We’ve booked a young trio of lads in their twenties to open for McShane & Shaw at the town’s Arts Week on March 23. They play fiddle, accordion, vocals, drums and do traditional and original folk songs with a bias towards rural material. One of them even owns a vintage tractor on which they sometimes drive to gigs. Fittingly, since it is the approved headwear of local farmers, they go by the name The Flatcaps. In many ways it’s a perfect name as those two words provide an instant mental picture of the way they dress and how they might sound. The only problem comes when you google the name.
It turns out there are other established acts called The Flatcaps – both here and abroad – and this fact is sure to create confusion at some point. But I’m not sure what to advise. It’s a strong name for this band. Should they keep the name or ditch it?
Band names are endlessly interesting for anyone trying to come up with one. It’s fun to think of names …but so hard to get it right. One of the lamest band names on the planet: The Beatles turned out to be perfection. We can’t imagine them being called anything else. But I think if I had been part of the naming committee I’d have scrubbed it before showing it to anyone.
Like many British bands from that era, The Beatles took inspiration from an American band; in this case Buddy Holly’s The Crickets. Which – unlike the typical beetle – at least is an insect that sings (their first album was called The “Chirping” Crickets). But the ability of the band animal to sing with any degree of recognisable skill was ignored by both The Beatles and later The Monkees.
In the 1950s, bands were generally called The Somethings, or, Somebody and The Somethings. Bird names abounded. Perhaps driven by the success of The Orioles there were: The Cardinals, The Larks, The Robins, The Wrens, The Swallows, The Flamingos, The Falcons, The Ravens, The Crows and The Penguins. Obviously some of these bands also didn’t mind whether their named bird could actually sing or not. Perhaps The Penguins were concentrating more on their look?
But musical sounding names were another popular choice and included: The Pied Pipers, The Chords, The Chordettes, The Bell Tones, The Harptones, The Sparkletones, The Heathertones, The Monotones, The Platters, The Echoes and The Volumes. Another method was to count the number of band members and use that as a springboard to come up with clever names like: The Four Lads, The Four Lovers, The Four Knights, The Four Aces, The Four Freshmen, The Four Tunes (ha ha geddit), The Five Keys, The Five Sharps and The Five Discs.
Bands were seemingly tapping into the zeitgeist by copying other successful band names and then adding a twist. There were car names like The Cadillacs, The Capris and The Edsels, There were band names of things that sound valuable or worthy: The Diamonds, The Sensations, The Hearts, The Emotions, The Flairs, The Regents and The Champs. And there were some that just made little or no sense at all, like: The Spiders, The Spinners, The Mystics, The Nutmegs, The Turtles, The Rattlesnakes, The Shadows, The Solitaires and The Spaniels. And, it goes without saying, The Crew Cuts and The Pony-Tails were The Flatcaps of that era. But no matter what you think of these names they were all famous enough to be worthy of an entry in the current Wikipedia.
In the 1960s we still find the use of the word: The in most band names: The Animals, The Byrds, The Kinks, the Supremes, The Seekers, The Rolling Stones, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Marmalade, The Mamas and the Papas, The Who. But the 1960’s also inspired evermore surreal and even ridiculous names: T.Rex, Status Quo, The Stooges, Led Zeppelin, Golden Earring, King Crimson, Vanilla Fudge and Traffic.
We are so used to many of these names that we don’t question them but who could have thought that Egg, The Boxtops, The Lettermen, Procol Harum, Steppenwolf or The Electric Prunes were ever going to make it? And none of these, except for maybe The Electric Prunes, give us any indication as to what the band might sound like.
By the 1970’s all bets are off. The use of the word The is still popular with bands like The Police, The Clash, The Eagles, The Bay City Rollers, The Sex Pistols and even The The (believe it or not Pink Floyd began life as The Pink Floyd) but there was a clear move to drop The for snappier names like: Abba, Queen, Roxy Music, Motorhead, Kiss, Judas Priest, Fleetwood Mac, Deep Purple, Wizzard, Wings, Yes, AC/DC and the snappiest of all: U2.
Again, if I’d never heard their music, I would be hard pressed to guess how these bands sounded from their names. For this reason I like the name Showaddywaddy. The band started in the 1970s (and are still playing) doing doo-wop covers with a name that is also a doo-wop backing vocal. I suppose punk names like The Clash and The Damned have an anarchic quality that tells us something, as do the heavy metal names, like Iron Butterfly, Motorhead and AC/DC. They all share a slightly dark, dangerous and industrial aesthetic that gives us a clue about their sound in a way that Def Leppard (also a heavy metal band) does not – except for the clue that you may lose your hearing if you listen to them – especially if you’re a leopard. But this last example shows there is a curious power to the deliberate misspelling of a name which can perhaps provide oblique information about the band.
Times and fashions change and along with the ebb and flow of hemlines, flares, lapel-widths and shoulder pads so do the band names. But the internet has been a gamechanger. The Seattle band Nirvana were sued by the British band Nirvana – who had existed since 1965. They and Kirk Cobain settled out of court in 1992. But these days there is no excuse for calling your band a name that already exists. Any search engine will tell you in moments whether your idea is original or not. It’s very hard to come up with new names now.
Coupled with this is the problem that if you take a name like The Animals, The Kinks, The Coasters or Egg, Google is going to come up with several pages of other websites before showing you something that is remotely musical.
Spelling your band name incorrectly is a tactic that not only makes it unique but also aids google-ability. check out: Phish, Chvrches, Split Enz, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gorrillaz, The Black Crowes and Megadeth.
The Flatcaps could try this tactic. In fact I might offer them a completely original misspelling. How about The Phlatcaps? Or maybe The Fllattccapps? Or The Flatkkkkkapz with five (count ‘em) five k’s!!
Or The Ghlatcaps? (with the Gh pronounced ‘f’ as in enou-gh?)
Crikey, I dunno. Being original is harder than it looks!
Keep Strumming and Smiling,