When I went to Glastonbury last year there was a misprint on my ticket. Instead of saying “Luke Wright,” it said “Like Wright.” This amused me for two reasons. Firstly, I think misspelling someone’s name is most childish, and therefore most effective way of mocking them. I don’t mean just a misspelling, but when you change the word to a very similar one. It’s not big and it’s not clever, but I do find it funny. It’s pretty much the only joke on my other blog – The Zeitguy.
Secondly, and funner still was that Like Wright is what the Luke Wright tribute act would be called. It’s on a par with Near Vana, NoOasis, Rolling Clones, Slack Sabbath, though perhaps not as great as all male Madonna tribute – Mandonna. I am currently writing a poem about Like Wright … watch this space.
Tribute acts are one of the saddest spin-offs of our icky obsession with celebrity. And when I say tribute act I don’t mean ‘covers band,’ they’re fine by me; nowt wrong with playing other people’s music. But when you only play one person’s music and dress up as them that is weird and perverted.
Perhaps if the person being paid tribute is dead then I can see the point, but if he or she is alive, well and still performing their own material, could there be anything naffer than watching someone pretending to be them.
And price or availability is not an acceptable excuse. When Oasis were at the height of their fame it would cost you say £35 to see the real thing, and yet tribute act No Way Sis would still cost you in the region of a tenner. And it’s not like it’s the only way you’re going to get to hear the music, before MP3 the music industry had being using devices called “record players” to play “records” for a number of years.
And why would anyone want to set themselves up as a tribute act? It’s so depressing: “Well I shan’t probably amount to much so I’ll just pretend I’m him.” And contrary to popular belief I don’t think it’s born out of an ultimate respect to the person you’re impersonating. I think it’s born out of self-obsession and self-hatred. It’s not about them it’s about seeing something you want and taking it for yourself. It’s hugely egotistical.
But it can get worse. At least if you’re setting yourself up as a tribute act you’re being honest, what’s worse is if you do it and try and claim the work as your own. Now, obviously this wouldn’t work if you tried to pass David Bowie’s work off as your own. People wouldn’t even think you were trying to pass it off as your own. You’d actually have to say “this is my song and I wrote it,” but even then people wouldn’t say “no it isn’t, it’s David Bowie’s” they’d just laugh, in that way that people do when they’re nervous and want to walk away from you.
But how about if the person was less well known? How about if they were me? What is Like Wright had been operating with paying his royalties? Google Analytics tells me that I have about 1000 different people a month come to my website. This is slowly increasing. I probably have about the same visit my Myspace and every 28 days or so another few hundred watch my YouTube and read this blog. Not a great deal of people in the grand scheme of things. Within poetry and comedy circles I guess I’m fairly well known and I’ve had a number national press articles written about my work. I’m certainly not a household name nor do I think I ever will be. So what would people do if someone started going to an open mic night in Peterborough and passing my poems off as their own? The answer is they probably wouldn’t twig straight away.
Peterborough’s Poet Laureate Mark Grist takes up the story in an e-mail sent to me last year:
Some friends and I set up a night called ‘A Pint of poetry and a Dash of Drama’ on a barge/pub in the borough to promote poetry and drama in the area. We’ve been going for over a year now and have got quite a few performers…
Early summer this guy started coming called Gavin – fresh out of Art Uni in london or something. He came with a load of friends – all early twenties and to be fair they were nice guys. Except Gavin. Gavin was a bit of an arrogant prick to be honest – but when he got up to perform – his work blew everyone away. It was really good!
His poems included:
‘I won’t get out of bed for less than ten grand’
‘It’s so channel 4’
‘Embrace the wank’
a poem about Richard Madeley
a poem about telling people about giving up smoking
Am I right in thinking that these are all yours? For 3 months he walked around like a poetry rock star at our event. He’d turn up with this big, very artsy book, telling everyone he had written the stuff and it went down a storm every month. He was asked to perform at comedy events in the area, where he would perform the same poems (particularly the one about Richard Madeley).
We (the organisers) all sat around and talked about what to do about the situation. Most of our poets still believe that he wrote it all. We feel a bit violated really.
“Violated” is a good word. These were indeed my poems. They were all, or had been, on my website. What really shocked me was that “Gav,” had only read my poems. What a massive twat! If you’re going to walk down the plaguerism route you might as well shop around. I might have a high opinion of myself but I am aware enough to know that my stuff is not the best stuff out there to nick. Well, not Crap Masseuse at any rate.
How had it happened? “Big artsy book” made it sound very premeditated. I mean it must have been slightly premeditated, unless he carried my poems around with him everywhere he went. But I can’t believe he actually intended to carry on with it. He can’t have, I mean how long did he think he was going to get away with it?
I did some Googling and (scarily), within about 15 minutes, had Gavin’s full name, his A-level results, and a breakdown of his acting degree (yes, and actor, but hard to believe when you see the video below). I knew his mum’s name, the name of his friends and where he was at the weekend (ahh Facebook!).
To be honest at this stage I didn’t really know what to do. Having watched the video of “Gav” I was ashamed and embarrassed for my work to be seen this way. I was also fucking angry that this bloke was getting kudos (however small, in terms of the poetry world) for my hard work. But then on the other hand I felt a bit sorry for him. It was a fairly pathetic act and you know what they say about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.
I was considering letting the whole thing slide, but then I still had the problem of some guy going around pretending he’d written all my poems. So in the end though I let my anger win through and spoke to a copyright lawyer. She told me that he’d fucked up (that’s a legal term) on three clauses of the Copyright and Patents Act 1988. Basically: performing the work and not acknowledging me; performing the work without my permission; and, my favourite one, the closest thing to a legal dis: performing the work in a derogatory manner, ie his reading was so shit that I felt he had violated me as an artist. Rofl.
I drafted a statement that he was to sign and sent it to him via Facebook (ahh Facebook). He duly replied and groveled. Below you can see the signed statement that I sent to the clubs he had performed at.
Also below is the man himself performing ‘Ode To Cigarettes.’ My initial research into “Gav” was conducted before I saw the video so I convinced that as an actor I would see an electrifying performance that put my own to shame. The result is terrifyingly bad. It appears that he has no concept of how the poem works, he reads it to the line breaks, most evident on “poncing, twosing, saves and that thing / where you turn one upside down in the pack and smoke it last.” The pause should be after “saves”, not “that thing.” I think it was this that made me lose all patience with the guy. If the performance had far eclipsed mine I’d have simply dropped him a friend request and sent him out of the road for me, Like Wright could have made us both rich men. But alas “Gav” it was not to be.