It’s seldom a happy time when a band splits up. There are few people who really rub their hands with glee. I don’t mean Boy Bands of course. When the “talented one” leaves a boy band, generally half of the population uncorks the champagne and slays the fatted calf to celebrate not having to see their stupid chubby faces on the gogglebox again. Meanwhile the other, younger half are jumping onto counselling helplines to guide them through the five stages of grief.
(What do they say on these helplines? “Don’t worry – they were terrible anyway. Never wrote their own songs. It was all auto-tuned for a reason. Session musicians used in every song. In five years you’ll look back on this stage of your life with a mixture of embarrassment and relief…”)
However one man has made a career of chronicling these splits and rubs his hands in maniacal Monty Burns-like glee* when such things happen: his name is Pete Frame.
Pete is THE rock n roll genealogist – and has an exhibition on at The Barbican Library until the end of the month.
You may be familiar with Pete Frame’s work, as his intricate hand-lettered rock family trees have been translated into books, exhibitions, TV series and limited edition prints available from his website.
I have terrible trouble working out who my more distant relatives are and it is a source of fairly constant exasperation to my loved ones as I resemble a codfish – facially at least – when they try to explain to me how I am related by marriage to an aunt’s cousin’s sister’s brother in law. What I need is someone like Pete Frame to draft it all for me, but luckily for him he has this far more interesting job researching the lineage of our rock n roll bands.
Let’s face it, rockers are as promiscuous as footballers when it comes to a) promiscuity generally and b) changing teams/groups. There’s a strong argument that the world of pop and rock would be made significantly more interesting if there was the musical equivalent of football transfer deadline day (“Heidi from the Sugababes is having a medical at One Direction, er, at least I *think* that’s a medical…”). It’s probably easier to keep track of what’s going on at your local dogging venue than keep pace with the various line up changes of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath over the years.
Pete Frame started drawing his Rock Family Trees in Zigzag Magazine which he founded in 1969. He said that he found it difficult to research the different band members of bands he was writing about. After interviewing Al Kooper in 1972, he decided to draw Kooper’s musical lineage, and so one of rock journalism’s finest and most individual and distinctive achievements began. The trees subsequently appeared in Sounds, NME, Rolling Stone and on album sleeves and CD inserts. BBC2 produced two series of TV shows based upon the concept in the 1990’s, narrated by John Peel.
My first introduction to Pete Frame’s Rock Family Trees was in 1985, when I bought the best-of UFO album “Anthology”. A double album, it had a gatefold cover which when opened out contained the most detailed yet completely clear and easy to understand potted history of the band. It showed how bands such as Scorpions, Motörhead, Wild Horses and The Michael Schenker Group were inter-related through the various band members. Now, whilst knowing whether UFO’s “Light’s Out” album was recorded by their Mark 2 or Mark 3 line up may not generally be one of Life’s Big Questions, it more than fulfilled my curiosity, and it also placed UFO into context amongst its peers.
At the Barbican exhibition there are many examples like this on display, including the Madchester scene of the late eighties, the Merseybeat scene of the sixties, Grunge, The Kinks and The Stones, Fleetwood Mac and even Morrissey. Largest of all is the incredible Black Sabbath Family Tree which is six feet high by four feet wide and quite brilliantly detailed. It’s fair to say that the history of Black Sabbath is so convoluted that were it presented to the scriptwriters of the world’s worst soap opera they would reject it as being too fanciful. Sabbath have had more band members than Chelsea have had managers. Come to think of it, they are running them pretty close if you change the last word of that sentence to “players”. In addition to scribing detailed noted about the bands, Pete also personalises the trees with his own thoughts (see photo at top of the page).
I can’t help thinking that a White Stripes / Raconteurs / Dead Weather chart would look great, alongside a QOTSA / Desert Sessions / Them Crooked Vultures / Foo Fighters display – but as Pete says, he’s always pleased when a band changes it’s line up, as that’s more opportunity for work…
Rock Family Trees: A Barbican Music Library Exhibition runs until 28 September 2013. Entry is free. A second exhibition is planned at the same venue in July 2014. The Barbican’s music biography section is well worth a look too – it is vast…
Record #231: Belle and Sebastian – Family Tree