know there is a hard core of fans who still believe that potential could be fulfilled.

Other fans have loved and lost. Paul Weller singlehandedly stopped The Jam at the height of their powers, and I know a few people who will never forgive him (most notably messers Foxton and Buckler). Whilst Bill Berry won’t be mourned in the same way, many poeple say REM’s harmonies have never been the same since he decided to become a farmer.

So what is it that drives us to the insane highs and lows of passion over a band? I think our old pal Morrissey put it best when, talking about his own private obsession, The New York Dolls, he said “Some bands grab you and they never let you go and, no matter what they do, they can never let you down”. Maybe this is what makes it so hard when they do let you down. That’s the trouble with admiration; the poor buggers only have one way to go.

But Steven Page is still a bastard.


7 Responses

  1. Great article.

    I was fucking heartbroken when Big Country played their last show.

  2. I suppose it depends on who you perceive as ‘the band’ (and how old you are!).

    American Music Club relocated recently and so were down to rump of Eitzel and Vudi…but that is the band to me, it is Eitzel’s vehicle. Who the rest were is academic although clearly some bands contain better musicians than others.

    In general I am now too old and cranky to care though.

  3. Ah, but you love them for Eitzel, and you’ll always have him in some form or another. Imagine Eitzel died. That’s closer to the mark, I think.

  4. If he died it would split the band. Yes.


  5. A very enjoyable article! I was one of the legions of Jam fans who thought my adolescent heart would break when they split up. I cried buckets of tears at their final gig in the Apollo, crying enough tears to stain the red velour upholstery, and I wasn’t the only one.

    I’d like to say 27 years on that I’m over it, but I still feel a pang of sadness when I hear any of their songs, knowing I’ll never be able to see them live again. Even if they got back together (by some tax driven emergency most likely, because Weller is too full of vitriol to make it an artist endeavour) it will never be the same again. Am going to go cry into my soup now!

  6. Good article indeed. Just for the record, I will probably never get over the Smiths splitting. I actually have one of those google news alerts things saved with “Smiths reunion” …..just incase. Did i just admit that? 🙂

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