A World Premiere at The Royal Albert Hall. A first-person eyewitness account – fictional, but probably true.

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A LIVE re-staging of

A World Premiere at The Royal Albert Hall. A first-person eyewitness account – fictional, but probably true.

It was one of the most amazing nights of my life...

We were so excited to get our tickets for one of the newest, and hottest touring shows, ‘THE SESSIONS – a LIVE re-staging of The Beatles at Abbey Road Studios’ – a re-staging of the Beatles legendary recording sessions at Abbey Road Studios – live from The Royal Albert Hall !

The sold-out audience gathered outside the theatre where multiple kiosks and vendors were selling merchandise and collectables. Audience members were taking pictures on a full-size replica of the famed Abbey Road zebra crossing – the black & white lines where the Beatles took their infamous photo for the cover of their last album. We, of course, took a photo of us walking across... everything seemed to indicate this was going to be a magical night !

As we entered the auditorium and took our seats, we were intrigued by the main staging area, positioned in the middle of the venue - a full-scale replica of Abbey Road Studio 2 - full of studio equipment - instruments, microphones, chairs, sound baffles - eloquently lit with multi-coloured hues and waiting to come to life...

As the house lights started fading down, we heard a faint montage of Beatle musical ‘moments’ – we then noticed a young boy slowly wandering onto the set holding 4 colourful balloons, moving towards an object at centre stage. He lifted the cover to reveal a Studer J-37 tape machine from the 1960’s, then attached the balloons to the cover which magically ‘floated’ into the ceiling – this boy was a young Geoff Emerick – who reached down and hit ‘PLAY’...

House lights out - the music starting with the instantly recognizable tambura drone from ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, filling the air while what seemed like an army of singers and musicians taking their positions, all in slow motion – all joining in on one of the most complicated songs ever recorded.

Midway through the opening, sections of the crowded stage started to pull back – piece by piece – followed by an ensemble of 'Mimes' appearing, wearing the infamous white EMI regulation lab coats and choreographed in an enchanting way –the entire stage was being cleared, as if it was a being swept back in time, preparing for a ‘happening’.  

By the end of the song, as the John Lennon voice is repeating “of the beginning, of the beginning”, a group of musicians enter with four instruments held high above their heads - the original Beatle instruments; a Hofner 500 bass, a Rickenbacker 325 guitar, a Gretch Duo Jet guitar, and a black oyster pearl Ludwig drum head.... and by the end of this sequence, the only thing left at centre stage was the four instruments - the original instruments that started it all...

The show had begun...
A voice came over the sound system, sounding like a talk-back microphone from the studio control room:  "OK Boys, from the top - June 6, 1962 - take 15  - Love Me Do - ready when you are..."

The four cast members launched into 'Love Me Do' - while projected on large screens, there were the dates, take numbers, studio information and text washing the entire set. In rapid succession, we hear a fantastic ‘Suite’ of the first recordings featuring the basic rhythm track, vocals, harmonica and tambourine.

The very first album – Please, Please Me - 2 tracks - the start of their recording careers...  

On each musical change, there were Multi media images everywhere, on the giant scrim surrounding the set - projected throughout in black & white – including a few select Robert Freeman photographs of The Beatles in the studio - representing the era, the 60's - the beginning...  

After the single version of ‘Please, Please Me’, we hear the famous George Martin line from the control room: "That is your first number one Boys !"

The images around us then turned to the fans - Beatlemania - the faces of the kids (and adults) that showed the world was about to change.  This segment emulated the true story of the fans trying to break into Abbey Road during the recording of 'She Loves You'.

Throughout the first set of Lennon-McCartney songs, there was so much to look at, we never noticed the faces of the lead singers - they were in constant silhouette or shadow - they weren't look-a-likes, but their voices were PERFECT - the music was perfect - it was as if The Beatles were playing live in front of us - with a new, young cast - all amazingly thrilling...

The Control Room VO announces:  "Standing by on take 17 – I Want To Hold Your Hand... "  

The intro to ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ began – the FIRST 4-track recording, and continued with a Suite of songs from ‘With The Beatles’, including ‘All My Loving’, ‘It Won’t Be Long’, ‘Not A Second Time’, ‘This Boy’, and the first George Harrison composition, ‘Don’t Bother Me’.

In between takes, there were random (and funny) comments between the studio and control room, sounding like it could have been Sir George Martin, or Geoff Emerick - but the instructions and cues were constantly giving us the feeling that a 'session' was in progress... and we were witnessing history !

