With the Beatles back in the charts and The Beatles: Rock Band revolutionising how the ‘youf’ of today hear their music, DIY thought it was time to put the spotlight on all things ‘Beatle’ and decided to sit down with the next best thing to Paul ‘Macca’ McCartney and Ringo ‘Peace and Love’ Starr: ‘George Harrison’ aka Rick Alan from The Cavern Beatles, Liverpool’s own tribute band to the Fab Four.
Hey up ‘George’ from The Cavern Beatles! Thanks for agreeing to talk to us. There are many Beatles tribute bands in the world, so how are The Cavern Beatles particularly special?
Yes, there are dozens of Beatle tribute bands dotted around the globe! Some are really excellent, and some are so rubbish that they almost insult the musical legacy The Beatles have left us with. I don’t think that anyone will ever get the whole package completely right, as The Beatles were unique.
Music is an international language, so in theory, it’s possible for anyone to replicate the sounds The Beatles produced. I saw a really good Japanese band a couple of weeks ago who were musically ‘spot on’. Unfortunately, through no fault of their own, they could not make the vocals sound right, although they made a bloody good attempt at it.
The Cavern Beatles were brought up in Liverpool and so by default, the voices sound less contrived than even those bands that I personally really respect. The way people speak has always fascinated me. It’s funny how an American, say, can recognise a “British” accent, but someone from Britain can recognise different town’s accents. Likewise, it’s possible to recognise different areas of that town, if that’s where you come from. I can tell this in the Beatle’s accents.
What can we expect from your live show? Which albums do you cover?
It is a completely live show - no tapes, no sequencers – nothing. Everything is produced by the four musicians on stage. If we can’t make a song sound right to us, then we don’t do it. This means that there is some fantastic music that we have to leave out, but that’s economics for you. With ‘Sgt. Pepper’, The Beatles themselves wanted to record an album that they would not be able to perform live as a four piece. Although, these days with modern technology, it is possible to make a fair stab at some of the tunes.
The set we play changes from time to time, but we try to include material from most, if not all of the albums. With such a wealth of songs though, someone is bound to be disappointed that we haven’t played their favourite.
You play George. He was probably only the third best songwriter in the band, but he was a superb musician and lyricist in his own right, and some of my favourite Beatle songs are ‘Harrison’ compositions. What is your favourite ‘George’ song from the Beatles era, and why?
Yeah… the bloke who wrote Something, Here Comes The Sun and While My Guitar Gently Weeps, was the third best songwriter in a group!… That says it all really. George was clearly stifled as a composer through the Fab years. Probably due to the fact that he started writing later than John and Paul, and also because the competition from them was so incredibly stiff. That said, he gained terrific momentum from ’65 on. For me, his solo output after the break up was the most satisfying of them all.
I hate “favourites” a la “High Fidelity”, but I love ‘It’s All Too Much’, because there is so much going on and the melody is fantastic. I also love the frankness of ‘Only A Northern Song’ and ‘Not Guilty’, the latter of which was dropped from ‘The White Album’, to re-appear on the George Harrison LP.
And of course, on ‘Anthology 3’. I have a soft spot for ‘The Inner Light’ [‘Harrison’ B-side, from Past Masters: Volume II] – I find it really calming and meditative, in contrast to the charge of ‘All Too Much’, which I also love. The man made some intriguing musical choices. What have you found particularly fascinating about stepping into his shadow?
I don’t consider that I am in anyway stepping into George’s shadow, but I do like to try and play his guitar parts as accurately as I can. There is a lot to remember, and I find it all a real challenge, which I suppose is fascinating in itself. There!… I answered the question without knowing it.
What’s the best thing about being in a tribute band?
Definitely travelling, and seeing new places and people. Although hours and hours on the road can be a real drag sometimes, it’s worth it. It’s also a rewarding experience to see the joy that the music brings to a live audience. Of course, I don’t expect that the feeling is anything like as gratifying as getting that kind of reaction from your own songs, but you have to know your limitations dontcha?
If you were given the chance to spend a day as George (via a time capsule), which moment of his life or Beatles history would you have liked to be zapped back for?
Probably, the first US visit in February 1964. Being 20 years old and about to become one of the most famous faces in America, must have been so exciting. To be part of a group that had taken most of their musical influence from such a huge country, give it a twist, and then throw it back to influence the next generation of musicians… that will just never happen again.
Have you ever met a Beatle?
Yes, I met Paul at The Liverpool Empire in 2002. Roy, the Cavern Beatles drummer and I, have a George Harrison show, which we occasionally perform. We were asked to perform four songs at “A Concert For George”, which took place in the February before the one at The Royal Albert Hall. Paul watched our set from the wings and later I was introduced to him. I don’t think I’ve ever been more uncomfortable in my life, as I turned into a vegetable.
In my opinion, no band in popular music history can come close to what the Beatles managed to accomplish in 63-69. It just doesn’t seem possible to release a back-catalogue that perfect in one creative burst, as well as establishing an enduring iconography through fashion, artwork, photographs and film. What blows your mind the most about the Fabs?
We share the same opinion; you said it all in two sentences. You watch them come down that staircase at the end of Magical Mystery Tour and think how outrageous it is that only three years earlier they were on their first major US tour. Most bands would be content to have released just any one of their albums, let alone a string of classics.
I have a couple of friends who say they don’t dig The Beatles, while my other pals say, “That’s impossible!” Some people that don’t like them though may have only heard the ‘Moptop’ stuff on the radio. What do you think is the real test of being a fan of The Beatles? If you were introducing their music to someone new, like your children, where would you start?
I’ve also heard people say that they don’t like The Beatles… but they’re not really in my gang. The musical output is so eclectic that it doesn’t seem possible that anyone who likes music would not find at least one song of theirs that floated their boat. I don’t really know what constitutes being a “fan”, but I’m sure it’s not having a huge collection of all the different versions of the vinyl albums and a mountain of memorabilia. Everyone’s different, but I guess a fan would have all the officially released albums because they’d need to have the comparison between the vastly different works.
My son has grown up with the music, kind of obviously, but it is only really the last couple of years where he has developed a full appreciation of it. Together, we have gone through everything I’ve had for years and he can’t get enough of it. I think The Anthology pretty much sums up the whole story and imparts something of the musical and cultural impact the Fabs had. As a live performance, ‘Till There Was You’ from the Royal Command Performance is hard to top, but then Lennon lets go with ‘Twist & Shout’ and you’re back to square one with wondering where to start.
A new generation of fans will come with the release of “ The Beatles: Rock Band”- will you be buying it?
I have no interest in video games and have no platform on which to play this game. Critics say that this is another nail in the coffin of getting kids to actually pick up real musical instruments as they can become more proficient at this type of thing without putting in all the hard work. I think they have a point. Of course I’ll buy it!
Finally, what should I wear next week when I come to see The Cavern Beatles play live?
A t-shirt with “I Love George” on.
For more information and tourdates for The Cavern Beatles, see cavernbeatles.com.