In January 1963 I was lucky enough to see The Beatles at the Finsbury Park Astoria in their Christmas show. And see them is what I did as a combination of two thousand or so screaming pre-pubescent girls and the tiny amps they used in those days meant I couldn’t hear a thing! I was a big fan of the band buying all their records the day they came out and seeing their three films “Help”, “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Yellow Submarine” within days of their release at the London Pavilion in Piccadilly. I followed their progress religiously and was heartbroken the sad day that John Lennon (my favourite Beatle) was so brutally murdered.
So, because I loved them and their music so much, I always avoided seeing any tribute bands or any of the theatrical shows about them – until last night. There are two reasons for the change of heart: I was asked to review the show (obviously) All You Need Is Love and I wanted to visit the Phoenix Concert Hall which is part of the newly refurbished (at a cost of over £40 million) Fairfield Halls in Croydon, a venue I first visited to see bands back in the seventies.
Another plus factor was that it wasn’t going to be just four men in mop top wigs pretending to be the band, but they were being backed by the fifteen-piece National Philharmonic Concert Orchestra which piqued my interest.
The orchestra came out first and played an orchestral arrangement of “In My Life” before “The Beatles” made their entrance and launched into “All You Need Is Love” accompanied by the orchestra. Paul Canning as “John” was dressed in a white suit and from certain angles looked spookily like a doppelganger of the man himself. “Paul”, played by Simon Blight, although lacking a few inches, looked and sounded just like Macca. However apart from his wig, Paul Mannion as “George” looked and sounded nothing like his counterpart although his guitar and sitar playing was excellent. As for “Ringo” (Luke Roberts) he was at the back in the dark so who knows but when he sang his solos on songs such as “Yellow Submarine” he did sound like the drummer.
After playing fourteen songs including “Penny Lane”, “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yesterday” the half ended with “I Am The Walrus” and they left the stage for the interval.
In the second half, the stage was festooned with flowers and the boys returned dressed in pseudo Sgt Pepper costumes, beginning the set with the title track from the band’s most famous album and at one stage it seemed they were going to play the whole album straight through but after just three songs, they played “Hello Goodbye” (which isn’t on the album) before doing the last two songs from it, “Sgt Pepper (Reprise) and “A Day In The Life”. They then left the stage again whilst the orchestra played an excellent version of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”.
On their return, a caption on the screen at the back said that after Brian Epstein died, they were shattered and took themselves off to Rishikesh in India to study at the feet of the Maharishi. This led to a section where in white clothes wearing flower garlands, they sat on the floor and on stools and played a set of more acoustic songs such as “Across The Universe”, “Blackbird” and “Norwegian Wood” although the mood was shattered by a sing-along version of “Ob-la-di Ob-la-da” – not one of the band’s finest!
After an acoustic solo version from “George” of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, the other three returned for the finale. Here they played a cut down version of the medley at the end of the “Abbey Road” album (timely as this month marks the 50th anniversary of its release) before three sing-along songs that got the sparse Croydon audience on its feet, “Yellow Submarine”, “Imagine”, “Hey Jude” and the ultimate crowd pleasing, get ‘em on their feet singing, “Let It Be” before “The Beatles” left the building.
So, what were this cynic’s thoughts on the evening? The thing I enjoyed the most was the fact that they only played songs that originally had added instrumentation such as strings, brass, saxophones etc. so we didn’t get the early hits with an orchestral backing. I thought Paul Cannon as “John” was excellent mimicking his stance, movements, voice and acerbic wit perfectly (he made a pithy comment about the number of tickets sold). “Paul” also sounded and looked like he should with lots of friendly bonhomie even playing bass left-handed like McCartney (although at the end he played guitar right-handed). As for “George”, I’m afraid Mannion seemed to make no attempt at his character and in that regard was a bit of a disappointment. As for Roberts as “Ringo”, he was at the back in the dark.
What disappointed and surprised me was some of the video that illustrated the songs was a little odd – an American farmhouse during “Eleanor Rigby” and film of war planes during the plead for peace song that is “Imagine”. Oh, and they need to get another photo of the inside of Abbey Road – one used numerous times doesn’t cut it!
All in all, it’s a very professional show as it should be as the four members of the band cut their teeth in the long running “Let It Be” which ran both in the West End and on tour. The orchestra were excellent, and the lighting and staging were exemplary. The Croydon audience enjoyed themselves and certainly got value for money as the show runs for two and a half hours (including the interval), singing, dancing and clapping along which I guess is what a show like this is all about. Would I go and see another tribute band play – well what do you think?
Review by Alan Fitter
A concert spectacular celebrating the music and immeasurable talents, of The Beatles performed by Paul Canning, Emanuel Angeletti, John Brosnan and Luke Roberts with The National Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.
All You Need is Love celebrates the incredible catalogue of songs from the best-selling and most influential band ever. This is the fab four like you’ve never heard them before – over 40 of their greatest hits taking you back to the heyday of Beatlemania.
Saturday 28th September, 2019
Phoenix Concert Hall, Fairfield Halls, Croydon