What’s in a name change?

Some things are best left in the past. In the case of musicians who go on to find any modicum of success, that usually means crimes of fashion, ‘what were you thinking’ haircuts, embarrassing live performances and atrocious early band names. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of stumbling across YouTube videos of Travis in their previous incarnation as Glass Onion (here or here perhaps?), you’ll know what I mean.

There are often unusual, fascinating or quirky stories behind why bands and even solo artists decide to change their stage names, so here’s The Pop Cop special investigation into some of the more interesting ones to come out of Scotland.

Shrug -> Polar Bear -> Snow Patrol
Gary Lightbody, Mark McClelland and Michael Morrison formed Shrug in 1994. Two years later, to avoid potential legal complications with an American band that had claimed the same name, the Dundee-based trio became Polar Bear. One day, Gary bumped into a friend who asked: “How’s your band? How’s Snow Patrol?” – to which Gary replied: “What are you talking about? We’re called Polar Bear”. However, in 1998, it was discovered that this was what former Jane’s Addiction bassist Eric Avery had called his new project and they were again forced to come up with a new name. Gary remembered the conversation and decided they should be Snow Patrol. Michael, who was replaced as drummer before they found fame, still keeps an online shrine to Shrug here.

Katie Sutherland -> Pearl And The Puppets
Cynics out there may think Katie Sutherland decided to adopt the stage name Pearl And The Puppets in 2008 in a bid to jump on the bandwagon of musicians with “And The” monikers such as Florence And The Machine, Noah And The Whale and Marina And The Diamonds. However, Katie is happy to set the record straight: “I had a personal MySpace page and then somebody said I should change it to a band one and put up some songs. I wanted to have one word to represent my music. A friend said a few adjectives and another said, ‘You’ve just described a pearl’. I fell in love with it instantly so that was it – Pearl. I was then booked for a show at the Barfly in London and they thought I was Meatloaf’s daughter, who is also known as Pearl and plays heavy metal. Could you imagine me walking on stage with an acoustic guitar and a ukulele? I had to change the name so randomly added ‘And The Puppets’. Maybe one day I’ll revert back to just Pearl.”
Pearl And The Puppets – The Sorry Song (The Pop Cop session on Subcity)

Rhode Island -> Belle & Sebastian
In the mid-1990s, Stuart Murdoch brought in Richard Colburn, Stuart David and Mick Cooke plus a host of session musicians (Brian Nugent, David Campbell, Gerry Campbell, Mark McWhirter, Michael Angus, Steve MacKenzie) to record several songs he had written under the name Rhode Island. The result was the Dog On Wheels EP, which ended up coming out on Jeepster in 1997, but not before the band had become Belle & Sebastian and released their second album.
Belle And Sebastian – Dog On Wheels

Brother Louis Collective -> Admiral Fallow
The band had been playing for four years as Brother Louis Collective before they ditched the name for Admiral Fallow in January 2010. It was very much a ‘now or never’ decision as co-vocalist/flautist/pianist Sarah Hayes explains: “The idea of a name change came up in a band meeting and we realised it would be the last chance to do it if we wanted to since our first album was about to come out. We had never been completely happy with the name Brother Louis Collective – we chose it quickly for a couple of the earlier shows and it stuck. It was a risk but we knew it would be OK as long as we made sure everyone knew it was us.”
Admiral Fallow – Subbuteo

Emma Gillespie -> Emma’s Imagination
It has been a memorable year for Emma Gillespie after bagging £100,000 in prize money, an interview with The Pop Cop and a major label recording contract. In that order. But what possessed her to change her surname to ‘s Imagination? “I just thought Emma Gillespie didn’t flow off the tongue very well. About a year and a half ago, I did some work with the guys at Up Next Records in Glasgow and they helped me come up with the new name.”
Emma’s Imagination – This Day

Ross Clark & The Scarfs Go Missing -> Three Blind Wolves
Ross Clark & The Scarfs Go Missing is possibly the most nauseatingly twee, grammatically abhorrent name for a band in music history. Thankfully, Mr Clark got a grip last year: “I had been playing with the band for a while and the name kind of made the band about me, a fact which certainly isn’t true. We had progressed together as a band and the effort put in by all of us became more of an equal affair. We are a unit and I wanted the name to reflect that.”

