What Makes A Good Cover?

Welcome to the Fat Cat Soul Band blog! If you’re reading this then you clearly have too much time on your hands.. mind you, by extension I’m far worse for actually writing it so let’s agree to go on in embarrassed acknowledgement of both having nothing better to do.

We thought we could use this space to share some favourite albums / artists, chat about what we’re up to and generally shoot the breeze.

I thought we’d start by chatting about covers (seeing as we’re a covers band) and what makes a good cover version. Now I’ve always been bored by a whole set of straight covers, and when we first started FCSB we had a couple of rules in mind:

1. Be faithful to our chosen genre
2. Make it interesting and surprising for people

Genre then… In many respects our name gives it away… we’re a Soul band. We chose soul because it is a beautifully varied and rich genre. It includes soul (classic and modern), funk, motown, RnB (the way it used to be, i.e. good and about the music, rather than dull and about what an artist looks like) and many more. We wanted to specialise and cater for a discerning, intelligent and beautiful audience (flattery might work to secure bookings…) and we all love soul music, so it seemed the only way to go. I’ll harp on about the music itself in a later blog, back to covers for now. We decided that we didn’t want to play the same old predictable rock / pop covers that everyone else does (try and find a covers band who don’t do Sex on Fire – go on, have a look). I’ve nothing against those songs / bands, but it doesn’t do it for me to see yet another covers band play them note for note. We wanted to play stuff that’s exciting – and when you look back at the back catalogue of soul music you can’t help but be stunned by the timeless talent and creativity. The only drawback for us then is how well known, and loved, these songs are. We knew we had to approach these with due respect, but also make sure that people have a reason to come and see us play them, hence point 2.

I’m sure that a lot of people would say that covers bands should do covers, and if you want interesting then you should be in an originals band. Sigh. I’m not going to touch that debate with a 60 ft pole. My point is that while a lot of these songs are classics, and don’t need to be changed for the sake of change, there is still a lot of scope to make things more entertaining for an audience. And that’s the point of a covers band – to entertain. We spend countless hours thinking about how to do a song. We look at the original artist’s live versions, check out other interpretations from different artists and come up with an arrangement that we think works, and is fun. Of course you can’t completely re-work every song in the set, but if you’re not thinking about it then surely it gets boring for the performer as well?

So onto the question – what makes a good cover? Well, the original needs to be well known and liked. You wouldn’t believe the length of some of our discussions around what songs to do. I hold my hands up as a bit… difficult… to talk to about song ideas. It’s not like I punish people for an idea (that only manages to stop one idea, a slow headshake and look of sadness at their lack of moral character is so much more effective) but I do tend to wear my heart on my sleeve. The Wham suggestion over Christmas still saddens me (you know who you are) and I will never cave on my feelings toward Lionel (sorry Nat). These are the types of suggestions that ruin friendships! But the point is that we spend a lot of time thinking about what should go into the set – there’s no room for filler. If you’re not liking the songs you’re playing then how can you expect anyone else to enjoy themselves? So a good cover is one that you want to play, and people want to hear. It’s kind of that simple! The thing that sets bands apart from each other is the treatment that they give to that cover, and whether they’re bold enough to do something that stands them apart from a DJ. I love seeing artists live who make the effort to change up their show from the record. It shows guts and a desire to entertain. A prime example at the moment is Bruno Mars. I was never a big fan of his, but watching his live shows left me blown away.

If you’ve stayed with me then kudos to you. We’re playing a couple of gigs this weekend, and then have a couple next week. On Thursday we will be back with the Winevaults and will have a couple of new songs to play. If you’re local then we would love and appreciate your support. Come and have a drink with us. If you have a suggestion of a good cover then throw it our way and enjoy the spectrum of emotion in the response, everything from admiration to disgust.

Have lovely weekends all.

3 thoughts on “What Makes A Good Cover?

  1. As a covers band you have a huge responsibility to the genre – your comment about Bruno Mars shows the importance of live music to pass on the gift of music to errant Wham fans (!)
    As a soul band, a lot of your covers are originally by people who have gone to that big recording studio in the sky and so any opportunity to see them perform is limited to say the least. YOU are that live experience for new fans, you awaken a love of soul music in the young’uns and you give us more mature muso’s a blast from a dimly remembered but much loved past!
    Covers Bands continue a rich tradition of live music!

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