Wednesday, 25 July 2012

How Black Tambourine Got Their Name and other short stories

Black Tambourine named themselves after a 1987 single by Birmingham band the Surf Drums. I can't hear much of a Surf Drums influence in Black Tambourine - a keener kinship can surely be heard with Surf Drums' labelmates My Bloody Valentine. Maybe they just liked the way the name sounded, or the way it looked on the record.

If they'd been called The My Bloody Valentines or The Mary Chains or The Store Assistants, no one - least of all themselves - would have taken them seriously.

Choo Choo Train named themselves after a song by Alex Chilton's first band, The Box Tops. On Choo Choo Train's first single, there's singer Ric Menck clutching a copy of Alex Chilton's next band's album, Big Star's #1 Record.

If Choo Choo Train had been called The Big Stars, no one would have taken them seriously. As it was, the name they had got them automatically dismissed in some quarters of the music press as too twee. You've got to remember that in the late 80s, Alex Chilton's standing in the UK was as a minor cult figure. It would take another few years before the likes of Teenage Fanclub helped make Big Star became one of the key names to drop or be influenced by.

Ric Menck said that in the USA naming their band Choo Choo Train was deliberately provocative: "I think it’s more...punk-rock – like The Sex Pistols. Every time you say it to somebody they’re either embarrassed to say it or they automatically hate it.”

Today, there are UK bands called The Black Tambourines and The Choo Choo Trains. I see what they did there. I don't like it. I like their music, but I'm embarrassed to say their names for completely different reasons than Menck proposed.

I reckon that both of these bands have heard and are influenced by their American forebears. If they weren't, then finding out that they'd pretty much stolen another band's name would mean they'd have to change their name to Black Tambourine UK or Choo Choo Train UK.

Seeing as these bands must have known about, and appear to be influenced by, bands with whom they share a name, why didn't they name themselves after one of those bands' songs? If it were good enough for Black Tambourine and Choo Choo Train...

I can't imagine either Pam Berry or Ric Menck, a la Rakim, bragging "I can take a phrase that's rarely heard, flip it, now it's a daily word" just as I can't imagine giving my heart completely to a band whose heart is in another band.

The best thing that can happen now, surely, is if the (kinda) reformed Black Tambourine go back to the studio and record a song called Surf Drums.


  1. I used to have that Surf Drums 7". I always liked "Walkaway" as a better single though.

  2. You'll hear no arguments from me on that point!

  3. I'm not sure The Black Tambourines would know Black Tambourine. It doesn't bother me either way, because I like their music. Not sure the same applies for The Choo Choo Trains, but either way, I like them too. :-)

  4. I agree that The Black Tambourines might not have known about BT. I like their music, too. But they could've done a search on the name before they decided on it!

  5. Think The Black Tambourines got their name from the Beck song Black Tambourine!

    1. Which is about the band Black Tambourine!