A good 'tribute' band works hard at looking and sounding like the one band or artist they are emulating. A good 'covers' band, however, has to work hard at being versatile as well as being convincing.
I imagine it is much harder than playing your own songs because your audience already has a preconceived idea of how they should sound. There seems to be a real snobbery in the music 'community' that suggests that if you don't write and play your own material then you're not a 'proper' band. Soul covers band Short People are doing a fine job of disproving this theory and demand the respect they deserve.
The RISC Bar in Reading wasn't exactly packed when I arrived, but running towards the end of the first set a steady crowd had gathered and was grooving at the back. Lead vocalist Alison Rolls has a voice which is both compelling and alluring and I could see the audience were itching to come up front and use the dance floor. A few more bevvies and an invitation from the band and we were all up for it, hip-dipping to up-tempo tunes such as 'Lady Marmalade' (the original, not the All Saints version I'll have you know), 'Streetlife', and 'Ain't Nobody'. Having lifted us, Short People brought us all back down again and gave us a chance to catch our breath with numbers such as Macy Gray's 'I Try', Al Green's 'Never Found Me a Girl' and even 'Waiting in Vain'. By adjusting the phrasing of the lyrics, this Bob Marley classic was transformed into a silky, soulful track whilst keeping faith with the familiar reggae riffs, allowing the audience to skank to its hearts content. Sung by guitarist Dave Gray, who joins Alison and the very pregnant Helen Bolton to make the third in the vocal line-up, this particular track offered a perfect example of what makes Short People so popular - they make the songs they cover their own and not simply Karaoke copies. Projecting emotion and feeling they never fail to lift the sprits, which is what you would expect from soul music, and with each musician being accomplished in their own right this made for a performance tighter than John Wayne's underpants.
This gig was being recorded which slightly affected the flow from song to song but Short People proved they can cut it under pressure and almost every track was note perfect. You'll never see them on Top of the Pops or on the front cover of Smash Hits, but Short People are very entertaining and every bit a professional band. Whether they're covering artists such as Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Dusty Springfield or Brand New Heavies, this band is believable and I for one would be happy listening to them on my CD player at home, feeling confident that they're doing the songs justice.