Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t touch a tribute band with a barge pole. There’s obviously money in it for the best ones and fair play to them for that but it’s not my cup of tea. I’d been asked several times in the last 12 months if I wanted to see a couple of Smiths tribute bands. As a long-time fan of The Smiths I felt to see the imposters would be unfaithful to the originals and to the memory of the twelve gigs I witnessed by them in the mid 1980s. I couldn’t bring myself to sully the memory of the most consistent and powerful live band I’d ever seen.
Good friend John Murray – the man I called “Mr Radio” – had won a pair of tickets in a competition to see The Bootleg Beatles at Dunfermline’s Alhambra Theatre and asked me if I fancied going along. Why not, I thought. I parked just along from the venue, returning to the scene of my first feature film (I parked where the catering truck had been) and took the short walk to meet John. I imagined the crowd would be made up of couples of a ‘certain age’ and being a Friday they’d make ‘a night of it’. I wasn’t wrong. There were a handful of younger people there – some well past their bedtime – but I imagined that 45 would be the average age. John and I would fit in nicely.
As you’ll know from my review of the Morrissey gig I wasn’t exactly enamoured by some aspects of the gig-going experience at the Alhambra. The overzealous airport-style security had been a baw hair away from a full cavity search. You won’t find a pound of Puddledub’s finest Pork and Apple up there young man! Thankfully, all that had gone and we were treated like grown-ups. I did irk me somewhat at the inconsistency. Why have an army of security for one gig and nothing for another? To me, it’s treating fans of Morrissey, and other indie/rock acts, like second class citizens. If the point of it was to stop the recording (and photographing) of aspects of the Morrissey gig then evidence on YouTube suggests that they failed in their duty. If, as suggested elsewhere in the media, they were looking for meat products then that’s just ridiculous. I feel a letter coming on.
Back to The Bootleg Beatles. John, who had interviewed “George” (Andre Barreau) previously, informed me the band had a new “John” (Adam Hastings) and this was only his second gig. The previous incumbent of the role had done it for a mere 31 years!
With a catalogue of over 300 songs to choose from the band played many of the biggest hits and you barely noticed the ones they didn’t play. They even threw in some of the rarely heard tracks – You Can’t Do That and This Boy – which fitted in seamlessly.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the gig but I couldn’t help but be reminded of an Edinburgh band I worshipped from the late 1980s. The Spooks did a similar show, attired in Beatle wigs, Chanel suits and Chelsea boots in the first half, with a more psychedelic garb in the second half. The only difference was that The Spooks wrote their own songs. I do like The Beatles but for me there was something missing. It felt like a sing-a-longa Beatles, albeit with a live and very tight band. Maybe that is what it’s supposed to be.
But what do I know? The almost-capacity crowd lapped it up and it wasn’t long before the patrons were out of their seats (these had removed for those sausage-smuggling ruffians at the Morrissey gig). Even from my lofty perch in the Upper Circle I could see the “Slosh Pit” at the front filling up with all manner of gin-soaked, bingo winged women. They were having a ball and by the end many of them were taking pictures of each other with the band in the background. The security, such as it was, seemed powerless and let them all get on with it.
The songs were interspersed with that wacky Scouse humour we all know and, er, love. There were also slide shows, some non-Beatles songs and 60s imagery in the background to help set the mood. The band was ably assisted by a brass triumvirate, including the multi-talented Annette Brown, who seemed to play everything. The “string duet” section was introduced. They would’ve been a string quartet but for “the cuts”, “George” told us. The cellist Robert Woollard even had a fire extinguisher solo during “Penny Lane”.
If you like The Beatles and weren’t around to see them live then you can’t do worse than see a band that is regarded by many as the best Beatles tribute act. I can’t disagree.
Set 1: I Want To Hold Your Hand, All My Loving, From Me To You, I Feel Fine, Roll Over Beethoven, She Loves You, This Boy, A Hard Day’s Night, You Can’t Do That, Can’t Buy Me Love, Yesterday, Help, Taxman, Day Tripper, Paperback Writer
Set 2: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band/With a Little Help From My Friends, Strawberry Fields, Penny Lane, I Am The Eggman, Hello Goodbye, Hey Bulldog, All You Need Is Love, Blackbird, Come Together, Get Back, Here Comes The Sun, Revolution, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Lady Madonna, Hey Jude. Encore: Twist and Shout.
The band return to Scotland in December for shows at Usher Hall, Edinburgh (Sunday 11th) and Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow (Tuesday 13th and Wednesday 14th), which will no doubt feature Christmas Time (Is Here Again).