RLPO and the Bootleg Beatles Celebrate Sgt Pepper and the Summer of Love – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Reviewer:  David Robinson

A genuine mix of nostalgia and excitement buzzes circuitously around Birmingham’s stylish Symphony Hall in readiness for a Merseyside merger, that of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and The Bootleg Beatles – seemingly strange bed fellows but in fact joyous allies for the night. The welcome coming together is to celebrate the golden anniversary of the Beatles iconic concept album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Another welcome ingredient in the mixture is Liverpool poet Roger McGough as the genial host. He is a little underused but with his beat poetry, Scaffold connections and his natural love of the sixties, he is a natural and knowledgeable guide.

The iconic 1967 album recorded in Abbey Road the year after The Beatles had retired from touring is often lauded as the first art rock LP. – an innovative, progressive, and indeed important, piece of music using a wide brush of stylistic influences from vaudeville to Indian classical. It is one of the best- selling albums in musical history and when, in 2003, the Rolling Stone magazine listed the five hundred best albums ever, they placed Sgt Pepper as number one.

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra with arrangements by Nigel Osborne gives us some background to the Beatles’ rise to fame with a selection of some earlier work by the fab four with some friendly steering by McGough. It proves informative stuff but a sluggish start to the journey. The feel of going rapidly through the gears comes with the very psychedelic arrival of the Bootleg Beatles on stage. Dressed in the Sgt Pepper gear they bring the sound and the look of the Beatles to an enthusiastic and loyal crowd, many of whom were not born when Pepper was recorded. The Bootleg Beatles’ sound and look has been crafted over many years, having been formed in 1980, and are generally regarded as the number one Beatles tribute. And it is clear to see why: obviously, they have the sound of the band tailored brilliantly but more impressively, the individual vocals are faithfully accurate. Adam Hastings is particularly unambiguously precise as John Lennon. His expression, tone and humour is a delight as is his rapport with the crowd. Stephen Hill is faultless in his depiction of George Harrison and gives the start of the second half an additional shot in the arm with a haunting sitar solo.

It is a nostalgic treat for ‘sixties teenagers’ and new fans alike with joyous recreations of some of the greatest hits, Eleanor Rigby, When I’m Sixty- Four, and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds proving to be evergreen favourites.

On this occasion, there were a few unfortunate sound issues and at times and the grand sound of the orchestra was a little booming for the party; that being said the brass section when called upon are masterly.

Symphony Hall was packed, and with the necessary current extra security the audience filed in patiently and without hurry. On exiting the echoes of the Bootleg Beatles encore seems befittingly appropriate today as it did fifty years ago: All You Need is Love

Reviewed on 6 June 2017 | Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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One Comment

  1. Thoroughly enjoyable concert – I’ve been a Beatles fan for as long as I can remember listening to music, but unfortunately wasn’t around in the 60s! I have seen Sir Paul and that was truly amazing, but to hear the full album played with an orchestra brought the odd tear to my eye! The Bootleg Beatles were very authentic – I thought ‘Paul’ was especially faithful in his voice and mannerisms. The sound could have benefitted from the band being a little louder (this was rock album after all), but, certain moments made the hair on the back of my neck stand up – notably the piccolo trumpet in Penny Lane and the orchestra crescendos in A Day In The Life – the orchestra donning album cover inspired masks and the band forming the iconic cover photo was a stunning touch. Only one thing irked me – they played nearly all of the music The Beatles released in 1967, but missed out Magical Mystery Tour – surely a big hit? I hope they repeat the 50hr theme next year with the White Album?

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