Beatlemania returns to Belfast as the Fab Four's kaleidoscopic catalogue comes to life in a joyous re-staging of their Abbey Road exploits
When Beatles fans realized in 1980, after John Lennon died, that they could never again see the Fab Four perform together, it was traumatic. Or as George Harrison drily put it, 'The Beatles won’t get back together while John Lennon remains dead.'
Having been a fan from the age of five when my mother bought me my first EP, She Loves You, I shared the trama. But tonight at the SSE Arena in Belfast, a privileged few thousand of us have the chance to enjoy the next best thing. Namely Geoff Emerick’s evocation of the famous Abbey Road sessions from the early sixties sessions to the last note in 1969 in a Stufish set replicating the famous London recording studio.
The Sessions is part-gig, part-dramatization of real events and gags – including Paul McCartney prefacing 'Helter Skelter' with 'Pete Townshend, eat your heart out' – and of course, the most sublime pop music ever written.
We see two incarnations of each Beatle – apart from Ringo, whose single drum solo outing we hear in the closing Abbey Road album medley. Although some of us sing ourselves hoarse, this is no tribute act performing karaoke renditions. This is something more substantial.
Serving as onstage narrator is George Martin, the recording manager oft-dubbed the 'Fifth Beatle', who died only last month and is credited with co-creating the group's sound.
The studio is suggested by a giant cube onstage. Sometimes we witness the boys, plus a handy collection of classical musicians, unobstructed, sometimes behind a diaphanous fourth wall onto which facts, quotes and period images are projected.
It makes for a genuinely spectacular audio-visual experience. How could you fail when the Lennon-McCartney catalogue was, and is, so superb? The hits just keep on coming and from 'Please, Please Me' onwards, a high percentage chart number ones.
What impresses the most is the almost infinite variety of musical styles showcased, not to mention the equally immeasurable range of takes on the perennial subject under discussion; love.
The up-to-date technology lends the early material in particular a freshness that would suggest it was written and recorded yesterday. In 'Nowhere Man', for example, the vocals are cleverly separated to demonstrate what a great close harmony group The Beatles were.
We also get the serious stuff, i.e. the musical evolution. As the sixties put on Carnaby Street gear and becomes truly psychedelic, man, the shift is reflected in the monochrome staging which floods with vivid colour. One day amidst it George buys a sitar in Oxford Street and performs the riff for 'Norwegian Wood'.
The Sgt. Pepper section is thrillingly played as if at a live concert, climaxing in 'A Day in the Life'. And although the Beatles' sound was unique, here and there you catch echoes of other people. Dylan, say, in 'You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away' – as the great man said to them once, 'I get it, you don’t want to be cute anymore'.
The George Martin figure subtly cedes the stage and creative control to the band to cleverly illustrate the metamorphasis from moptops to mature artists.
In production terms, it is outstanding with 'Yellow Submarine' producing a sort of hokey cokey at the end of part one and The Egg Man delivering an almost Alice in Wonderland image, taken from the Magical Mystery Tour film, with actors chugging around in a white sheet to 'I Am The Walrus'.
Director Kim Gavin does a great job. Fifty-four years on, the Fab Four’s sound still gets you boogying. It’s uplifting in the truest sense and the audience is on its feet for a glorious encore, 'Hey, Jude'. It's maybe the nearest thing we have to the sound of human happiness.
The Sessions continues its tour of arenas across Europe all this month and next. For more information visit www.thesessionslive.com. For upcoming events at the SSE Arena, Belfast go to www.ssearenabelfast.com.