Golden Beatles’ anniversaries have arrived helter skelter over the past decade.
But now we’re reaching the end – and yet another chance to take stock of the legacy of four local lads from down the road in South Liverpool.
Two years after they came together for Sgt Pepper, the Bootleg Beatles and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic have reunited for an even more ambitious project, And in the End, which draws together not one but two albums, augmented with new orchestrations.
Composer and arranger Ian Stephens’ brief was to create a ‘supercharged scaffolding’ for tracks from Abbey Road – 50 years old this week – and Let It Be. And he’s certainly achieved that.
Band and orchestra together pack a supremely powerful punch – at times an almost overwhelming wall of sound, exemplified by Stephens’ audaciously intense orchestration for Lennon’s primal I Want You (She’s So Heavy) which together with the Bootleg Beatles' grinding guitars and hefty vocals fairly crushes the breath from its listeners.
Incidentally, listen carefully and in among the weighty notes of She's So Heavy there’s also a lighter, brighter 60s vibe among the violins; a little bit suave Saint, a touch of Man From UNCLE.
The keen eared will pick up a myriad of similarly stylish musical moments – the violins gliding up beneath the vocal of Come Together; woodwind chiming in with the guitar solo of George Harrison’s (Stephen Hill) exquisite Something; the punctuation of strings and brass in Polythene Pam, and a fantastic brass line accompanying the guitar mid-Let It Be.
Alternatively, you can just sit back and enjoy the overall experience of a finely calibrated Beatle sound created by the best tribute act in the business, mixed with the sonic impact of a full symphony orchestra.
This being the opening concert of the tour there are, inevitably, bits that need balancing.
At times it felt like a bit of a Beatle bludgeoning, a fortissimo frenzy – albeit one punctuated by the occasional delicate moment (the glorious vocal harmonies created by the Bootlegs in Because and The Sun King, a gentle acoustic version of Across the Universe with Tyson Kelly’s Lennon buoyed by temperate accompaniment and piping backing vocals woodwind).
Neil Innes. All photos by Mark McNulty
The two-and-a-half hours also reveals plenty of unexpected treats, not least Stephens’ jauntily evocative 1969 Overture with its snippets of Liver Birds, The Italian Job and Monty Python, and an Intro Outro that offers a nod to The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band’s 1967 comic monologue while introducing the orchestra – sans Adolf Hitler on vibes and Roy Rogers on Trigger.
Bonzo Neil Innes takes on presenter duties (a role filled by Roger McGough two years ago) and proves a warm and engaging host, although his 15-minute introduction ahead of the main event could do with a trim.
Innes dons his Ron Nasty Rutles hat to take centre stage in the second half for a medley of Prefab Four hits including Doubleback Alley and Cheese and Onions which sound marvellously and unexpectedly rich with orchestral accompaniment.
And in the End..... Photo by Mark McNulty
It’s an enjoyable diversion, but in the end And in the End is about The Beatles and their final hurrah as a foursome who changed the face of popular music for all time.
And thumpingly good crowd-pleasers like Let It Be and Hey Jude (or Hey Dude if you’re Ed Sheeran) aside, it’s fitting that the final sentiment should be McCartney’s exhortation that “in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make”.
Wise words we could all do with embracing right now.