Friday, 10 July 2009

Ten historically-themed bands

by Kathryn Parsons and Kathryn Hadley

History has inspired numerous artists and musicians. We have drawn up a selection of bands that have taken their names from famous historical events or personalities, from biblical times to the Cold War and the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

The band is named after the American Lockheed U-2 high altitude surveillance aircraft developed in the early 1950s to help monitor Soviet military capabilities and intentions. In May 1960, two weeks before the opening of a scheduled East-West summit in Paris, an American U-2 plane flown by Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union. The Four Powers Paris Summit between Eisenhower, Khrushchev, Macmillan and de Gaulle eventually collapsed on May 16th when Khrushchev left the talks following Eisenhower’s refusal to apologise for the incident.
The rock band U2 was formed in Dublin in 1976. Band members are Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen. Many of U2’s songs refer to political or historical events. ‘Bloody Sunday’, for example, is about the Troubles in Northern Ireland and ‘Mothers of the Disappeared’ addresses the struggle of mothers whose children disappeared during Videla’s military dictatorship in Argentina in the late 1970s.

Franz Ferdinand
Franz Ferdinand was the Archduke of Austria, born on the 18th December 1863 at Graz in the Austrian Empire. He became Archduke in 1889 when his cousin, Crown Prince Rudolf, committed suicide. Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie Duchess of Hohenberg were assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serb Nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, on June 28th 1914.
The Scottish rock band was formed in Glasgow in 2002. The band is composed of Alex Kapranos, Bob Hardy, Nick McCarthy and Paul Thomson.

Louis XIV
Louis XIV (1638-1715), known as the ‘Sun King’, ruled France from 1643 to 1715. His 72-year reign represents the high point of the Bourbon dynasty and of French power in Europe. Louis XIV involved France in many wars during his reign including the War of Devolution (1667-68), the third Anglo-Dutch War (1672-78), the War of the Grand Alliance (1688-97) and the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14).
The rock band of the same name is from San Diego, California. Lead singer/guitarist Jason Hill, guitarist Brian Karscig, and drummer Mark Maigaard formed the group in April 2003 whilst living in Paris. They released their first album in November 2003.
For further information on the French king visit our French history focus page.

Jethro Tull
The band is named after the English agricultural pioneer who helped to bring about the British Agricultural Revolution. Jethro Tull was born in Basildon, Berkshire, on March 30th 1674. He is remembered as one of the early proponents of a scientific and empirical approach to agriculture. He invented the seed drill and advocated the use of horses instead of oxen. Jethro Tull died at Prosperous Farm at Hungerford on February 21st 1741.
The British rock group was formed in 1967. Current band members are Ian Anderson, the flute and voice behind the band and its leader since the band’s founding, Martin Barre, David Goodier, John O’Hara and Doane Perry. Similarly to U2, some of Jethro Tull’s songs refer to historic events. ‘Mountain Men’, for example, refers to the battle of El Alamein and to the Falklands War.

Joy Division
The English rock band, originally founded as ‘Warsaw’ in Salford in 1976, changed its name to Joy Division in late 1977. Joy Divisions were brothels in Nazi concentration camps to reward hard-working inmates. The band allegedly took their name from the Joy Division mentioned in the novella The House of Dolls by the Jewish writer Yehiel De-Nur, who spent two years as a prisoner in Auschwitz.
The band consisted of singer Ian Curtis, guitarist Bernard Summer, Peter Hook and drummer Stephen Morris. Ian Curtis committed suicide in May 1980. After his death the band reformed as ‘New Order’.
Robert Sommer has recently published a new book on forced sexual labour in Nazi concentration camps. I wrote an article on our blog on June 30th about his latest research.

Gang of Four
The Gang of Four was a leftist political group, which came to prominence during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and was composed of the four Chinese Communist party officials Jiang Qing, Mao Zedong's last wife, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen. They were put on trial in November 1980 and charged with a variety of abuses during the Cultural Revolution, including the deaths of some 34,000 people.
The English post-punk group from Leeds was formed by the singer Jon King, guitarist Andy Gill, bass guitarist Dave Allen and the drummer Hugo Burnham. They released a first series of albums from 1977 to 1984 and then re-emerged twice in the 1990s with King and Gill.

Maximo Park
Máximo Gómez was a Cuban revolutionary born on November 18th, 1836, in the Dominican Republic. As Major General in the Ten Years’ War (1868-78), the first of three liberation wars fought that Cuba fought against Spain, Gomez commanded Spanish reserve troops. He subsequently retired from the Spanish Army, however, and joined the rebel cause. He rose to the rank of Generalisimo in the Cuban Army and fought during the Cuban War of Independence from 1895 to 1898. Gomez died in Havana in 1905.
The British band Maximo Park formed by the guitarist Duncan Lloyd in 2000. The band’s four other members are Paul Smith, Archis Tiku, Lukas Wooler and Tom English.

King Richard III (r.1483-85) was born in Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire in 1452. It was also where Mary, Queen of Scots, was tried, convicted of treason and executed in February 1587. The castle gradually fell into disrepair during the later Elizabethan period and was eventually demolished in 1627.
The British folk rock group was formed in 1970 by the singer Sandy Denny. She was previously a member of the band Fairport Convention, which released a song named after the castle. Fotheringay disbanded in January 1971.

Genesis or Bereshith is the first book of the Hebrew Bible and the first of five books of the Jewish Torah. It begins with the narrative of the creation of the world and contains the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah’s Ark and the Tower of Babel. The word ‘genesis’ is Greek for ‘birth’ or ‘origin’ and ‘bereshith’ is the Hebrew word for ‘in the beginning’, hence the first words of the Book of Genesis; ‘In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth…’
The popular English rock band was founded in 1967. Current band members are Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford. As well as taking their name from the Biblical book, Genesis’ first album was entitled ‘From Genesis to Revelation’, as a reference to the last book of the New Testament.

The Communards
The Paris Commune was a rebel government formed in Paris in 1871 in opposition to Adolf Thier’s Government of National Defence. The Paris Commune notably opposed the humiliating peace terms accepted after the Franco-Prussian War. On March 18th 1871, Parisian workers rose in rebellion and the revolutionaries formed a government which introduced a number of short-lived reforms. By May 28th, however, Government troops had crushed the rebellion. It is estimated that 38,000 people were arrested and 20,000 were killed.
The band of the same name was formed in 1985 by Jimmy Somerville and Richard Coles. They were later joined by Dave Renwick. The band spilt in 1988 and Somerville began a solo career.
For further information on the Paris Commune, read our articles

Here are a few another names of bands similarly inspired by historic figures and events, which could be added to the list. Any further suggestions are very welcome!
Engelbert Humperdinck, named after the German composer, best known for his opera Hansel and Gretel. The British-American singer Arnold George Dorsey adopted the stage name Engelbert Humperdinck following a suggestion by his former roommate, the songwriter and manager Gordon Mills. He is still selling albums today at the age of 73 and will notably be on tour in the UK and in Europe this September!
The Dead Kennedys, The B-52S, Levellers, Led Zeppelin, The Beau Brummels, Siouxsie and the Banshees and China Crisis...


Vincetastic said...

Hello Kathryns, this is an excellent top ten list. These are some of my favorite bands (especially U2) and I had no idea where the origin of their names came from historically. Very interesting information and well written. You can cross-post this to our site and link back to your site. We are trying to create a directory for top ten lists where people can find your site. The coolest feature is you can let other people vote on the rankings of your list.

Sarah said...

Nice list! Bell X1 (an Irish band that is probably less well known than these bands) is named after the first plane to break the sound barrier. Would The Baseball Project fit here?

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