The grunge giants Hole are back. Well, at least some of them are. Actually it's just the leading light Courtney Love. The widow of the Nirvana legend Kurt Cobain announced last week that she is reforming her old band, minus her old band. Former members such as the leggy redhead bassist Melissa auf der Mer and the skeletal founder member Eric Erlandson have not been asked to show up. Instead, new blood in the shape of the guitarist Micko Larkin, the bassist Shawn Dailey and the drummer Stu Fischer will join Love for concerts in London, Milan and Amsterdam to support her new album, Nobody's Daughter, expected out this spring.
Erlandson is furious about what he sees as Love's cavalier attitude to a band he believes is half his. "There is no Hole without me," he told the music website Spin.com. Auf der Mer, who joined the band at a later date, was less outspoken but told Spinnermag.com she was "shocked and disappointed" by Love's decision. The fans, however, seem indifferent. At the time of writing, just 74 people have joined the Facebook group called It's Not Hole Without Eric Erlandson.
But can a band be the same band if all but one of the original members are not involved in its reformation? "The law is very unclear," says the music business lawyer Dean Marsh. "Names can be jointly owned by a band as a partnership and they all have the right to use it. But it really comes down to who can be bothered to issue proceedings and entail hefty legal costs. That's why there are currently something like 11 Boney Ms in existence. No one can afford to sue."
According to Marsh, Erlandson may be able to squeeze a settlement out of Love if he's prepared to reach for his lawyer, and Love has signalled she may be willing to come to terms. But from a creative point of view, is that fair? Ownership of the name should be all about who is the leading force in a band, says the Los Angeles musician Brandon McCulloch, from Brandon McCulloch and the Dead Birds. "Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds? They could switch out the Seeds and it wouldn't change the vision. REM? No. They established themselves as those four guys, each taking 25 per cent of the whole. Without [the drummer Bill] Berry, it's not really REM," he says.
So if Erlandson co- wrote the songs, it's his band too, right? Not exactly. The uncomfortable rock 'n' roll truth is that almost all once-successful bands get back together when the royalty cheques run out - and Erlandson wouldn't be the first founding member to find himself left out in the cold when it's time to cash in. The Guns N' Roses responsible for Chinese Democracy bore only a slight resemblance to the band that made the rock classic Sweet Child O' Mine: namely the singer Axl Rose.
Megadeth, Napalm Death, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Smashing Pumpkins and King Crimson all still operate with just one original member. Jerry Dammers, meanwhile, who can truly claim to be the brains and energy behind the ska band the Specials, was left out when it reformed for a sold-out tour last year. Liam Gallagher has recently announced plans to tour Oasis without his brother, the songwriting powerhouse Noel.
And if that seems strange, it's worth remembering Dr Feelgood is currently out on the road with no original members at all, while T Rex is rumoured to be touring with just the original band's roadies. When key members are left out of a reformed band, fans can feel short-changed. But the same is not true of television shows, says the writer-producer Ashley Pharoah. "Using the analogy of the band: the pretty singer might move on but if the songwriters remain - the writers, the creative producers - then all is far from lost," he says. "And there are always other singers."
The best example is the US sitcom M*A*S*H, which, in its 251-episode, 11-year history, had to invent ingenious reasons for its ever-changing line-up of stars. In the UK, the BBC TV drama Spooks has kept itself fresh for 10 years with a revolving door of on-screen talent. "In my experience audiences are very sophisticated in coming to terms with actors moving on and it's rarely as catastrophic as you think at the time," says Pharoah. When the star, John Simm, left Life on Mars, the hit BBC TV series Pharoah co-wrote with his partner, Matthew Graham, it turned out to be a good thing, he says.
"It forced us to think what we could possibly do to keep the franchise going - and keep it good - and the result was the sequel Ashes to Ashes, which I'm very fond of and which does at least as well as Life on Mars. We're just finishing the third and final series of that now." Sometimes a change of personnel can reinvigorate the commercial appeal of the brand and help you forget how bad the preceding offerings might have been. It worked for the James Bond franchise; could it work for Courtney Love?
"It [her new band] is Hole, yes of course," Love recently told the NME. "It is just because it is." What could possibly go wrong?