It was the sort of conversation one might have had at dinner party – who would your ideal set of dinner guests be? Never knowing anyone famous, let alone knowing what anyone famous might be like at a dinner party, it was the sort of question that was left unanswered.
There were similar such conversations in student days, except it was not dinner guests, it was musicians for the perfect gig. People would suggest the ’27s’ – Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, but it would be hard to imagine the four on one stage. Attending Glastonbury Festival (or ‘fayre’ as it was then called) in 1979, there had been such an experience, on the final night Peter Gabriel, Nona Hendrix, Steve Hillage, Phil Collins, John Martyn and Alex Harvey took to the stage together – in the memory it seemed a gathering of individuals rather than a band, maybe at the time it was more coherent.
RTE this evening played a song sung by Charlie T. Wilbury Jr. of the Traveling Wilburys, a group far more unlikely than any that might have appeared at Glastonbury. Charlie T. Wilbury Jr. was the alias of Tom Petty. The band included Nelson Wilbury – George Harrison, Otis Wilbury – Jeff Lynne, Lefty Wilbury – Roy Orbison and Lucky Wilbury – Bob Dylan. The band produced two albums between 1988 and 1990 which enjoyed success, but nothing like the success those artists had enjoyed as individuals.
It seems that the whole is rarely greater than the sum of the parts, and more often is less. It is not just a musical phenomenon. There are those Agatha Christie mysteries with all star casts where one spends more time trying to remember what other parts the actors have played, or wondering how they came to accept such a brief cameo role; a famous name or two would have been sufficient.
The perfect dinner party is not an assemblage of notionally perfect guests, it is a gathering of friends; the perfect band is not a group of disparate egos, it is people who have played together for years.
For as long as I can remember England has had talented footballers who week by week play excellent football for their clubs, players whose skills should combine to produce a team to take on the world, but when the white shirt is pulled on they become like a rock band with two drummers. Players who are brilliant with one club will sometimes go to another and fail to have an impact. As football managers open the cheque books in January and tens of millions are spent, the last night at Glastonbury ’79 comes to mind.