Fifty years ago, four men from Liverpool, England, dressed up in flamboyant pink, green, blue and orange suits and made one of the most iconic albums of all time: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Four men from Liverpool will dress up Friday to pay tribute to the historic album’s anniversary at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.
“The Pepper album changed the game,” Steven Howard, who plays Paul McCartney in the Mersey Beatles, said in an email. “It demonstrated what pop music can be. The range of subject matter and musical range is still impressive today. Its influence can’t be underestimated.”
At its introduction, the 1967 psychedelic album proved pop music and the Beatles were more than short, catchy radio hits. This album was a cohesive idea, telling the story of the Beatles’ alter egos in the brightly colored suits over 40 minutes of play time.
The band also spent more time than ever before in the studio, experimenting with recording and engineering techniques few others had tried before.
“It was the album where they stopped being lovable mop tops and gave the world a kind of pop art,” Howard said.
The Mersey Beatles will play the full Sgt. Pepper’s album in the first half of the show and then move into greatest hits and the Beatles’ later years, with multiple costume change.
“If you closed your eyes, you could be all the way back there,” said Julia Baird, younger half-sister of John Lennon and current member of the band's tour. She will be at the Bloomington show selling and signing her book “Imagine This: Growing Up with My Brother John Lennon.”
Baird spoke highly of the band, having done seven trips with them, including a 2016 stop in Bloomington. She said the Mersey Beatles are the only all Liverpool-born tribute band, which she said makes their performance more natural.
“We try to be natural Liverpool lads and never play to a script,” Howard said.
In the early days, he said, those in Liverpool didn’t always “get it.” The forced accents of tribute bands would either offend or be laughed at. Howard said the Mersey Beatles were in many ways still true to the Liverpool expectation of how it should be done.
The band members went to the same schools, grew up in the same city and went to the same bars as the Beatles, Baird said.
They also played in the same club, Liverpool’s Cavern Club, where the Beatles got their start. The Mersey Beatles were the house band for a decade, eventually racking up more performances there than the Beatles did, who performed 292 times, according to the band’s website.
The Cavern residency was the single most important thing that happened to the band, Howard said.
Baird is the director of Cavern City Tours in Liverpool, which organizes Beatles’ tours for tourists, and said she spent the summer at events celebrating Sgt. Pepper’s 50th anniversary and the 60th anniversary of Lennon and McCartney’s first meeting.
At Friday’s show, Baird will introduce the band before it goes on at 7:30 p.m., but not before giving a brief advertisement about visiting Liverpool. She said it’s the most amazing city in the world.
Baird also accompanied the band at its show last year at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.
“I would not be doing this if I didn’t think they were fabulous,” Baird said.
Tickets for the band’s return to Bloomington run from $10 to 45 at the Buskirk-Chumley’s box office.
“It’s the chance to experience the music live of a band that can never present that again,” Howard said. “Just like the philharmonic playing Beethoven.”
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