Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Were he to be alive today, James Whitcomb Riley would be very confused; to paraphrase his famous test, ‘If it looks like The Beatles, moves like The Beatles and sounds like The Beatles, then it probably is The Beatles’. The Bootleg Beatles score on all counts.
It seems an oversimplification to call The Bootleg Beatles a tribute band. Formed in 1980 from the ashes of short lived Beatles musical, Beatlemania, they predate the term. Since then they have been touring and performing consistently, albeit with line-up changes along the way. Currently they consist of Adam Hastings as a spookily accurate John Lennon, including trademark irreverent humour; Steve White as Paul McCartney, who gives us a moving solo version of “Yesterday” backed by their resident string quartet; Andre Barreau as the image of George Harrison, who also entertains with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, and Hugo Degenhardt as Ringo, certainly a hit with this Birmingham audience, who also steps into Ringo’s singing shoes for “With A Little Help From My Friends”.
The concert takes us through The Beatles’ history. In the first half, they are cute, mop-topped and improbably young looking as they sing songs from earlier in the band’s career. They remain in character throughout, referring to their albums as LPs, “available for 32/6”, and standing to give quick formal bows after each song. And what songs! The set includes such classics as “A Hard Day’s Night”, the iconic opening chord alone of which serves to send the audience into a frenzy, “Eight Days a Week”, “If I Fell”, and, of course, early crowd pleasers like “She Loves You” and “Twist and Shout”. What is striking during the first half is the simplicity of both the music and its arrangements – still relying pretty much solely on drums and guitars – allowing the mastery of the songwriting craft of Lennon-McCartney to really shine through. This audience of all ages, from seven to seventy it seemed, were maybe a little slow to get going, with band members encouraging them to sing, clap and dance along.
After the interval we move forward in time and image to the more psychedelic era of Sgt Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour with the boys appearing in the trademark silk military outfits. The music is now more mature though also more obtuse with greater depth, including piano and a fuller backing eight piece orchestra. The musicians really get in the swing, especially cellist Rob Woollard who also gives a memorable percussive performance in “Penny Lane”. Then we move into the final phase of the band’s life, though without any of the bitterness to which the original group succumbed. So here we have such songs as “Here Comes The Sun”, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” and “Hey Jude”. As the band got in the swing, so did the audience, now spontaneously on their feet swinging, clapping and even dancing up and down the aisles.
The setting is simple and in period, with Vox amplifiers prominent on stage. The obligatory projection screen shows images from the 60s helping to move the crowd back in time. The Bootleg Beatles really are flawless in their interpretations and must be the nearest thing to seeing the Fab Four today. If you’re of a certain age, or too young to have experienced the 60s, and are looking for a night full of both nostalgia and musicianship, look no further.
Reviewed on: 17 December 2013; on tour throughout 2014