The Beatles will live again with a little help from their friends Wednesday night, when a Liverpool-based tribute band known as The Mersey Beatles brings a 50th anniversary show to Toledo’s Ohio Theatre.
It’s not an anniversary show of the Beatles per se, but of their seminal 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The best tribute bands know it takes more than perfecting chord progressions and key changes to truly impersonate the originals.
When it comes to stage performance, The Mersey Beatles have kept the inner and outer spirit of the original Fab Four, including exact costumes, haircuts, and replica instruments, for almost two decades.
Even Julia Baird, John Lennon’s sister, has praised the band on its website saying, “The Mersey Beatles are the most authentic I’ve heard ... and I’ve heard them all.”
“I have to say, there’s no better way to open a show than belting out the title track, ‘We hope you enjoy the show,’ ” said Steve Howard recently in an email to The Blade. Howard performs as Paul McCartney.
Why make the show’s focal point Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which they plan to perform in its entirety?
Howard said such factors as the innovative mixing of rock with classical orchestration, the juxtaposition of surreal imagery and the use of the alter egos of Sgt. Pepper and Billy Shears all contributed in making “the album that changed the game.”
“It was their way of escaping the trappings of Beatlemania and the expectations of their fans to write a certain type of song,” Howard said.
“Sgt. Pepper took it a little further with the overall concept, and [the song] ‘A Day in the Life’ must have been a true revelation at the time.”
The album continues to influence musicians and fans today, said Matthew Donahue, lecturer of popular culture at Bowling Green State University. He said the album helped solidify the late 1960s era and led The Beatles in the direction of psychedelic rock.
“I was not only fascinated by the collage style of the album but also the artwork and spent many hours looking at the album with its hidden meanings, particularly related to the ‘Paul is Dead’ mythology in which the shots of Paul McCartney on the album are presumed to have some sort of hidden meaning, one of them a reference to how Paul McCartney had passed away,” Donahue recalled. “The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is truly a rock and roll classic.”
On Record Store Day last month, a limited edition 7-inch single of The Beatles’ “Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever” reached the number two spot among exclusive singles sold at independent record stores. The two were among the first songs recorded during the Sgt. Pepper’s sessions, but were not included on the album. They were released separately as a double A-sided single in 1967.
Although Howard has never met McCartney, there was a moment when he saw the musical icon in person when he was 12 years old. Howard was outside a cinema in Liverpool and saw McCartney and his wife, Linda, passing in a limo. McCartney gave Howard a thumbs up, and he excitedly returned the gesture.
“I remember they were both smiling broadly,” Howard said. “It sticks with me how happy they looked.”
The band prides itself in presenting an authentic Beatles show without putting on voices or incorporating a cast and script.
Like the original Beatles, the tribute band played early gigs in bars and clubs throughout Liverpool as a straight rock act.
“In those days we just had black turtleneck sweaters, like the cover of With The Beatles, and we just played loud and fast,” Howard said. “People used to say, ‘Hey, that’s just how they used to do it.’ ”
Howard said the band first met Lennon’s sister after performing at a charity event she hosted and continued to bump into her at other events over the years. When the opportunity of touring the U.S. came up, Baird was asked to tag along to support her book about her life with John and their mother. “Julia is wise, funny and always a great road companion,” Howard said.
Howard said she and the band recently got together for drinks at the fabled Cavern Club on Mathew Street in Liverpool.
“If you had told me when we started out that I’d be drinking on Mathew Street with John Lennon’s sister, my dad, my band made up of school friends and our American promoter, I’d have thought you had been listening to too much Sgt. Pepper,” Howard said. “What a journey, and the best is yet to come.”
The last time the actual Beatles performed in Ohio was at Cleveland Stadium in August, 1966, and a week later at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. The band was initially scheduled to perform the day before on Aug. 20 but canceled for fear of electrocution on stage during a rain storm. Lennon made the decision for the band to stay in the city overnight to perform a set the following day.
No more than two weeks after that Cincinnati concert, The Beatles ceased performing publicly altogether.
Tickets cost $25 to $35 and can be purchased at ohiotheatretoledo.org. The first half of the show includes a performance of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from beginning to end, and the second half a set list of 20 greatest hits from “I Want To Hold Your Hand” to “Let It Be.” Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m.
Contact Geoff Burns at: email@example.com or 419-724-6110.