Music interview: Tribute band Beatlemania on recreating the sound of Sgt Pepper

Beatlemania will recreate Sgt Pepper live in Leeds.
Beatlemania will recreate Sgt Pepper live in Leeds.
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Fifty years on from its original release The Beatles’ album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band holds an integral place in the history of British pop.

Amid the celebrations of the record’s golden anniversary tribute band Beatlemania are due to perform it in its entirety at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds on Friday June 16.

For drummer Joe Montague, from Leeds, who joined the long-running group 15 months ago, attempting to recreate the sound of Sgt Pepper live promises to be intriguing. It was, he says, one of the first Beatles’ records he heard. “I came to them from the late stuff, I revisited the early stuff afterwards,” he says. “I think similar to everybody’s reaction to it, it’s just a timeless record. They don’t sound like 1966 sounds, they sound as fresh now as they did back then. It sounded like a wildly new collection of sounds and the way that it’s mixed, because they did the bouncing down of the tracks [to accommodate more instruments on to four-track recordings], gives it a unique sound.”

At the time we spoke Montague was looking forward to hearing Giles Martin’s new stereo mix of the album. “People like me agonise over all the little takes and that’s exactly why – because you might hear something there that you never knew was there before. And I’m really excited to hear what Ringo Starr is playing with new ears and in a completely different way.”

For Montague, being naturally right-handed, playing drum patterns like the left-handed Starr is a challenge in itself. “It’s enormously different,” he says. “You have to re-learn everything. As a right-handed drummer I naturally want to do all my fills and that kind of stuff with my right hand. You have to make a conscious decision to lead with your left hand. If you accidentally lead with your right hand then you’re a bit stuffed to get the exact sound that you want.

“There’s some really specific patterns, tunes like Come Together you can’t do that without leading with your left hand.”

It’s just a timeless record. They don’t sound like 1966 sounds, they sound as fresh now as they did back then.

Joe Montague

Then there’s the complexity of the arrangements on Sgt Pepper, with everything from strings and brass, harp and organ to Indian instruments on Within You Without You, to consider. Montague admits it is a “difficult” record to recreate on stage. “We’ve had a good few meetings about it, it’s got to be known who plays what part and then we’ve got to really consider what’s really important where. Obviously they never intended to play these tunes live so we have to do our best to recreate that. There’s a lot of time spent individually to work out what’s going on.

“Maybe for the early Beatles stuff, I know there’s some anoraks that will not agree with this, but I think you can take a few chances because they played all that stuff live so you can hear ten different versions of I Saw Her Standing There and hear ten different Ringo fills in different places, but for the Sgt Pepper stuff what’s on the album is that. You have to play exactly that. On With a Little Help that fill that Ringo does between the first verse and the second verse that’s part of it, you can’t mess about with that because that’s the only version of the song that anybody knows, and the same with all of those tunes so there’s a lot of time sat individually so you know what’s going on.”

“Budgetary constrains” may not allow Beatlemania to perform with a large string orchestra but the band will endeavour to get around it. “We do have some stagecraft perhaps to give us a helping hand,” Montague chuckles.

Beatlemania play Sgt Pepper at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on June 16.