The lighting was stunning, capturing the essence of each song and cue - sometimes showing us a 'backstage look' during transitions, and during the songs, an incredible pallet of colours were used to pin-point the action - we always knew where to look - our eyes feasting on projections and lighting - seemingly all choreographed with the stage and prop movements.

As the set changed positions, we heard the unmistakable Fm9 chord which opens ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ – the projections on the scrim duplicated the multi-frame look of the film opening – continuing with a new Suite of songs including; ‘I Should Have Known Better’, ‘You Can’t Do That’, ‘And I Love Her’, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and a beautifully staged segment featuring the use of the vocal booths for ‘If I Fell’.

The singers and musicians faces were never in full spotlight - but always in moody, stunning lighting cues - the performers also seemed choreographed with the lighting cues - the direction they faced, and movements all seemed part of a master plan to give the audience a wonderful experience of sight and sound - I wish John Lennon could have seen this...

The projection surfaces were constantly moved by the Mimes, and a video crew captured the live musical performances with close-ups on the instruments, vocal microphones, their hands during solos, and the actual musicianship – never on the singers’ faces – together with the projected images of the live video streams, all working beautifully together.  

‘Beatles For Sale’ – the next Suite included the first use of ‘feedback’ on ‘I Feel Fine’, and classics like ‘No Reply’, ‘Eight Days A Week’ and the introduction of new instruments such as piano and timpani for ‘What You’re Doing’.

As the recording session continued, with each segment adding more instruments, it seemed the audience was going on a journey through time - demonstrating the evolution of the recording process - listening to songs in the chronological sequence of recordings  - the same songs that affected all our lives.

The ‘Help’ Suite included songs such as;  ‘Help’, ‘Ticket To Ride’, ‘Another Girl’ – also a nice moment introducing the FIRST outside musician to play with The Beatles, with a flute on ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’, and of course, the timeless McCartney song, ‘Yesterday’ which featured the FIRST string octet, appearing wondrously on the set.

The music progressed with a constant flow of new musical instruments arriving – a piano, a clavinet, a flute player, a string section, etc…. The stage was in constant motion - during and between takes, the mime technicians were moving sound baffles, microphones, and instruments to all new positions – seeming like an on-going Technical Ballet - brilliantly choreographed to feature the performers and equipment.

A new beginning for the group was introduced - ‘Rubber Soul’, highlighted by the arrival of yet more musicians and instruments brought on stage by the EMI Techs - a Sitar on ‘Norwegian Wood’, a clavinet on ‘In My Life’, ‘and hits like ‘Drive My Car’, ‘Day Tripper’, ‘We Can Work It Out’.

Funny VO comments were heard between takes like: " The Bird has, er... er... Norwegian Wood take three”

I loved that the show had nothing to do with look-a-likes - all the performers and musicians were young, dressed in the same style of clothes The Beatles wore during the recording sessions - almost as if the younger generation was re-creating the Beatles studio magic. They even encouraged us to sing along when we felt like it – with lyrics on the screens - on the big choruses, the whole audience was singing along – it was quite fantastic !

‘Revolver’ was next – the ground-breaking album with a Suite of songs including; ‘Eleanor Rigby’ with a string quartet, ‘Taxman’, zany effects used for ‘Yellow Submarine’, the FIRST brass section for ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’, and the beautiful ballad ‘Here, There and Everywhere’ (Sir Paul McCartney’s favourite recording).

With the changes in instruments and styles, we knew Geoff Emerick was in the house - yes, the legendary man himself, was overseeing the engineers mix the same sounds he created with The Beatles and Sir George Martin over 50 years ago. Hovering by the sound consoles, he watched and made adjustments - the sound was amazing - just like we were hearing these great songs live – as they never were able to be played live in concert.

Act One came to a mind-blowing ending with ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ – two of the most complicated and amazing technical achievements in modern recording – each taking almost a month to record with multiple versions and overdubs...

Before we came to this show, I kept wondering HOW they are going to do this ? The vocals, the overdubs, the effects – but it soon became apparent that I was no longer interested in seeing WHO was singing, but instead, completely swept up in the aural and visual experience with timeless music and melodies.

ACT TWO began with Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band – need I say more?

‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’  - the greatest rock album ever recorded – a true masterpiece, represented by songs including; McCartney’s ‘Sgt Pepper’, Lennon’s ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’, Ringo’s classic vocal on ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’, George Harrison’s Indian-inspired ‘ Within You, Without You’, the fairgrounds sounds from ‘Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite’... and, of course, the orchestra was featured on one of the most celebrated songs in modern pop history, ‘A Day In The Life’.

Sometimes it seemed like the Beatles were in conversation right before a take - a casual conversation or a hilarious John Lennon count-in before recording started. This 'conversation' was funny and endearing – with all quotes taken from actual studio transcripts - all based on real quotes or best memory of events.

    JL: " Why don’t you join the beginning of the first one to the end of the second one ?”
GM: “They are in different keys and different tempos”
JL: “Well, you could fix it !”

‘Magical Mystery Tour’ – the much-anticipated follow-up to Sgt Pepper – a further journey into drug-induced songs and multiple overdubs on; ‘I Am The Walrus’, the FIRST Recorder used on ‘Fool On The Hill’, ‘ Hello, Goodbye’, ‘and the FIRST global satellite transmission of ‘All You Need Is Love’.

As the albums progressed from the early hits, we saw the theme of the projections start with black & white images – the Mersey Beat look – then approached the more ‘colourful’ albums like Sgt Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour with the lighting and projections turning the stage into a multi-coloured psychodelia, also using the famous Joshua Light Show techniques – perfectly representing the time and era – highlighting an dreamlike, colourful ride...
The White Album segment was wonderfully staged – different than the rest of the show – where we could see 4 SEPARATE recording processes – each representing the individual work of the four Beatles – a fractured time, subtly highlighting the discontent happening within the band at this time – especially after the death of Brian Epstein.  But also some of their best work, featuring songs like; ‘Back In The USSR’, the beautiful simplicity of ‘Blackbird’, ‘Dear Prudence’, ‘Revolution’, and one of Harrison’s finest works, including the classic Clapton guitar solo on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’.

Let It Be was stark – almost back-to-the-beginning – where we can no longer see the multitude of instruments and effects which dominated the earlier albums – back to basics, and the first time Sir George Martin and Geoff Emerick were not in the control room.  The Suite of songs included; ‘Get Back’, ‘The Long & Winding Road’ (both the raw and orchestrated versions), ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’, ‘I Me Mine’, and ‘Across The Universe’...

It was fantastic how each album was represented with a ‘Suite’ of songs – not every song from the albums (impossible to do anyway), but a fast-paced mosaic, seemingly catering to the Millennial generation (who don’t have much of an attention span !).  However, during none of these segments did I feel cheated – I heard the most important songs and innovations, including intros, verses, middle 8, solos – all specially selected, making the evening FLY !!

‘Abbey Road’ was staged like a return to the camaraderie of the old days...  performed as a ‘Suite of a Suite’ with classic songs like; ‘Something’, ‘Come Together’, ‘Here Comes The Sun’, the haunting vocals on ‘Because’, and in the end... ‘The End’...

After the famous ‘Abbey Road’ ending, the giant scrim went up, and for the first we got to see the cast up close – their faces – their instruments – the audience going absolutely mad... They were shouting and screaming as if they refused to leave the arena - then the entire cast ensemble gathered on stage for the Finale – the one and only, ‘Hey Jude’

I didn’t think there could be anything more possible... but as we were ready to exit, the cast started a rousing last song – a medley of ‘Saw Her Standing There’ and ‘Paperback Writer’.  The audience just couldn’t get enough...

In summary, as a life-long Beatle fan, I wanted to take my family and kids to a show that TAUGHT them how it was done – long before Pro-Tools and pitch control - a show that featured the timeless songs of The Beatles, and a history lesson at the same time.  I’ve seen all the other shows, ‘Let It Be’, ‘Rain’, The Fab Four’ – but this one was by far the most authentic, detailed, complex representation of these recordings ever attempted – just as if The Beatles were performing their songs live – for the first time EVER.

It was the closest thing to hearing the Beatles play live - I couldn't believe it...  It felt like I was a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ – a witness to musical history !

This entire evening was a tribute to the finest band ever – to four individuals who conquered our hearts - real people - an occurrence that will likely never happen again - when the stars and planets lined up in a way that could not be repeated, certainly not in this day and age...  

They were The Beatles - John, Paul, George and Ringo - four Liverpool lads who came together to make music and the world a better place - this show is a tribute to them...

By the end of the evening, we were completely knackered and surely got our money’s worth, and much, much more !!


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