4 lads from Liverpool pay tribute as the Mersey Beatles
Four lads from Liverpool, England, get together to play music.
They spend a decade as the resident band at the world-famous Cavern Club in their hometown.
It sounds like the beginning of a familiar story — only this Fab Four is not The Beatles, it’s the Mersey Beatles.
Billed as the world’s only Liverpool-born and based Beatles tribute band, the group will hit Oakmont on May 9 for a show in The Oaks Theater.
On its current U.S. tour, the group plays the entire “Abbey Road” album, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its release. The show also includes a set of greatest hits, from “Love Me Do” to “Let It Be.”
‘This isn’t working’
The foursome didn’t start out intending to be a tribute band, says bassist Steve Howard who portrays (obviously) Paul McCartney.
Howard, guitarist/vocalist Mark Bloor (John) and drummer Brian Ambrose (Ringo) formed a band while they were school mates in Liverpool.
“When we left school (in 1987), we tried for 10 years to do original songs, but we didn’t get signed,” Howard says. “By our mid-20s, we had to say, ‘This isn’t working out for us.’”
Still, they didn’t want to give up on music.
As fans of the original Beatles, they decided to try their luck as a tribute band.
Howard’s cousin Dave Howard was the original George, but he tired of life on the road and left the group. He was replaced by the current George, Craig McGown.
McGown had a reputation as “the best George around,” Howard says, and fortunately for the Mersey Beatles, the band he was in at the time was breaking up.
They also added Tony Cook on keyboards, in order to perform songs from the later Beatle years which require orchestration.
The Mersey mystique
The name Mersey Beatles has several layers of meaning.
There’s a River Mersey in the north of England that flows into Liverpool Bay. (The song, “Ferry Cross the Mersey,” was released in 1964 by another Liverpool-based group, Gerry and the Pacemakers.)
Merseybeat and Mersey Sound were names used to describe the style of music with a strong back beat played by bands emerging from Liverpool in the early ’60s.
Mersey Beat was a Liverpool music publication founded in the early ’60s by Bill Harry, a classmate of John Lennon at Liverpool Art College. The paper carried news about local bands and visiting performers.
Since 1999, the Mersey Beatles have toured in more than 20 countries. They are the official Beatles tribute band representing the City of Liverpool.
From 2002 to 2012, they also were the resident tribute band at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, a repurposed cellar where the original Beatles performed almost 300 times from 1961 to 1963.
According to Julia Baird, who is John Lennon’s half-sister and director of the club, “There are a lot of Beatles tribute bands from all over the world, and I’ve seen them all, but the Mersey Beatles are the most authentic I have heard.”
Quirk of fate
Band members are blessed with looks and personality traits suited to their roles, Howard says, and of course they have the accent down pat. But they’ve also worked hard to achieve the authenticity that Baird praises.
“By quirk of fate, we have similar personalities to the characters we play,” he says. “As Paul, I’m the thumbs-up, positive kind of guy.”
Their shows include costume changes coinciding with the songs being played. At the Oaks, Howard says, each band member will wear clothing resembling what their respective Beatle wore on the cover of “Abbey Road” for that set.
They also use Beatles’ replica Hofner, Rickenbacker and Gretsch guitars, Ludwig drums and Vox amplifiers.
From Europe to the U.S. and Australia to Malaysia, Howard says, the Mersey Beatles attract fans of “all ages, all walks of life, though probably the majority are the Baby Boomers.”
To him, the music is timeless.
“The Beatle’s music still has the same effect that it had the first time you heard it,” he says. “When kids hear it today, the impact is no less than it was back then. It tucks into something deep within us.”
Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter .