LET’S start at the end: the “final” Beatles song, Now And Then, the Fab Four’s 18th chart topper and first in 54 years since 1969’s The Ballad Of John And Yoko.
Yes, the fastest-selling vinyl single of the 21st century will be incorporated into the Bootleg Beatles’ perfectly timed return to York Barbican tomorrow night (13/12/2023).
“It will feature towards the end of the show, in the section when we’re covering the final years of The Beatles,” says Steve White, who is entering his 12th year as the tribute band’s Paul McCartney.
“We hope people are moved by it, the way we present it with the lighting. I’ve seen a video of our performance and it’s really quite haunting.”
First watching the documentary that accompanied the reawakened ghost of John Lennon’s ballad, with its combination of Lennon’s original late-1970s’ demo, 1994 guitar lines by George Harrison and new parts by McCartney and Ringo Starr, Steve felt the hair on the back of his neck standing up on encountering Lennon’s vocal, separated through the magic of AI.
“It’s a melancholy song, appropriate for the end of The Beatles, and then having to learn it, I could have broken down in tears when we played it for the first time at The Crown in Melbourne on our Australian tour,” he says. “The moment we started the first chord, the crowd just stood up. It was an amazing feeling.”
The song’s title could not be more apt: the now and the then of The Beatles. “We have lost two already, and there are two to go, so to speak. We’re never gonna see anything like them again. Never ever going to see the real thing again,” says Steve.
“With every year that ticks by, we appreciate more than ever that Paul and Ringo are part of the UK’s fixtures and fittings. I’m dreading when they go. Paul is my absolute hero.
“I don’t know him and yet I feel like I know him, and it will feel like losing a member of the family when the day comes. I just hope that I get the chance to say hello, shake his hand and thank him for all the music he has brought us, telling him ‘you are the most amazing musician there’s ever been’. That’s all I’d want to say. He means so much to me.”
Nottinghamshire musician Steve had first been a member of The Beatles Experience with three friends. “We didn’t set out to be a Beatles band but a Sixties’ covers band, but we were all huge fans of The Beatles and kind of based ourselves on them,” he recalls.
“We used to do a few Beatles songs in the set, and someone asked if we could play just Beatles songs at their 60th birthday party, then a wedding anniversary, and it began to overshadow our Sixties’ tribute show.”
At the time, Steve was the band’s rhythm guitarist, “effectively John Lennon”, he says. “But people kept saying you have to be Paul, because you look more like him – I’m blessed with the eyebrows! – so me and the bass player switched over.
“That meant I had to learn to play [guitar] left-handed, being a right hander. To get to a very crude level of playing took me three months, playing six to eight hours a day, then gradually getting more professional to fill in the blanks.”
Steve went on to audition for the Bootleg Beatles, first sending in a video, then auditioning in person, the process whittling down the applicants to “serious contenders to play with the rest of the band to see how we gelled”.
White, who had seen the Bootleg Beatles many times, was the right fit and continues to travel the long and winding road through the Fab Four Sixties after more than a decade of Bootleg service.
For the past six years, he has been accompanied on the nostalgia trip by Tyson Kelly’s John, Steve Hill’s George and Gordon Elsmore’s Ringo as they re-create the sound and look of each Beatles’ phase in fastidious detail.
“We always go through the Beatles’ career from start to finish, picking out the key points, and so many are iconic, but you can switch the material, like the choice of psychedelic songs,” says Steve. “This show is markedly different: different costumes, guitars, material – and Now And Then of course.
“As usual, we’ll be travelling with our resident orchestra too, four brass and four string players, and another guy, who plays keys.”
The Beatles are back with Now And Then and expanded reissues of their Red and Blue compilations, just as old rivals The Rolling Stones resurface with Hackney Diamonds, their first album of original material since 2005’s A Bigger Bang.
Steve will always be in the Beatles camp. “The Rolling Stones, no discredit to the Stones, as they’re an incredible, iconic band, but they do have a ‘sound’, more of a blues edge. Early on The Beatles were more popified, the ‘unclean’ Stones were more edgy, still are, but The Beatles went on to be so diverse in such a short time together, spanning pretty much everything,” he says.
“How could you ever pigeonhole The Beatles? You couldn’t. It’s impossible.”
Bootleg Beatles, York Barbican, December 13, 7.30pm. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.