STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Hailing from the same northern England city as The Beatles themselves, the band The Mersey Beatles are feeling like it’s 1964.
Well, kind of.
“America’s a place all musicians want to come,” said bassist Steven Howard, noting it was his first time on the East Coast. The remark was reminiscent of things the wide-eyed, 20-something Beatles were saying when they first arrived in the U.S.
“Keeping their feet on the ground must’ve been incredibly difficult,” he said, imagining the Fab Four witnessing the swooning mania caused by their presence, across a nation much, much larger than their own.
Originally a band that wrote all its own songs, and performed a few covers, The Mersey Beatles became what they are when they gave in to their collective Beatles obsession. “We think it’s the most innovative music,” commented Howard, the group’s Paul McCartney counterpart. “The biggest challenge for any Beatles cover band is picking out the harmonies. When they sing three-part harmony, George’s middle part is buried in the mix.”
Covering “She Loves You” through “Let It Be” chronologically, Howard described their show as a two-hour “Beatles mixtape live,” with a multimedia backdrop featuring song lyrics and inspirations for the songs.
Introducing The Mersey Beatles for their May 12 concert at Sellersville Theater will be Julia Baird, one of John Lennon’s two sisters. “It’s been the best. It’s been such fun,” Baird said of traveling with the band. “They are excellent. They are one of the best tribute bands that I know.”
She will be signing copies of her book “Imagine This: Growing Up with My Brother John Lennon” at the merchandise table before, during and after the show. A special pre-show meet-and-greet for the concert’s VIP ticketholders starts at 6 p.m.
Baird is also director of the Cavern Club in Liverpool, the venue where The Beatles famously built a devoted local following. The Mersey Beatles were the modern-day Cavern’s house band for a decade until, as Howard puts it: “Someone said, ‘You’d go over in Malaysia or Sweden’.”
“John famously said his happiest times were on the Cavern stage,” Baird said.
Back in the ‘80s, Baird teamed up with Geoffrey Giuliano to write “John Lennon, My Brother: Memories of Growing Up Together” to clear up things written about her famous brother that she felt were grossly inaccurate. “After 1980 (the year Lennon was murdered), the story (of Lennon’s life) went all out of kilter … I had to do something,” she said.
Yet the author, teacher and philanthropist still had some burning, unanswered questions. “I knew I had the jigsaw pieces, but I couldn’t put it together,” she said.
In 1997, when her mother’s sister, Elizabeth — “Mater” to those in the family — became deathly ill, “she started to tell me all the things I’ve been wanting to know for years. It was like taking all the jigsaw pieces off the table.”
Expanding on what she initially wrote, Baird’s “Imagine This” first published in 2006.
So what misconceptions about Lennon needed correction?
“John’s occasional flippancy was a big cover. He was truly an absolute softie inside,” Baird said, adding that the proof is in the lyrics he wrote.
Also, as much as was made out of Lennon’s chronically absent father, and the 1958 accident that killed Lennon and Baird’s mother, “he did have a loving and strong family.”
“We were all very proud of his accomplishments,” she said, noting that Lennon was close with his oldest cousin, Stanley Parkes.
Baird still remembers all the music groups Lennon formed in his teens, that rehearsed in the kitchen — The Quarrymen, The Blackjacks, Johnny and the Moondogs … But things kicked into another gear when her brother befriended Paul McCartney in 1957.
“He was always very nice to me. I’ve known him ever since he was 15,” Baird said of McCartney. They recently re-connected at one of McCartney’s concerts in Detroit. Read more about that at Baird’s website, www.juliabaird.eu.
When asked if anything else would come along to culturally influence the world the way The Beatles did in the ‘60s, Howard — who was born in 1972, after the Beatles broke up — said no.
“I hope this generation finds something as unifying, that they can get behind. The world is too fragmented. The choices are so vast … which is a good thing,” he said, noting that in the ‘60s, there were only two BBC TV channels. “Everybody (today) likes what they like, and they stick to it. (The Beatles) didn’t stick to happy-go-lucky moptops, and they explored other styles. I don’t think anybody’s gonna come around with the same amount of charisma and talent.”
Baird, 69, said “it would be fascinating to find another” phenomenon like The Beatles, but didn’t think it would happen in her lifetime. Without warning, she dropped in a sharp-witted quip worthy of her brother: “They said that about Beethoven too, didn’t they?”