Graham Reid | | 3 min read
Because their music created such a disruption in popular music when they appeared, the Beatles were impossible to ignore.
Almost immediately there were parodies and sniping (the Howard Morrison Quartet's I Want to Cut Your Hair) but also serious artists recognising there was something in what Lennon-McCartney wrote which was worth exploring (Ella Fitzgerald's take on Can't Buy Me Love appeared in '64).
And so it went on: the Boston Pops Orchestra recording a whole album of Beatles songs to George Benson's The Other Side of Abbey Road and Booker T and the MGs' McLemore Avenue (both reinterpretations of the Abbey Road songs); jazz and classical players getting in on the melodies . . .
These days no one thinks twice about an orchestra playing a whole programme of Beatles' songs, because there is plenty of quality material to choose from.
And so last night we had the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra with a six-piece rock Australian band and singers (Rai Thistlethwaite of Thirty Merc, American-born Jack Jones of Southern Sons, Jackson Thomas and current INXS singer Ciaran Gribben) in a huge production.
All You Need is Love was put together by seasoned Australian producers Tim Woods and Phil Bathols who have done a number of such Beatles shows in the past. (Love to see their White Album Concert, wouldn't you?)
Two hours, 30 immediately recognisable songs, lighting and wide-screen sound in the comfort of Auckland's ASB Theatre in the Aotea Centre, A Day in the Life with the full live orchestral orgasm . . .
What's not to like?
Well, given the effort which has gone into it, the fact that the production – which seemed all but a sell-out – was only on for one night.
This was one of those events which, by virtue of the familiarity of the material (many of them classics) and the joyful singalong encore of All You Need is Love and Hey Jude – after a lovely treatment of Lennon's romantic Goodnight which closed The White Album – which sent people home happy and probably talking about it today.
Many songs in the second half of the Beatles' career – from '66 to The End – were of course orchestrated or came with string and/or horn parts, so in that regard there were few surprises in the material chosen.
In fact only Norwegian Wood – given a subtle string part – came from before Revolver.
But what was delivered often came with real sonic punch and of the Beatles' work two things in particular stood out: the vocal range that Paul McCartney commanded and just how extraordinary a drummer Ringo Starr was, because often the eyes and ears went to the band's remarkable Hamish Stuart who was spot on with fills, rolls and embellishments.
After a brief orchestral overture (the French intro to All You Need is Love, Eleanor Rigby with horns taking the melody, Hey Jude and Yesterday) it was straight into Got to Get You Into My life – which lacked some of the Stax-like horn punch of the original but set expectations high.
Later Jack Jones had the unenviable task of delivering Strawberry Fields Forever and Jackson Thomas the Lennon parts in A Day in the Life (the latter not capturing Lennon's world weary tone). And if Jones seemed to miss the mark on McCartney's Martha My Dear (Macca's range and expressiveness there very demanding) and the kitschy Honey Pie seemed an opportunity lost for the orchestra to really swing out, these are minor quibbles.
The sheer power and breadth of the musicianship – from orchestra and band – the obvious vocal strengths of the singers and the enthusiasm of conductor/cheerleader Dominic Harvey brought this home.
Ironically a high point was when the APO sat out for Jones on Lennon's I Want You/She's So Heavy in which he took hard rock liberties with the guitar passages to the delight of the audience.
Yesterday with a full string section, The Long and Winding Road with the whole orchestra reminding you that – despite McCartney's complaints – Phil Spector's arrangement was integral to that song, I Am the Walrus another standout, a driving sequence from the Abbey Road medley, the always delightful and dreamy Across the Universe with the APO . . .
Yes, McCartney's Hello Goodbye is one of the weakest songs he ever wrote but here the orchestration salvaged it.
This was a night when the familiar songs from old records were given fresh and often fairly faithful readings.
Aside from perhaps Martha My Dear, there were few surprises in the selection – just for the sheer daring of it Within You Without You and Helter Skelter might have sounded spectacular with all the firepower on stage – but again, that too is a quibble.
This was a night to celebrate the emotional and musical breadth of the Beatles music – it's a long way from the pastoralism of Fool on the Hill to the minimalist rock of I Want You/She's So Heavy – in the company of people who respected and understood it.
You can't ask for much more from that on a Sunday night out.
It just seems a shame it was a “one night only” event.
Lotta people talking about it today, I imagine.