WHAT: The Mersey Beatles
WHERE: The Grand Oshkosh, Oshkosh Wisconsin
WHEN: 7:30 PM Thursday, May 3, 2018
COST: $25, $37, $42, $47
VIP Experience at $47 (all premium and orchestra tickets)
The Mersey Beatles are a Beatles tribute band that hails from Liverpool, England. Close friends formed the group from a mutual passion for the music of the Beatles. Before breaking out to eventually tour the world, the Mersey Beatles got their start in Liverpool’s legendary Cavern Club, where the Beatles began their career decades ago. The Cavern Club manager and author Julia Baird is John Lennon’s sister. She is a huge fan and close friend of the band. Julia has toured extensively with them and proudly claims that the Mersey Beatles are the most authentic of the many Beatles tribute bands.
The Mersey Beatles are Mark Bloor (as John), Steven Howard (as Paul), Brian Ambrose (as Ringo), Craig McGown (as George), and the 5th Mersey Beatle is another Liverpool friend, keyboardist Tony Cook.
I connected not long ago with Steven Howard. As a lifelong Beatles fan, this was an extremely meaningful opportunity for me.
Jane Spietz: Steven, how did the Mersey Beatles come together, no pun intended, as a group? (Some readers will get this, some will not. Please look it up if you need to.)
Steven Howard: Three of us were high school friends in our home town, Liverpool. Me, Mark Bloor and Brian Ambrose. We always loved music and the Beatles in particular. In our late teens we formed a band playing our own music and covers. When we realized that we liked playing the Beatles songs most, we decided to form The Mersey Beatles. My cousin Dave came in as George and this line up remained constant for over 18 years until Dave tired of travel in 2017 and we replaced him with one of the world’s best George impersonators, Craig McGown.
JS: Did you have formal musical training or were you self-taught?
SH: We were all completely self-taught. Although, over the years you pick up tricks and tips from other musicians and singers. That’s one of the things about musicians; they usually share their knowledge freely.
JS: Did the band members have a choice about which Beatle they would like to portray? How was that decided?
SH: I think that happened quite naturally. We already played the corresponding instruments. I could play guitar but I always loved bass. Brian was drums, drums, drums. Mark had a strong voice for Lennon and I always had good range, so the high harmonies which Paul McCartney would usually do were never a problem. It was all very natural…I think the other guys look like their Beatle, too. I’ve had to work a little harder at that side of it but once we’re all in costume it’s a pretty close match.
JS: Have the Mersey Beatles met any of the members of the Beatles or seen them in concert?
SH: We’ve not met them, unfortunately. I’ve seen Paul 13 times and Ringo twice in concert. I know the rest of the guys have seen Paul a few times, too. I saw Paul at the Liverpool premier of his film Give My Regards to Broad Street. It was the first time I’d seen him in the flesh. I was about 13 years old and he gave me the famous thumbs up. I’ll never forget that.
JS: Personally, do you have a preference about the different eras and musical stylings of the Beatles?
SH: It changes daily. I’d say that for trying to imagine the excitement of the times, their first album, Please Please Me is unbeatable, but for sheer untouchable brilliance, The White Album, released in ’68 is my favorite of theirs or any other band. We’re doing a special section in our May tour to celebrate 50 years of the album.
JS: To be honest, my favorite Beatle was John Lennon. I was utterly, totally devastated when John was murdered. How did that horrific event affect you?
SH: I was eight years old. I only had a vague understanding of who they were. When I saw the Beatles’ movie Help on TV, I was hooked. It was shown on the BBC as a tribute on the night of John’s death. I was so proud to be from the same city. I remember feeling that I wanted to start wearing a suit and grow my hair like them. I guess that’s where it all started. John was always my favorite Beatle, too.
JS: What is the Mersey Beatles’ relationship with Julia Baird?
SH: Julia is our friend. We met her when she got in touch with us in 2008 to play an event for her charity. We’ve since traveled the world together and she did 2 years with us touring around America, promoting us and her book, Imagine This: Growing Up With My Brother John Lennon.
JS: Julia has hailed the Mersey Beatles as the most authentic Beatles’ tribute band. What does that mean to you?
SH: It’s a brilliant compliment. Julia has seen many Beatles bands so it’s a great boost for us to hear that she thinks so highly of us. She ‘gets’ us. When she says most authentic, she knows there are some bands who mimic or act their parts better, but we’re all about the music and we only do in the moment banter with no script. We try to be natural Liverpool lads and we think that’s the best way for us as Liverpool lads, born and bred.
JS: Please comment on Julia’s book.
SH: It’s insightful and gives a unique take on the early life of John. It also sheds new light on his relationship with his beloved mother Julia. The book is a love letter to John and his mum. It’s moving but unsentimental. Highly recommended read.
JS: What’s in store for the future of the Mersey Beatles?
SH: This year we celebrate the White Album with a special section in our hits show. Next year we will celebrate 50 years of the Abbey Road album in a set of two halves. Set 1 being the whole album live. Set 2 will be our own favorites. Hits and some lesser played tracks.
JS: What can audience members look forward to experiencing when The Mersey Beatles perform at the Oshkosh Grand on Thursday, May 3?
SH: Expect a unique show. We have no script and the whole Beatles catalogue to choose from. Authentic costumes and equipment, multimedia backdrop but most importantly fantastic music played with passion and energy. Please don’t miss it. Our hits show gets a rest for a while after this tour so please get your ticket to ride today.
The Mersey Beatles are presented by Lightning Productions.
Photos courtesy of The Mersey Beatles.