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Beverley Folk Festival: The Bootleg Beatles

Beverley Racecourse, Beverley
Thursday 18 June 2015

It seemed a little strange arriving at the Beverley Folk Festival on a Thursday afternoon, a day earlier than usual. I normally arrive to the familiar hustle and bustle of campsite activity, tent pegs being driven into the ground, stewards running around trying to be helpful, musicians with instrument cases striding across fields in order to promptly get to their sound check and all manner of other activity. Then there's all the concessions people arriving in their vans and anxious organisers crossing, then re-crossing their fingers for minimal problems, no fatalities and more importantly, no rain.

The historic Racecourse is now pretty much established as the home of the festival, which this year celebrates its 32nd event (the last three have been held at the Racecourse). This afternoon the site was pretty deserted save for a handful of hi-viz jacketed workmen putting the finishing touches to the festival site. Things would begin proper on Friday as usual, but tonight, the priority was to keep the festival site restricted until everything was complete, with access only to the Main Stage marquee for a special supplementary event and a special treat for Beatles fans.

Leila Cooper quite rightly said in her introduction, that we sadly no longer have the opportunity to see The Beatles play live; firstly, the iconic Sixties band gave up playing live back in 1966, with only a brief appearance once again on a London rooftop at the end of the decade. Then we spent the next decade speculating if and when the band would re-form and if so, for how much? Finally with the events of that dreadful night on 8 December 1980, all that speculation ended and the world knew that The Beatles' long and winding road had definitely come to an end.

For those of us who grew up to the sound of the Fab Four, the Bootleg Beatles provide the only real opportunity to hear those songs once again played live, with the possible exception of Paul McCartney growling some of the songs during his own shows (Happy Birthday Macca by the way) and in the case of the Bootlegs, keeping pretty much faithful to the original recordings. When The Beatles played live, you couldn't hear them for two distinct reasons; unsubstantial equipment for the job in hand and the deafening screaming of the fans. The other notable thing is that by the late 1960s, there was no real way to recreate on stage, the sounds that these boys were making in the studio. Today though, with advanced technology, you can do just about anything on stage and I Am the Walrus and Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds are both relatively easy.

The Bootleg Beatles may not be a folk purist's idea of a great opening act for a folk festival but I do. Everyone knows these songs, they are part of our culture, part of our history and the music transcends all barriers. Most importantly, the songs of The Beatles appeal to a wide demographic; a Beatles tribute band of this standard can't really fail to entertain and enthuse an audience eager to be entertained and enthused. Tonight, the audience was already sitting in the palm of their hands before the band even climbed up on stage.

Starting their first of two sets in Brian Epstein-era suits, embodying the characters of John, Paul, George and Ringo, the Mop Tops ploughed through one familiar classic after another including A Hard Day's Night, This Boy, Can't Buy Me Love, I Wanna Be Your Man and Help. Midway through the first set, the band began to control their legendary goofing about and settled down into the Beatles' next phase, the Rubber Soul/Revolver era, with such delights as Day Tripper, Taxman and Paperback Writer, which also included 'Paul' serving up probably the band's most famous song, Yesterday, complete with string duet of cello and violin.

After a short break the band returned to the stage in full Sgt Pepper regalia, complete with different hairdos, moustaches and National Health specs, opening with the theme song from the iconic 1967 LP Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. This segued nicely into With a Little Help From My Friends, featuring drummer Ringo's carefully rehearsed out of tune voice and no guessing to what the next song might be, sung by a seated 'John Lennon' at the piano. For me, they could've gone straight into Getting Better and Fixing a Hole after Lucy, but I guess the band had to move on. The musicians had already increased onstage with the addition of both brass and string sections and there was no song more apt for all this further orchestration than the Summer of Love's anthem All You Need is Love, which had everyone singing along.

Whilst the other three members of the band were offstage getting into their Let It Be/Abbey Road period costumes for the final home run, Beatle George performed a beautifully rendered acoustic version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps, with that all important additional verse that we all discovered much later. The fun continued with songs such as Let It Be, Get Back and the mother of all sing-along refrains, Hey Jude, which provided the Beverley audience with a night to remember. All together now Na Na Na Na Na Na Naaa.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky