Friday, March 18, 2011

Interview with Fran King aka "Paul" from Get Back! The Story of The Beatles

Following a sold out mini residency last August, Get Back! The Story of The Beatles returns to Dublin's Olympia Theatre, on Friday March 25th, for one night only. We caught up with Fran King aka "Paul McCartney" to find out what audiences can expect, and the level of dedication required to become, Sir. George Martin's favourite Beatles, tribute band.

AIMR How and why did Get Back! The Story of The Beatles, form?

FK. We (Myself, Scott and Rob) got together in September 1990. I’d been in “The Beatless” from 1989 and had tired of that set up. I wanted to get together a band that performed (exclusively) Beatles songs in their original keys. Scott and Rob used to busk on Grafton Street, as did I with the other band. I got to know Rob as he used to work in Musician Inc. On Drury Street. We struck up a conversation one day, and the band began there. As for why we formed that band.  We are all Beatle fanatics, and relished the challenge of doing note perfect interpretations.

AIMR. How long did it take to get the four perfect people together?

FK. In the early days we didn’t “wig up” etc.. We were going for the sound-a-like more than the look-a-like angle.  It wasn’t until 1999, having worked with Sir George Martin, that we decided to go the full hog, so to speak. Up ‘til then we shared the vocal duties, so we didn’t assign all the Paul songs to me etc... In fact I used to do “Strawberry fields forever” etc.. When we became “The Classic Beatles”, we had to re-haul the set, and assign each Beatle their individual songs. It was quite a task and challenge, But we had a genuine affection for the material, and the passion to do it all the correct way. I guess 1999 was a ground breaking year for us, it was also the year we got our definitive “Ringo” also, in Binzer.

AIMR. Did many people come and go before the line-up was settled?

FK. Let’s see, Our Original drummer (The Quarrymen years) was Dermot Kelly, he was with us from 1991 through 1993. Seamus Greene replaced him from ’93-94. “Guggenheim Grotto” drummer Shane Power was our “Ringo” from 1994 through 1999, when he was replaced by current & definitive “Ringo”, Paul “Binzer” Brennan. So quite the few sticks men.

AIMR. How much rehearsal initially went into learning the songs and perfecting the sound?

FK. In the early days we spent up to 5 days a week in rehearsals, as much time as we could physically allot really.  We were (and are.) very passionate about getting the nuances, inflections and harmonies bang on. The mannerism mimicry was born out of us being big fans, and messing around to amuse each other to begin. It wasn’t ‘til years later that we decided to really make conscious efforts to get the “Johnisms and Paulisms” etc. But to answer your initial question, A hell of a lot of time, probably years!

AIMR. Was there a long set up period before the first gig?

FK. Having got our “John, Paul & George” in September 1990, we got our first “Ringo” in January of 1991, our first gig was in Feb’ 1991.

AIMR. Were there many hours spent in front of the mirror perfecting the moves and mannerisms?

FK. As I was saying, it was a gradual slow perfecting process, but without doubt, a fair amount of video watching and Mirror mimicry, until we got comfortable enough to be each Beatle with each other.

AIMR. Did you each have to learn how to sound like your individual Beatle? Who struggled the most?

FK. There was a fair amount of re-learning and perfecting involved after we’d decided to be the full Monty Beatle tribute. I had to get to grips with singing like Paul whilst playing the Bass, and with certain tracks that was a tall enough order. We all had our individual struggles, but having played the songs for so many years, it stood us in good ground for perfecting it. Some re-learning harmony parts as their individual Beatle etc. lets just say it’s not as easy as it may look or sound.

AIMR. Was it an expensive band to set up in terms of acquiring the vintage amps and guitars and clothes etc?

FK. We acquired the complete authentic instrument line up over a number of years (up ‘til then we used replica look-a-like and sound-a-like copies). My Hofner Bass is from 1966. The wigs are from the UK and we have mop top ones and longer ones for the later period. They were expensive. The velvet collared suits we use in the “Ed Sullivan” section were tailored from one of the originals. Those and the Shea Stadium and “Pepper” suits all came from the U.S. I guess if you priced it all out, yeah it’s quite an expensive band to kit out authentically.

AIMR. Did you initially focus on one era of the Beatles and expand your repertoire as you went along? If so why did you choose that era?

FK. No, we’ve always delved into the various periods from the get go. Perfecting it is another thing altogether. We’ve spent literally years developing / perfecting all the little details from each given period.

AIMR. Can you now play every Beatles song or is that an ongoing learning process?

FK. We’re certainly capable of each song, but for purely practical purposes we’ve perfected various eras and the pivotal songs therein. We’ve learnt through the years, which songs work better with a given audience. But with The Beatles back catalogue, it’s an on-going education.

AIMR. One of the things that sets the Classic Beatles apart from other tribute bands is the visuals and the set design How much research went into collecting the news clippings etc for the on stage visuals?

FK. We’re big fans of documentaries like “The Beatles Complete”, and the Anthology series, so we based our show on pivotal periods & settings from Beatle live shows & rare footage. So a lot of work has gone into getting it all as close as possible. The news clippings we’ve re-created featuring us instead of the real fabs, all of which we’ve totally fabricated from scratch.

AIMR. The recreating of interviews etc acted out by the band is another thing, which sets the band apart from other tribute acts in general. How did these recreations come about?

FK. Again that was down to singling out our favorite defining Beatle interviews, for example we re-created the Press conference at JFK, and the impromptu press conference at Bangor when the news broke of Brian’s death. Chris Nugent’s “Brian Epstein” segments turned out particularly well I think. Again we featured ourselves at all times as The Beatles to maintain continuity.

AIMR. Did you have to get permission for the Ed Sullivan parts?

FK. We didn’t use any original footage from the Sullivan shows; we went to great lengths to recreate it.

AIMR. Have you had any reaction from the Epstein family?

FK. We were very careful to paraphrase Brian’s famous interviews, in other words get the essence of what he was saying, but have Chris relating it in “Brian-isms” so to speak. With attention afforded to his inflections and mannerisms. I think Chris pulled it off with wonderful attention to detail, and genuine affection. We’ve had no contact with the Epstein estate.

AIMR. The attention to detail in your live shows is amazing. Is there a person in charge of continuity or is it a collective effort?

FK. It is generally a collective effort, although great praise and appreciation must be afforded to Ian Smith, our Co-Producer / VT supervisor. Ian has worked on many shows and keeps us all on the straight and narrow.

AIMR. You are George Martin's preferred Beatles tribute band, a great honor. How did that come about?

FK. We had the pleasure of working with Sir George Martin in 1999, and again in 2004. Both Scott and I were hugely honored to be asked by promoter Pat Egan, to perform some of the greatest songs ever composed, with the Man who Produced them, conducting live for three nights in Dublin’s National Concert Hall, with a 70 piece Orchestra. It doesn’t get much better than that. It was Sir George’s final few live shows before his retirement from live work. During the rehearsals and after the shows, he commended our attention to detail and our “Uncanny vocal resemblance”. He wrote to us individually after the shows, and again thanked us for our hands-on knowledge of the material. We played a set before his speech in UCD in 2004, when he was awarded the Joyce award, and it was wonderful to hang out with him once again after those initial shows. We worked extensively in London with his son Giles in 2001, a definite “chip off the ole block”.

AIMR. Have you any other famous fans?

FK. We’ve played intimate and private shows for: Queen Elizabeth II, Ryan Tubridy, Sharon Corr,
To name-drop only a tad.

AIMR. What are the biggest and best gigs the band have played?

FK. The aforementioned Sir George Martin shows were a personal high. We also played to in excess of 60,000 people in the Phoenix Park, when the Ireland Soccer team returned from the World Cup with Jack Charlton at the helm. Last year we played an open-air show in Kaunas, Lithuania, with a 60 piece National symphony Orchestra on National Television to over 12,000. We have enjoyed some sweaty intimate shows at various venues around Ireland, though Dublin’s Olympia Theatre is a favorite also.

AIMR. You get to do something the Beatles never got to do with many of their songs, play them to an audience. How do people react, to those later songs in particular? The songs played as they were written on the piano with out the massive string arrangements behind them?

FK. We take great pleasure in doing the later stuff in all the original keys etc. I’ve seen people become emotional during “All you need is love”, & even during songs like “Penny Lane”. When possible we use real live strings too, other than that we use Keyboard /sample sounds to recreate the intricate arrangements. Songs like “Hello Goodbye” and “Hey Jude” allow for great audience participation. It’s amazing how people react across the age spectrum.

AIMR. Are you all pursuing real life musical careers?

FK. Yes, we always have. Years ago all of us were members of “Beach”, from about 1997-’99. We all went solo in intervening years. My third solo Album “My Sweet Elixir” is currently on release on Renaissance Records, (all can be found on itunes, I’m demoing my fourth album later this Spring). Scott has two solo albums out, and is currently enjoying success with the band “The Shoos”. Binzer has played with many artists including Gemma Hayes, Mundy, The Waterboys, Ollie Cole, not to mention his time with The Frames. Rob left Beach in 1998 and pursues a successful career in web design.

AIMR. How has Beatles helped or hindered these careers?

FK. I don’t think it’s hindered me personally. I cut my musical teeth on the writing of Lennon-McCartney, and I don’t think there’s a more formidable musical bar to be raised. I’m happy to admit they’re a big influence on my own writing, but not an obsession. I think you have to be very careful there. I know writers who’d like to sound just like The Beatles, and that’s their business, However, I think there’s a fine line between influence and plagiarism. I’d be equally or perhaps even more influenced by Beatles influenced artists, post Beatle era. I think their catalogue has helped develop my appreciation of a good melody. I can’t speak for the other songwriters in the band; you’d have to ask them.

AIMR. What’s next for the Classic Beatles your Get Back show has been hailed as the best Beatles tribute show ever how can you improve it?

FK. Good question. I guess now we have to tour it comprehensively. We’ve only just scratched the surface. We need to take it abroad and expand our growing fan base. We’re really happy with the reaction thus far. Touring will improve the show, nothing like a live audience to refine things.

AIMR. What songs get the best crowd reaction?

FK. It honestly changes from show to show. The obvious ones are “Hey Jude”, “All you need is love”, “Strawberry fields forever”, “Yesterday”, “Get Back”, but you’d be surprised how enthusiastically people receive the likes of “Magical Mystery Tour”, “Sgt. Peppers” & “Here comes the sun”.

AIMR. Have you been surprised that some "smaller" songs get a bigger reaction than some of the more famous ones?

FK. I’m never surprised by the reaction to any of the Beatles catalogue. One man’s “All my loving” is another mans “Hey Jude”.

AIMR. Which songs is the most fun for the band to play?

FK. “A day in the life” is always a challenge, but equally rewarding to do. “Twist ‘n’ shout” & “Long Tall Sally” never fail to bring the house down, so you can’t help but have fun in those.

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