Originally an American production, ‘Beatlemania!’ came to London’s West End and toured the country to great acclaim.
However, when the show’s tour ended, the four members of the band didn’t know exactly what to do, so they decided to carry on as The Bootleg Beatles and began touring in 1980.
The show grew in size and stature and The Bootleg Beatles are just about the best around at what they do.
So good in fact that in the summer they will be performing with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra at shows celebrating the 50th anniversary of ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’.
“The shows were absolutely amazing,” Steve White – who portrays Paul McCartney – says. “It was a massive show. There are 70 members in the Liverpool Philharmonic. We sold out the Royal Albert Hall, which holds 5,000 people and we got a fantastic standing ovation.”
The quartet of musicians has changed since 1980 and the current line-up is: Adam Hastings, who has been ‘John’ since 2011, Steve White, who became ‘Paul’ in 2012, Stephen Hill and Gordon Elsmore who became ‘George’ and ‘Ringo’ in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
White, a native of Nottingham, tells me how he got the job of portraying the greatest left-handed bassist in the world. And it wasn’t a case of ‘Wanted – bass player – must be left-handed.’
“I’d been in a lot of 60s bands, playing rhythm guitar, and the band I was in sort-of ‘morphed’ into a Beatles tribute band,” he explains.
“I ended up playing ‘John’, but people said I should really have been Paul as I looked more like him.
“The thing is, I’m right-handed. So what I did was learn all the parts on bass right-handed, then I bought a cheap bass and strung it left-handed and it went from there.”
Then the call came from The Bootleg Beatles. “I got a call from them to stand in for their bassist as he was sick, and this went on for a while, as the problem with the bassist kept re-occurring and when it was apparent that he couldn’t carry on they asked me to do it full-time. So I didn’t audition, I sort of did an apprenticeship.”
The show itself is in four sections.
“We do it in chronological order. The first half of the show starts with us doing the Mop Tops era, and then Sergeant Pepper as we introduce more musicians (a small orchestra, in fact) so we can do songs like All You Need Is Love.
“After the interval it’s the Magical Mystery era and then Abbey Road and the end of The Beatles’ career.”
And it’s a full-time job keeping on top of the shows.
“The research never ends, really,” says White, “There’s always new and better footage coming to light, which we all watch to get all the subtle nuances of their mannerisms.
“We never feel that we’ve got it completely nailed and that keeps it fresh for us. We never become complacent.
“The main problem is picking a great set-list. You have to get a good cross-section to please everyone.”
The recent Ron Howard film ‘Eight Days a Week’ brought us unseen footage of the band when they were touring.
“We saw it in Australia,” White says, “and we thought it was amazing.”
It’s a hard life taking the show around the world, but is very rewarding.
“The tours are very gruelling and the schedules are quite punishing, and we travel the world but never see it, but the connection you have with the audience more than makes up for it.
“We involve the audience as much as we can and when you see the room reacting with people singing and clapping, it’s very rewarding and fulfilling.”
There are a few changes to the show this year to reflect the Sgt Pepper anniversary.
“The first bit (the early Mop Top era) is a bit more compressed so that we can focus more heavily on ‘Pepper’.
“We do the whole album, barring about three or four songs. We’ve put in songs like Fixing A Hole, Lovely Rita and Within You Without You. They are album tracks, but they’re so well known, so iconic.”
Strangely, they have never been tempted to record the show for DVD.
“No, but we have been asked. It’s better to buy the real thing – we’re a live advertisement for the real thing.”
White, a lifelong Beatles’ fan, sums up his role with the sentence.
“The music is just timeless and a great pleasure to play.”
The Bootleg Beatles will be bringing their acclaimed show to Bradfrod Alhambra tonight, Harrogate Royal Hall on Friday December 8 and The Victoria Theatre, Halifax on Tuesday April 17, 2018. http://www.bootlegbeatles.com/