Mr Smith goes to . . . Tribute gigs

"Musicianship of the highest quality, in a pub"

Salutes to dead or resting pop stars are a serious business, a world away from the affectingly unvarnished tribute that at least one stand-up comedian used to pay to Elvis Presley: "Cheers, Elvis!" Appreciations of a more prolix nature have become the backbone of live entertainment, as may be ascertained by leafing through the pages of the Stage, the Court & Social of show people. On almost any day of the year, tribute acts are piling into vans and emerging in entirely different parts of the country several hours later to cry: "Hello, Rhyll/Bute/Leighton Buzzard!"

After Mamma Mia!, the Abba showcase, and Buddy, which proved a hardier vehicle for the late Mr Holly than the last plane he flew in, comes the premiere next month of We Will Rock You, a Queen bio-gig, with book by Ben Elton. (What next? The David Bowie songbook, shown off to glittering advantage in a lustrous new mounting by Hale and Pace?) But these are musicals: for the authentic rock'n'roll experience - or, rather, for a good-value reproduction - there's nothing to beat a night at the Torrington pub in north London.

The Torrington is the Shea Stadium of the tribute concert. It's the place to see the Rolling Stoned (sic), Regenesis, who essay the Genesis canon from the days when Peter Gabriel was in the line-up, and Limehouse Lizzy, almost certainly the only homage to Thin Lizzy that simultaneously honours E14.

The Torrington also proudly presents the Danny Steel Orchestra, which recreates the musical stylings of Steely Dan. (Remember? "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" was one of theirs, and so was "Reelin' in the Years".) For a tribute band to take on a famously fastidious and studio-bound combo such as the Dan is a bit like a busker interpreting the works of Philip Glass. But the DSO take a 12-piece ensemble, including a horn section, on the road for their "Clearly Dan" package. It's high fidelity, in more ways than one. "It's stunning - you can quote me on that," says Pete Feenstra, a promoter. "Musicianship of the highest quality, in a pub in Finchley. No tapes."

"No tapes, no money," chips in the lugubrious Martin Hopcroft, the drummer and founder of the orchestra. He has been anchoring groups on the West Midlands club scene for years, and drives a truck for Parceline by day.

The lead guitarist is West. "Just West. Bit like Sting, but without the money," he says. Remuneration seems to be an issue for the act. They take 85 per cent of the door, which is £7 a head, but obviously do it for love. As for the punters, they've bought the albums, says Hopcroft, "and now they're hearing the songs played live. They're not going to get it from the real thing, are they?" There are also long odds on standing next to the bona fide Steely Dan in the bogs.

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