The Bootleg Beatles: how the cover band has captured the Fab Four's spirit for 40 years

The group, who will perform in Dubai this week, are renowned for their pitch-perfect renditions of The Beatles' catalogue

The Bootleg Beatles have been performing since 1980. Courtesy Dubai Opera
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When it comes to cover bands, The Bootleg Beatles are the real deal.

Ever since launching in the UK with an intimate show in 1980, the group have embarked on many world tours – and several different line-ups – playing the best of the Fab Four.

Such is their precision, from the pitch-perfect recreation of hits to the onstage banter and costumes, The Bootleg Beatles are viewed as the ultimate tribute act to the Liverpool quartet. They even landed a slot among modern rock giants at the UK's Glastonbury Festival in 2015.

Now it's time for the UAE to relive the magic with the group playing two shows at Dubai Opera, on Wednesday and Thursday.

Tyson Kelly, who will don the circular shades of John Lennon on stage, says the two-hour show will be split into four parts, tracing the group's evolution from the giddy hits of the early 1960s (She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand) to the psychedelia of later albums such as 1967's Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and 1969's Abbey Road.

For the love of The Beatles

However, simply landing the right chords is not enough.

It is a passion for the band's legendary material, says Kelly, which sets the group apart from other tribute acts.

“This is really what makes us, without boasting too much about what we do, as one of the best when it comes to playing these songs,” the American singer says. “While all of us are musicians, it is really about having that love for the material and people have been responding to that.”

When the band was looking for a new Lennon in 2018, producers couldn’t have found a more ready-made choice than Kelly.

Not only does he share similar features with the star, but he was also steeped in Beatlemania, having played Lennon in US tribute shows The Fab Four and Classical Mystery Tour.

With a side career as a singer-songwriter in his own right, Kelly says playing Lennon's famed The Beatles compositions such as A Day in The Life and Rubber Soul remains an educational experience.

He supports the argument shared by critics that Lennon penned more adventurous material than Beatles co-songwriter Paul McCartney.

"Playing the songs only made me realise that more," he says. "When it comes to playing different instruments, I would say that McCartney was a more talented musician. But when it comes to interesting chord progression, songwriting and lyrics, then John is way more impressive. If you look at the full Beatles collection, including their solo careers, Lennon's work is deeper when it comes to craftsmanship."

Move your feet

And what about guitarist George Harrison?

His song contributions to The Beatles are as spectacular as they are limited. The Bootleg Beatles will also play his stunning compositions While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Something – the latter being the group's most covered song after Yesterday.

“It was kind of tough for George because he was among two songwriting giants in the band,” says English guitarist and singer Stephen White, who has been playing Harrison in the show since 2014.

“When you've got Lennon and McCartney standing next to you and you bring in a few songs and they've probably got 30 songs they want to put on that album, then it really has to be amazing.”

With members studying hours of The Beatles concert coverage to perfect their moves on stage, he describes the show as more a loving salute than a recreation of a live show of the group.

Which is just as well, perhaps, as it could be tough to keep up with the vigour of their heyday.

“When you see video footage of The Beatles concerts, they are often standing and singing in front of the microphone,” White says. “But it is all in the feet, man. They were energetic and I have worn down a few shoe soles doing these shows.”

The Bootleg Beatles perform at Dubai Opera, Downtown Dubai, on Wednesday and Thursday, January 27 and 28 at 8pm. Tickets from Dh145 at dubaiopera.com

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