Names. To a band so titled, or indeed to their audience, a name can mean everything or it can mean nothing. Names can be serious, political, witty, pithy, nonsensical, knowing, ironic, or just ever so simple. After the first few years, some artists must regret the choice as the weight of their decision dawns. Others catch the zeitgeist and may come to represent their era or genre. Some names lose any relevance to the reference that produced it – when you think of The Rolling Stones, do you think that they “gather no moss?”, or when you think of Joy Division do you think of the Nazis and sex slavery? R.E.M., or Talking Heads have become so synonymous with the bands that chose them, we forget those names represent other things.
Recurring trends come and go. There may be a spate of bands using the definite article to prefix anything from a banal noun, to a kinetic verb. Around 2012/13, there was a spate of misgendered naming of bands, privileged cis white boys claiming irony as they name themselves anything from The Girls, to Girl Band (now named Gilla Band – fair play to them), to Cheap Girls. Another example of a trend to come and thankfully go, was the clumsy pun on another celebrity or band name; examples spanned from the sublime to the ridiculous – Dananananaykroyd, to Chet Faker or Eltron John.
Won’t You Please Welcome To The Stage…
Back in the early 2000s, on their XFM radio show, now professional bellend Ricky Gervais and cohort Stephen Merchant often discussed band names, devising what they believed a sure-fire way to tell if an artist had a great name. Now play along at home, won’t you? Imagine yourself a stage-announcer, at Wembley stadium, something like Live Aid, maybe. You’re announcing the next artists to take the stage: “Ladies and gentlemen, won’t you please welcome to the stage… Radiohead”, or “Nirvana”, or “AC/DC”, or “…Led Zeppelin”. It’s somewhat less easy to hear: “Ladies and gentlemen listening around the world, won’t you please welcome to the stage… Gay Dad”, or “…Menswear”, or “…Rumpleforeskin”.
Thinking back to my own musical endeavours over the years, I can think of some tremendous, and some terrible names I’ve chosen for projects over the years. When Iain, Paul, and I first played together, for a short time we decided upon the moniker “Metronomic”, for a band that was anything but, it was an ironic choice. After that, and somewhat incomprehensibly, we considered “Fourteen Minutes” to be a stronger choice. Thankfully, Andy came along and suggested the enigmatic, “Troika”. Not long after, I joined another band with a fantastic, already chosen name, “Skappah-flo”, loosely named after Scapa Flow, a body of water in the Orkney Islands.
Nuns Are People Too
On a visit to Glasgow in 2005, Sarah and Dave of Valentine Records joined me in an evening of drinking and recording. More than a little drunk, and with some friends, we wrote songs with the spectacularly stupid titles, “Tweemo”, “FC Cunto”, and “Kicking Bishop Brennan Up The Arse”, the latter a Father Ted reference that spawned the name of the project, “Nuns are people too”.
As I tried my hand at solo artistry, I did everything I could to avoid using my own name, the reasons for why, long since having evaded my understanding. I tried “A Crowd of One”, “Cinematica”, “Microcassette”, “twentysecondsbeforesleep”, and eventually settled on “beneath us, the waves”. Boredom set in, and before long I’d begun writing and performing under my own name. At last.
Still, it wasn’t the end of my battle with the band name. When I was fortunate to find myself as the final member of a classically-infused Varsovian post-rock sextet, we had a mythical struggle to decide upon a name. We each brought lists upon lists to rehearsal, and every suggestion had to win unanimous support. Not one of them did. One evening, after an enjoyable early rehearsal, I mentioned an upcoming trip home to Scotland, to which one of the band, I forget who – though I suspect Dave – commented on my trip hope to “the Frozen North”. As one, all 6 of us had an epiphany. That’s the name.