I’ve seen the Beatles twice and heard them once.
The first time was in the ‘Beatles Christmas Show’ at the Astoria Cinema, Finsbury Park, early in January 1964. There were other acts on the bill - Billy J Kramer, the Fourmost, Tommy Quickly, Cilla Black and other members of Brian Epstein’s ‘stable’ but most of us had only come to see the stars of the show. I say ‘see’ because that was all anyone could do. The roar of thousands of desperately over-excited teenage girls screaming their lungs out was overwhelming, impressive and totally drowning any music that the four boys on stage might have played.
The second time I saw the Beatles was at Richmond Theatre was on Sunday 24th March 2013… and this time I not only saw them but heard them as well …very clearly. Of course it wasn’t the actual Beatles. That particular bunch of mop tops packed up on 10th April 1970 when Paul McCartney announced…
“…a break with the Beatles due to personal, musical & business differences, but most of all because I have a better time with my family”
This time round it was the world’s best “Beatles Tribute” band, the ‘Bootleg Beatles’… or “The Booties” as some of their fans like to call them. Although there was a loose resemblance to the real Beatles, with wigs, sticky-on moustaches and authentic costumes helping out, what the ‘Booties’ were actually offering their enthusiastic audience was the driving spirit of the original band rather than a look-a-like copy. Either by practise or just years of doing it they had absorbed the essential essence of the Fab Four. “Paul” had the ‘niceness’ of his alter ego, his eyes tilted up to the girls in the balcony, George was gentle ‘good old’ George, while “John’”, the most visually alike of the band, was sarky Lennon, gum chewing, insouciant, iconoclastic…
“We’ve been asked to play the next number by a fellah who’s just started a new job. He says his name is Pope Francis!”
By inviting us to accept that they were the ‘Bootleg Beatles’ and not the real Beatles the Richmond audience became as much part of the illusion as the band itself….and perhaps that is the secret of good tribute bands. They only work if all participants, band and fans, share the suspension of disbelief together.
Guitar anoraks and Beatle nerds will be pleased to hear that the “Booties” had authentic Vox AC30 and T60 amps, Rickenbacker 325 short scale and Gretsch 6128T guitars, a left handed Hofner ‘violin’ bass and a set of Ludwig drums, just like Ringo’s.
The other thing ‘The Booties’ had going for them was the music. Helped out by a brilliant five piece ‘orchestra’ and without any apparent recourse to backing tracks or synthesisers the Bootleg Beatles sounded exactly like the real thing. Even if the original tracks had been recorded in Abbey Road with the help of George Martin, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, a choir of hundreds and taken six days to lay down - the Bootleg Beatles played them just like the record, live and exactly. Every nuance of the original recordings was there, Ringo’s distinctive clattery drum fills, the cello and strings on “Yesterday”, the mellotron and brass on “Strawberry Fields Forever” and when Annette Brown, the trumpeter in their orchestra, picked up her piccolo trumpet and launched into the legendary solo in “Penny Lane” the audience rose to its feet with surprise and delight.
“The famous Bb piccolo trumpet solo added on the final day of recording was, contrary to legend, taped in real time and not speeded up - or so says David Mason, the Philharmonia trumpeter who performed the part.”
IAN MACDONALD - “Revolution in the Head. 1994
And so we stood and danced and clapped and screamed on demand and believed for an hour or two that it might just be 1963 once again and once again we were teenagers - and in the end…
And in the end because of the overwhelming virtuosity of the Bootleg Beatles we were left with a reminder of just how creative, just how special, just how wonderful the original Beatles were and just how lucky we were to have shared them with the rest of the world.
I DID BUMP INTO THEM ONCE…
In the late autumn of 1967 I was walking down Old Compton Street in Soho with a colleague when a door of a small preview cinema suddenly opened and all four Beatles stepped out onto the pavement in front of us. John, Paul, George and Ringo. Right there. Close enough to touch.
Being older than my friend I went into Mr Cool mode but he was lost in instant teenage meltdown and immediately followed them across the street and into a small Italian restaurant. Mr Cool remained on the pavement giving him “It’s time we got back to work” hand signals like a demented ‘tic-tac man’. Hmmmm. He didn’t return until mid-afternoon waving the restaurant menu in my face. It was autographed by John, Paul, George and Ringo. “So you managed to get their autographs?” sneered the ever-so-jealous Mr Cool. “Autographs?” replied my friend. “I’ve just had lunch with them!”
The Bootleg Beatles playing “Ticket to Ride”.
– from Martyn Day