Friday 27th September 2019
When discussing the city of Liverpool and its heritage, it is more than likely that at some point, the topic of 'The Beatles' will arise. The group have been synonymous with the city since the 1960s; in fact their typically-Liverpudlian wit and candour that often shone through in interviews were arguably important factors in their rise to worldwide fame. As a result The Beatles reportedly make the city of Liverpool around 82 million pounds a year, with fans flocking from far and wide to visit museums, exhibitions, shops, cafes, hotels and all manner of things in between dedicated to 'The Fab Four', in the places they hailed from and subsequently met. 2019 is also a particularly special year in Beatles history, as this September marks 50 years since the seminal ‘Abbey Road’ album was released, meaning that more tourists than ever are likely flocking to the city.
But no matter how many of these you may have visited- how many Beatles tours you might have been on, how many times you've visited their childhood homes or haunts, or how many times you might have been to The Beatles museum- none of these experiences would begin to compare to that which the audience at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall had last night.
Essentially the show was a tribute to the 'Abbey Road' and 'Let It Be' LPs, with The Bootleg Beatles performing the entirety of the former and the majority of the latter, with one or two extra tracks thrown in for good measure. The evening was so much more than what one might consider an 'ordinary' tribute, however; to begin with, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by Richard Balcombe) accompanied the band, playing new orchestral parts which had been specially arranged for the event by Ian Stevens.
The evening was also 'presented' by the utterly charming Neil Innes, a musician-cum-comedian who is perhaps best known as the songwriter behind Beatles parody group The Rutles (a collaboration with Monty Python's Eric Idle) and key member of the avant-garde jazz-rock combo the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, who had their only UK top ten hit in 1968 with 'I'm The Urban Spaceman'. Innes actually opened the show by playing this track on ukulele- and in hindsight this could have almost been a sign marking the fact that the audience was soon to be launched into something that did feel a little like 'space' at times (or at least some sort of parallel universe).
From that moment onwards we had been transported back to 1969, and, as Innes gleefully explained, we were currently in Abbey Road studios 'waiting for the boys to arrive', no less. His amusing and unnassuming demeanour meant the audience warmed to him almost immediately, and his renditions of Bonzo and Rutles hits at various points throughout the evening were greeted with healthy applause.
‘Welcome to 1969!’ he announced, after which a fascinating orchestral introduction accompanied by original clips of television shows, films and other cultural snapshots from 1969 were projected onto a big screen behind the orchestra. At this point The Bootleg Beatles finally emerged, walking onto the stage as if they had just finished the 'Abbey Road' cover shoot, with exactly the same clothes and hair as the original band would have had. No matter what one might think of tributes or lookalikes, the attention to detail in the appearance of The Bootlegs was enough to send shivers down your spine- and that was before they had even started playing.
Opening number 'Come Together' was positively electric, with 'Bootleg' Lennon's voice dripping with the mordancy that was so characteristic of the man himself. Admittedly, having adored George Harrison and his music from a young age, it was the following track 'Something' that had my jaw hitting the floor. To a non-Beatles fan that might sound silly- 'why would musicians masquerading as the real band have that effect?'- but the lushness of the orchestra coupled with the disbelief that we were hearing songs we probably never thought we would hear, and a tribute band so good they even had the original members' stances and facial expressions to a tee, meant that it quickly became obvious what we were seeing was as close as anyone, anywhere, would have been able to get to The Beatles themselves standing there and performing the album.
As the first half progressed, everything gradually became more surreal; no doubt the result of copious amounts of drugs, the ‘Abbey Road’ album begins as a fascinating rock album, but ends up as an even more fascinating foray into the minds of Lennon and McCartney in particular. As the band and orchestra powered through ‘Abbey Road’, it was compellingly easy to see how the tracks each had their own little ‘personalities’, something that I hadn’t previously noticed to such an extent when listening to the album at home. Though what we were witnessing at the Philharmonic was essentially a concept show, songs like ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, ‘Because’ and ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ clearly already had intricate concepts of their own, plucked from the record like characters from a book and brought to life before our very eyes.
The eight-track medley that dominates side two of the album sounded more progressive than ever (no doubt partly because of the live orchestra), musically bridging that treacherous gap between rock and prog rock, and leaving us with no qualms about the fact that in 1969, The Beatles were already paving the way forward for bands that would dominate the ‘70s such as 10cc, Led Zeppelin, Supertramp and ELO.
After the interval there were no further introductions as we plunged headfirst into the second half, and though the show’s intensity had lessened, the expertly-executed concepts and superb attention to detail had not. Again we were transported- to the recording of ‘Let It Be’, to the band’s infamous rooftop concert (complete with angry policemen rushing in and turning off the power), and finally to two rousing encores (unsurprisingly comprising ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘The End’).
And though it is fair to say the audience were at their most appreciative during those last two encores (think 1700 people having the time of their lives, literally shouting the lyrics and then the ‘na na na’s’ of ‘Hey Jude’ at each other), it was the nuanced references and subtle touches that made the evening what Neil Innes himself described as ‘glorious’. The stage chat between band members about Ringo’s nose, Yoko Ono’s singing and all manner of things in between; the three singers gathering round the microphone for those stunning harmonies of ‘Because’; the record player at the front of the stage on which original records were actually placed- all these little things elevated the show from the status of one of many ‘Beatles experiences’, to that of a true snapshot of history that should not only be experienced by fans of the band, but by fans of pop, rock and orchestral music, and the culture of the city of Liverpool during the ‘60s and beyond.
Perhaps more importantly however, this show should be witnessed by those who declare the music of The Beatles to be overrated.
Because by the time it draws to a close, they will almost certainly have changed their minds.
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For more information about ‘And In The End’, please visit: https://www.artscityliverpool.com/single-post/2018/10/03/RLPO-and-Bootleg-Beatles-to-celebrate-50-years-of-Abbey-Road-and-Let-It-Be
To round off the evening, the delightful Neil Innes was also signing CDs and tickets after the show, so I took the opportunity to say hello!