WeHungYourLeader -> LightGuides
Glasgow band LightGuides put their name change in 2009 down to the poignant moment the three members left university and set foot in the big, bad world. Drummer Dave Cowan: “The whole time we were WeHungYourLeader we had university commitments which led to the band being on the back foot, although it had always been our plan to make our music our number one priority once our studies were finished. Once we graduated, it felt like starting afresh. We were going from playing part-time for fun or as a hobby to trying to pursue this as our future careers, and the name change felt like a natural step in our progression.”
LightGuides – Swizzlestick

Union Of Knives -> Song Of Return
After Union Of Knives’ acrimonious split from EMI, main men Craig Grant and Chris Gordon took a year out before reconvening as Song Of Return. Craig: “I was bored out of my senses having not played live in ages so decided I wanted to get a band together to make all this new music happen live. The new stuff we had been recording had the feel of a different band anyway and as we had lost a few members to babies and weddings etc, we decided to form a brand new band. To avoid confusion, we changed the name.”
Song Of Return – The Story Of A Cell

The Ads -> Aerials Up
The Ads went through so many line-up changes that singer Alan ‘Kemy’ Kemlo and bass player David Murphy were the only founder members left. When it got to the point they weren’t even playing any Ads songs, it was time to call themselves something else. Their manager Keren McKean admits there was also a practical reason for becoming Aerials Up: “We had realised how hard it was to Google ‘The Ads’ and get the band to come up.”

Cast Of The Capital -> Weather Barn
Cast Of The Capital had built up a decent following in their native Aberdeen and further afield for four years when they rechristened themselves Weather Barn in September. There were various motivating factors, including the fact that the band had replaced their guitarist and drummer. However, their manager, Dominic Peluso, lifted the lid on what he says was the most important reason: “They had moved up A&R ladders at several major and big indie labels and always got told the name was a bit too lo-fi. I advised a change so we could get our new material out without any assumptions made. You will find many bands do this because scouts and A&R usually don’t have time to listen to an act twice – timing has to be perfect, though, as you can only really get away with a name change once before getting signed. We had so much opposition at first. For two weeks we had to put up with so much shit. Then nothing. No one cared any more when they heard their new single. Eventually people forget your old name.”
Weather Barn – Cinnamon Hill

The Void -> The Winter Tradition
Edinburgh’s The Winter Tradition still play the same songs they did when they were The Void, but the band are convinced their change of name earlier this year is single-handedly responsible for boosting their profile: “We formed as The Void many years ago when we were all at high school together. Since then we and our music have matured. The new name for us was a natural progression of our band. We feel The Winter Tradition reflects the music we are making and has taken us further. All in all, the name change went very well for us and pushed us further in the Scottish music scene.”
The Winter Tradition – We’ll Make Our History Part I

Paper Planes -> Astral Planes
For Astral Planes, the reasons were entirely logistical: “There were other bands called Paper Planes and it was making it difficult to release records. We held off for as long as possible, but it was inevitable.”
Astral Planes – Disconnected I Know

Nacional -> For Abel
This tale involves a series of bizarre coincidences. Glasgow-based Nacional had got in touch with 4AD’s A&R department to invite them to listen to the band’s music. The email they got back from Roger Trust, the man who signed Brooklyn stars The National to the label, pointed out the similarities between the two names, claiming that it would cause confusion for both bands and hinted at consulting “legal people”. Nacional took stock and eventually decided to change their name to For Abel earlier this year. (Abel is a track on The National’s album Alligator). For Abel’s next gig is at The Flying Duck in Glasgow on Friday – and guess who the Pin Up Nights promoters have booked to guest DJ? That’s right, The National! Even For Abel singer Robert Armstrong can see the funny side: “I do suppose it’s ironic how our paths with The National may cross. I’ve become such a massive fan of The National and I truly hope that nothing becomes awkward. For me it’s not an issue at all and I would rather focus on the possibility of Mr Berninger liking the fact our current name is a doth of the cap to one of my favourite bands.

4 Responses to “What’s in a name change?”

  1. John D. Says:

    November 24th, 2010 at 12:30

    Mr Pop Cop have you become allergic to writing “Pin UP Nights”? – I noticed that last month your innovative wee (and quite addictive) news feed thingy reported that Popup played their first gig in almost a year “at the Flying Duck” and not at “at Pin Ups”! If you could amend the text to give our 7th birthday party a wee plug that would be most appreciated.

    Besides this, I again enjoyed your article – I am actually quite amazed to see that The Ads have become Aerials Up – I didn’t make that connection at all!

    Yours in branding pedantry,

    John D.

  2. thepopcop Says:

    November 24th, 2010 at 12:41

    I’ve amended it John D – you’re quite right to point out my sloppiness. Pin Up Nights was, after all, the inspiration behind this very article! See you on Friday :o)

  3. Fictionscoutsanonymous Says:

    November 24th, 2010 at 14:52

    I love your investigations! However, I hate all these band names and most of these bands. Changing a name won’t stop your music being shit and it won’t con A&R spies into believing that you’re a new band when you’ve been around for years under a different moniker. Good work though officer Pop. You should do an investigation into artists that record & play under lots of different names. I want to know their reasons. Do some interviews. Probe their minds.

  4. amyblue Says:

    December 6th, 2010 at 18:31

    Worst thing is, when a band you really like change their name and are rather lazy and hesitant to tell ANYONE about it… ages ago there was a great band called the Julie Dolphin who in my opinion made one of the best albums of 94-95, they changed their name and announced it in a 1 square ince ad in NME and, well, died a death after that. Incedentally Joy Formidable’s sound borrows heavily from them…!

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