Liverpool-Based Beatles Tribute Act and John Lennon's Sister Coming to the Kent Stage

click to enlarge Liverpool-Based Beatles Tribute Act and John Lennon's Sister Coming to the Kent Stage
Courtesy of Anne Stansel
Billed as the world's only all-Liverpool born Beatles tribute band and the former decade-long resident tribute band at the Cavern Club, the Liverpool nightclub where the Beatles perfected their act in the ’60s, the Mersey Beatles bring their tribute to the Fab Four to the Kent Stage on Saturday, Oct. 21.

Julia Baird, John Lennon's sister and the director of the Cavern Club, will also be on hand for the event, which includes a performance of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in its entirety. Baird has just published Imagine This: Growing Up with My Brother John Lennon, a book that attempts to "set the record straight" on her mother, Julia Lennon. In a recent conference call, the two spoke about the tour.

What do you like best about living in Liverpool?
The city is really on the up these days. We went through an economic downtown in the ‘80s, but it’s really thriving now. It’s a beautiful place to live and so inspiring. The architecture, the people. It’s an incredible place to live.
Baird: It’s an incredibly cultured city. It’s not just music. It has eight museums. You can do everything. There is theater, jazz, opera, plays.

What made it the right place for a band like the Beatles to thrive?
It was post-War. We had a big ship building yard. After the war, there was years and years of no money in the whole country. London got all the money. That’s the way it goes. When we got culture money from Europe, it funded refurbishment of the city. It’s the place it should be now. The boys grew up in the poverty-stricken post-War era when everything was a struggle. Everyone fought hard for everything they wanted to do. They had that war-time commitment about them.
Howard: Being a port, we were the first city in England to get those records. They would bring home the rock ’n’ roll records. We got them before anyone else. They were inspired before anyone else in England and that’s how the Merseybeat scene developed.

Talk about the Beatles’ legacy. Why has the music endured?
I think it’s because the Beatles kept moving forward themselves. First, they did rock n roll and then they did more complex concepts. Each album represents a giant leap forward. It will never sound old. It’s like orchestral music. With the Beatles, their voices are timeless and you can hear those accents. I just think it’s timeless.
Baird: Well, the music is going to become like the Beethoven of yesterday, not that Beethoven will go anywhere. Beethoven will stay forever and forever but the Beatles have taken up that mantle. They’ve become classic songs. I have seen in the streets of Liverpool a granny and her daughter and her daughter dancing around to the Beatles at a big music festival and all of them sang the lyrics, even the 8-year-old. The youngsters are picking it up. It might be downloaded or streamed or whatever they do now, but it’s still the Beatles.

The Cavern Club is a special place. What’s it been like to keep its legacy alive?
It’s the best club in the whole wide world. That’s a pretty good start.
Howard: For me, it’s been a thrill to play there. We first played there in 2002 and then became residents. It has locals and tourists. The audience is different every single time we play. It still retains the magic. The street outside is vibrant with music and culture. It’s a lot like Beale Street in the States.
Baird: It’s a magnet. The Cavern Club has live music every day from midway until midnight. Only one day does it close, and that’s Christmas day.

This tour you’re on commemorates the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club. Talk about the celebration that took place in Liverpool to mark the anniversary and what role you played in that.
For a lot of the celebration, we found out about it second hand. We were on tour for most of it. We played the album in its entirety. We saw most of it from afar but we still picked up the vibes.
Baird: I was in Liverpool for the celebration and the Cavern was a focal point. During Beatle week, we concentrated on Sgt. Pepper. Every room you went into and everywhere you went into and every stage you approached, there was something to do with Sgt. Pepper’s. It was rather immersive and everybody loved it. It won’t be so intense next year. It’s not my own favorite album. I’d rather have Rubber Soul and Revolver. I think they’re more innovative.
Howard: I love The White Album. I think Sgt. Pepper is a bridge from the mop top Beatles to doing something as crazy as The White Album. But it does stand alone. There’s no other album quite like it in the canon.

Julia, can you talk about what it was like to write Imagine This: Growing Up with My Brother John Lennon?
 It was a cathartic experience. I wrote it to correct those stories that have gone wildly wrong in the years since John has died. I had a different story about and I thought if I didn’t write it, no one else will. In the future, people will still want to read about them. I hope that when they go to the British library and see one million books about John Lennon, maybe they’ll read the one written by his sister.

What does the Beatles music mean to you?
Their music means the world to me. When I was a kid and first became aware of the Beatles, it was a pride thing to learn that they came from the same city. Then, as I got older, to see they were so cool and the music was so interesting, I became hooked.
Baird: The family couldn’t not be more proud of John [Lennon].

What do you hope people get out of attending the event that’s coming to the Kent Stage?
We just did a television thing this morning. It was early. We were tired. The minute the boys in the Mersey Beatles started singing, everyone started smiling and grinning from ear to ear. The TV staff all come in and they’re cheering it’s what it does. At the concert halls, people are smiling and happy the whole time. People come away happy.
Howard: [Sgt. Pepper's] is so familiar. Sometimes, it sounds bright and sometimes downbeat, but when you hear it live, it brings it back to live. There’s something about hearing it live. The 20 hits in the second half of the show should have them on their feet.
Baird: It usually does.

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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