The Bootleg Beatles. Colston Hall, Bristol.
Sort of explains itself, main hall of my beloved and most visited venue of this year.
I can’t usually get out to Tuesday night gigs, so when the unexpected opportunity came up to go out tonight, I went searching for a gig. I found this one, with only one seat left in the back corner of the stalls. It was meant to be I thought and purchased the ticket. I’ve never seen a tribute band before. The Spiceish Girls doesn’t count. I saw them by mistake. I was drunk. And if you are gonna see a tribute band, you might as well start with the best. The Beatles were one of the greatest bands of all time. They changed the face of rock n roll with seminal album after seminal album.
This would be my last gig of 2017 and I wanted to see it out in style. The best band, the alleged best tribute band, the last gig of the year. Would expectations be too high, or exceeded?
I couldn’t help myself, I was excited about this gig. It was an impulse purchase at the last minute and it felt a bit wild and decadent to be heading out, near Christmas, on my own. The atmosphere in the Hall was already bristling, the crowd full of young and old alike, many clearly multi generational trips were being taken to this gig. The seats next to me were filled by two young Beatles fans, early 20’s at most, and their energy was fantastic. Being right at the back of the stalls meant I could see over the rest of the audience and feed off their excitement too.
There was no support and the fake Fab Four came on promptly at 7.30pm for a whistle-stop tour of the early years. They put on a damn good show, video and light shows building the picture of the era. They began, at the beginning, all mop top and I Wanna Hold Your Hand and it was ace. Then we were in Shea Stadium for a few numbers before, amazingly, ending up in St Peppers. The costumes were spot on, and the addition of the strings and brass section added to the visceral thrill of hearing music played live, knowing the original artists had never toured this particular record. A Day In The Life is such a perfect song that it feels impossible to follow. Smartly they didn’t, as this was were we broke for the interval. St Peppers did show the flaws, it probably is impossible to actually play fully live and make it sound exactly like the record. Its far too complex and multi layered, but this was a damn fine attempt.
For all the jokes about Ringo being a shite drummer, he shone tonight, a drummers job, with the bassist, is to hold the thing together, and he did that so well. It might not be the most complex or showy drumming, but it sits there, keeping time and allowing the others to show off. Which they did. John, possibly the weakest fake Beatle (although how you would capture Lennon’s charisma and legend now I don’t really know), Paul nailed the chirpy everybloke personality perfectly and George, who despite looking more like Dave Grohl, was probably the closest to the real thing of the four. They peppered the chat with a mixture of actual Beatles one liners and more modern references, tongue firmly in cheek throughout.
Some numbers had the oldies up and dancing, jiving and twisting for all they were worth. With their Grandkids too! That was joyous to see. And also sad, for Twist & Shout bought back memories of my Mum teaching me to dance when I was a kid “pretend you are stubbing a fag out with your foot, Ems” was her twist lesson. It made me think about how much she would have loved this gig. How she would have been up and dancing, with a huge smile on her face, how we used to love to dance together. How I wish she was still here, with me, and able to enjoy an experience like this together. Grief is such a tricksy, mercurial bastard like that. You can be having a wonderful time, and then get broadsworded by tears. Even years after the death.
That is also the amazing thing about music. How it just unlocks emotions when you least expect. I could see a young man a few rows in front being comforted during Penny Lane, his Dad rubbing his back as he heaved sobs.
After the interval we got the later years, which I hadn’t realised to be my favourite era Beatles, but clearly is. Get Back was fucking incredible. I was grooving like a good un to that. It was amazing. I found the Ballard of John & Yoko to be really poignant, the line “gonna crucify me” given Lennon’s assignation struck me. Here Comes The Sun was so beautiful, and if you can’t smile while singing Hey Jude in a room full of people then you have no soul. The encore was “a cover of that Elbow song that’s on the John Lewis ad” and it was stunning. I was in tears. I’ve never had a reaction like that to the Beatles records, you have to hear music live for it to really connect. And with a band long since defunct and only half alive, that’s not usually possible. It becomes so with a Tribute Band, especially one like this, so faithful to both the music and the spirit of the original.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into the world of tribute bands, the Bootleg Beatles can certainly play, and there was an honesty to what they were doing that I liked. It wasn’t the Beatles, but no-one ever could be. It was enjoyable and emotional, everything I want in a gig.
At the start of 2017 I did not think I would have gone to so many gigs. 51. 51. That is utter madness. Sheer recklessness. It has proved the making of me in so many ways, though.
Thank you Bootleg Beatles, I loved tonight. Gig 40+11. I still can’t believe that I have done this. It has been the most amazing and incredible musical adventure. It has been so full of love. All You Need Is Love after all.