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Back, In Name At Least

Lynyrd Skynyrd are still touring but as shadow of their former selves, says George Byrne

The concept of a band as a brand has rarely been more commonplace than today. With the notion of major acts actually making money from selling their music becoming increasingly fraught it's led to a situation which is a complete reversal of what for many years was the basic industry business plan: namely that bands went out on tour in order to promote their latest album.

Now the complete opposite applies. The Rolling Stones haven't made a half-decent record in over three decades yet such is the power of their name as a live attraction (and that despite the fact that they're an absolutely atrocious live band) that they'll still attract millions whenever they deign to tour. The same principle applied to Oasis, who were guaranteed to draw the masses for a skangers day out but very few of those punters would have been bothered with whatever retreaded riffs on former glories the Gallaghers happened to be peddling at the time. And you can bet that if Liam Gallagher decides to maintain the Oasis name, Noel's absence won't bother the billies in the slightest.

Which raises an interesting question: does a band who have lost several key members have the right to maintain a name? For example, Lynyrd Skynyrd play the O2 next week and although any outfit originally formed back in the 60s was bound to shed a few people along the way, only guitarist Gary Rossington remains from the band whose southern-fried boogie proved hugely popular with hard rock fans in the early 70s, leaving Free Bird and Sweet Home Alabama behind as bona fide rock anthems.

Granted, there was the not insignificant matter of three members being killed in a plane crash in 1977, and few would dispute Rossington's right to keep the spirit of his band alive, but there are more questionable outfits out there.

One wonders, for example, how the current members of Dr Feelgood, er, feel given that not a single one of them was in the original outfit who stormed out of Canvey Island in the mid-70s, effectively acting as the John the Baptists for the UK punk movement and the subject of the recent Julien Temple documentary Oil City Confidential. Likewise the unit currently trading as Thin Lizzy doesn't feature a single original member, although guitarist Scott Gorham did feature in the band's classic line-up which evolved around five years into Lizzy's existence.

Things become even cloudier when you delve into the make-up of the classic soul and r'n'b acts. You'd wonder just how many versions of The Drifters have done the rounds over the years, very few of whose members ever featured on a recording of any sort, never mind the Atlantic classics, while The Temptations and The Four Tops boast just one singer each from their glory days.

Ah well, at least you know you're getting the real deal should you go to see ZZ Top, whose original three members have remained together for just over 40 years. How many life sentences is that?

Lynyrd Skynyrd play the O2 on Wednesday night