Discord, with a little harmony
To hear it from two reluctant participants in VH1’s new unscripted series “Bands Reunited,” another title for the show, which tries to resurrect long-disbanded groups on camera, might well have been “Together Again -- at Gunpoint.”
“It was not something I really wanted to do,” says singer Mike Score of the British new wave band A Flock of Seagulls, one of 10 groups profiled in the series, which premieres Jan. 19. “It kind of reminded me of Christmas and one of those family reunions where you just can’t wait to leave. You’re glad to see everyone, but you still want to go home. It was that kind of atmosphere.”
Things were even testier for the British electro-pop band Kajagoogoo singer Limahl, a.k.a. Chris Hamill, who was fired by the other band members in 1983.
“There had been some very acrimonious stuff between -- business stuff -- that was still not resolved,” Limahl said by phone from London about the day last fall when he showed up for what was supposed to be an interview for a special about popular ‘80s bands.
Instead, he was greeted by a VH1 crew, complete with cameras rolling, lights glaring and microphones listening for him to say whether he would agree to hook up again for a reunion concert with the musicians who had given him the boot two decades ago.
“They put me on the spot, and with all the cameras around, you do feel pressure. Under normal circumstances, I’m not really sure any of us would have agreed to do it.”
Acrimony, of course, makes for great television, especially in the era of so-called reality programming.
In the episode on Orange County techno-pop group Berlin, the pace is almost breathless, as VH1’s hyper host Aamer Haleem sprints from location to location, pleading with and cajoling band members, especially long-estranged singer Terri Nunn and guitarist-songwriter John Crawford, both of whom initially resisted the idea.
This series strives to create drama by first locating members of a band, then approaching them one by one -- usually unannounced and always on camera -- with the idea of assembling their old bands one more time. In some cases, musicians react with delight; at other times, it’s quite the opposite.
“We had one gentleman,” says “Bands Reunited” executive producer Julio Kollerbohm, “whom we ambushed at a Beverly Hills restaurant; he said no, and got up and ran down the street. There’ve definitely been cases where people said they don’t want any part of this.”
That also makes for great TV. But Kollerbohm also said they weren’t simply trying to capture on-air fireworks between musicians who despise one another.
“It really came down to the stories, and what the artist did after their bands disbanded,” he says.
“Some are pursuing dramatically different occupations than when they were in the music business, like raising alpacas or working in a public defender’s office.”
Or teaching art and Native American culture to elementary and high school students, which is what Romeo Void’s magnetic lead singer and songwriter Debora Iyall now does for a living.
“Once we got together, the years just kind of fell away,” Iyall says of the Bay Area art-punk quintet’s reunion for the show, which she says was largely a joyful affair.
“I believe we’re always still the people that we were, in a sense. And everyone was still in essence a Romeo Void person. It actually was very fun, and very powerful -- spiritually, in a way -- to be united like that.”
In addition to initially bringing former bandmates together on camera for what might be the first time in 10 to 20 years, the show involves a spate of rehearsals and, in all but one case, a reunion concert.
Musicians weren’t paid, Kollerbohm says, and there were no managers or record deals involved. The idea was that it would be easier to get participants to agree if they knew it was simply a one-shot get-together for fans. Admission was free at the concerts.
Other acts featured in the initial batch of programs are Dramarama, Klymaxx, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the Alarm, Extreme and Squeeze.
If that reads like a list heavy on acts that were popular during MTV’s ‘80s heyday, it’s no coincidence.
“What it came down to was that their stories were extremely compelling and that they had signature songs that resonated with our audience,” Kollerbohm says.
“We didn’t target one style of music ... and all these bands have very different stories. To catch up, tell the story of their heyday, how they disbanded and see what they’re doing now and get them back together, each one of the episodes is distinctly different.”
In some cases, Kollerbohm says, the bands have since made plans to play additional shows, or have discussed recording again. Others made it clear it won’t happen again.
“Not every reunion is going to be successful,” he says, “and I think that legitimizes the process. So we’ve included one band that decided not to reunite and not to perform.”
Some who were initially hostile to the idea eventually came around, and Kollerbohm says if the series connects with viewers, more induced reunions will follow."For all that I’ve said,” Kajagoogoo’s Limahl notes, “the day and the weekend was ... incredibly tinged with emotion and poignancy, and it is worth watching on that basis.”