There are tribute acts, and then there are The Bootleg Beatles.
Widely hailed as the greatest tribute act to the world’s greatest band, The Bootleg Beatles have played over 5,000 shows worldwide across a 35 year period. To put that into perspective, the real Beatles were only together for 10 years.
“First and foremost, what’s kept us together as a band is our love of The Beatles,” says Steve White, the group’s ersatz Paul McCartney (and yes, he does sound a little bit like Paul, even when he’s not in character). “That’s kept us together as a unit, you know, and we try to do them as much justice and credit as we possibly can, and that’s what keeps audiences coming to see the show. You know, the audiences never seem to tire of watching the show, and we never seem to tire of producing it. I think that’s what it is, for all concerned — it’s that fascination with The Beatles.”
While most tribute acts and covers bands might aspire to book a regular gig at their local pub, The Bootleg Beatles are operating on a much, much grander scale. The likes of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Elton John and Rod Stewart have taken in the show, and they even performed at Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee celebration at Buckingham Palace.
“It’s absolutely magical when you get to do something on that scale,” Steve says. “We couldn’t believe it — we’re dressing up in wigs and stuff, and then you get an opportunity like that. You just have to pinch yourself sometimes. It’s really, really weird, but at the same time, it’s absolutely amazing. It’s the sort of experience you can think about and talk about forevermore. It’s wonderful.”
In 1995, noted Beatles fans Noel and Liam Gallagher asked The Bootleg Beatles to be the support act for Oasis’ enormous Earl’s Court Concerts. At one point, the two bands shared the stage to perform I Am The Walrus.
“Those guys were nuts,” Steve laughs. “I think that was the turning point for us, the Earl’s Court show. At that point, we had our own little fanbase, but we’d never been taken seriously. The Earl’s Court show elevated us to anover level. We almost became cool! It was great!”
Steve, a lifelong Beatles fan, puts the band’s enduring popularity down to their ceaseless evolution.
“I think when you look at bands like The Searchers, who were very popular in the early ’60s but didn’t endure like The Beatles did, it’s because they didn’t really evolve. They stayed in that genre and their appearance and their music never strayed too far, and that made them stale. But the big thing with The Beatles is that they evolved as human beings. Their creativity evolved, and their appearance changed. They were constantly reinventing themselves. That was the massive draw, I think, because you never knew what was going to come next. They were always at the forefront, pushing the boundaries all the time. Whether it was fashion or music or whatever, they were always at the forefront.”
There’s no obvious equivalent to The Beatles in today’s music scene, although young One Direction fans are probably just as obsessed as young Beatlemaniacs were in the early ’60s.
“On a popularity scale, it’s probably close,” Steve concedes. “They appeal to the younger female members of the audience, the teenagers and the like. Inititally, when The Beatles broke out, that’s who they were geared at, too. But I don’t think many of them are musicians, in the sense of actually playing instruments. I think it’s probably hard to compare them.
“I mean, there are some wonderful bands kicking around, but it’s about whether they have that longevity. I think that that’s the key. You know, you look at the likes of Oasis — they come out with a sound that’s refreshing and that’s successful, but then, inevitably, it slowly drifts away. I guess time will tell if some of the bands today can keep their sound fresh and evolve like The Beatles did. Time will tell!”