UK Foo Fighters haven’t put out a single album of their work. In fact, they don’t even perform their own work. They’re a tribute band of a group that still tour worldwide and sell out stadiums – the mighty Foo Fighters. And yet, they manage to sell out venues across the UK and Europe and attract media attention. So what makes them so unique? Here’s a little story that explains their appeal, and might even change your mind about tribute bands.
If, over a decade ago, someone had told me that I’d be spending my time with a tribute band I’d have laughed out loud. I was the last person to understand the purpose of tribute bands. I saw them as a kind of karaoke act performed on a stage in front of a few punters, heavily under the influence of alcohol, who’d sing along. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Little did I know, that at the same time in the small town of Harrogate, Yorkshire, Jay Apperley was discovering his alter ego, performing with a cover band after his normal working hours at BMW. Slowly but steadily what started as a party band covering various artists took shape and became the UK Foo Fighters Tribute Band. The success didn’t come instantly. They had to put a lot of work in to make it happen, and Jay clearly shook it. A modest guy with a guitar, he became a fully fledged showman, the rock ambassador in the world of tributes, a bandleader and a creator of his own reality.
The game-changing opportunity for the small band from Yorkshire came without warning. 2014 saw Foo Fighters headlining the Invictus Games closing ceremony, and performing a couple of intimate, surprise shows for fans. One of them happened to be at Brighton’s Concorde 2, where UK Foo Fighters were scheduled to play in a few weeks.
Of course, Jay (lead singer, guitar), Arron Warner (bass), Jamie Valentine (lead guitar), and Alex Bailey (drums) made a trip to Brighton. Their van, plastered with the UK Foo Fighters logo, and their posters inside the venue didn’t go unnoticed. Once Dave Grohl heard the tribute band whose posters were everywhere had made it to the show, he decided it was time to check them out. So, in the middle of the Foo Fighters’ set, Dave called out Jay and asked him to come up and perform White Limo. Without hesitation, he stepped up and nailed it. This was a turning point in UK Foo Fighters history. Previously just one of hundreds of tribute bands, they suddenly became the one recognised by Dave Grohl as “England’s Premier Tribute Band”.
The mainstream media attention would probably only have been temporary had Dave Grohl not broken his leg in 2015, forcing him to cancel two sold-out Wembley Stadium shows. Fans were given a full refund on tickets, but many had pre-booked flights and accommodation leaving them wondering what to do next. A charitable organisation, Given To Live, was organising an afterparty for the Foo Family, as the fans of the American icons call themselves. A few small bands were scheduled to play in a venue next to Wembley, and Tom Pugh (Given To Live founder) was hoping to rise a few quid. But because the main show was canceled, the entire afterparty was in doubt.
Remembering the Brighton appearance, Tom contacted Jay and asked if he’d like to step in and headline the afterparty, that would become the main show itself. UK Foo Fighters agreed and came with only a few days’ notice to cover both nights in London and a third in Edinburgh, rising £10 000 for Given To Live, a nonprofit organisation that takes vulnerable, disabled, disadvantaged and excluded individuals to see their favourite bands.
Twelve years after first forming, they’re a world famous and fan-favourite tribute band, even featured in the 2017 BBC documentary My Hero: UK Foo Fighters alongside the real band.
Despite selling out venues across the UK, the band (rounded out by Nick Wight on keyboard/accordion) have stayed the same down to earth, genuine, and good to be around guys as they were at the beginning of their journey. So, this year, for their long-awaited hometown gig they prepared something extraordinary. An Ultimate Foo Fighters Experience combined an acoustic set, film screening, and an electric set, with all profits going to support two local charities: Harrogate Hospital’s Cardiology Unit and Harrogate Theatre Restoration.
Always trying to be as close as possible to the real thing, Jay chose to perform at the Harrogate Theatre, his decision inspired by the only double-sided Foo Fighters album: In Your Honour. The half rock, half acoustic album was supported by a series of acoustic gigs and the release of the only live album in Foo Fighters history, Skin And Bones filmed at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles. UK Foo Fighters aspired to recreate the iconic performance – and added a few twists.
The Harrogate show featured local musicians playing alongside the tribute band. Local radio presenter and blues legend Paul Winn joined them during the acoustic set to play harmonica on Another Round, and local singer Sarah Collins performed backing vocals during the whole acoustic set. The electric part saw the full band performing Sky Is A Neighbourhood with Collins joined on backing vocals by Katie Steele Lofthouse, Alice Elizabeth Barrott, and Natalie Rawel. That’s one backing singer more than the original version, but I say the more the merrier if the cause is raising money for local charities (and the band raised just under £5000 this time).
UK Foo Fighters might not look exactly like the real thing, but they do sound alike and perfectly recreate the familiar atmosphere of a Foo Fighters performance. They’re the world champions in lifting the audience up, with every new person tempted to come to a show leaving the venue at the very least impressed. And those who already know them leave in a state of intoxication, pleasure, and weightlessness, re-energised for the next few days. That’s the power of music shared live, amongst friends on stage and in the crowd.
Words and Photography by Edyta K of UK Foo Fighters live at Harrogate Theatre on 17th May 2019.