It was February 9, 1964 that the Beatles made their live debut on American TV -- a day those teenagers who were glued to their TV sets still remember as if it were “Yesterday.” Little did anyone know the Beatles’ music and Beatles tribute acts would be going strong in 2004! As it’s the 40th Anniversary of that historic appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show (on which a congratulatory telegram from Elvis and the Colonel was read) and as Memphis, Tennessee (home of The King) and Liverpool, England (home of the Fab Four), have teamed up this year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Rock and Roll, it’s a big year, not only for Elvis fans and ETA’s, but for Beatles fans and Beatles tribute acts. Next year will also mark the 40th anniversary of the only face to face meeting between Elvis and the Beatles, and you’ll likely be seeing lots more “Elvis Meets The Beatles” tribute shows!
This month’s column features one of Canada’s top Beatles tribute bands, so, as the song goes.... let me introduce to you, The Caverners, and their spokesperson, Sandy Vine, who provided me with an insight into the world of Beatles tribute artists!
The Caverners are Sandy Vine (Paul), Mike Wainwright (John), Rick Labrie (George) and Doug Boudreau (Ringo) They took their name, of course, from “The Cavern” in Liverpool, a club the Beatles frequented when they were starting out. The band members, all full time entertainers, are based in Ontario, Canada, and have been performing for the past 10 years. The “Caverners act” is one of the main shows in which they all participate, but they each also work with other musical projects and they perform in the US and throughout Canada for corporate events, in theatres, and at festivals. In their travels, they’ve also met up with Pete Best (the Beatles’ first drummer), Cynthia Lennon (John’s first wife) and Alan Williams (the Beatles’ first manager).
There are hundreds and hundreds of Beatles tribute bands worldwide, not just in North America. As Sandy (Paul) told me, “Beatles music is universal and has transcended a few generations, so it’s not surprising that there is an interest in re-creating music that is so well received. Some tributes apply themselves to the spirit of the music only, while others (like the Caverners) perform in costume, re-creating the experience of seeing the Beatles perform live in concert.” He also said that there always something in the news to create interest in Beatles’ music such as new DVD releases or Paul and Ringo doing their respective tours. This year’s 40th anniversary is one of those milestones that also keeps the Beatles’ music in the collective consciousness.
When they started out 10 years ago, the initial group was going to be a “British Invasion” type of band, performing hits of the Dave Clark Five, Rolling Stones, Hollies, etc. for the local club circuit. However, once the band came together, the Beatles’ music sounded so authentic that they pretty much scrapped the “British Invasion” idea...and when the costumes, guitars, and amplifiers came into the picture, it was clear they’d made the right decision. They started with nightclub shows and once word spread, they received better offers and better venues to perform in, but even in the early days they tried to make the best of the shows even if they were put into situations with bad sound systems and lousy venues, and today they have a great reputation for not only the quality of their shows but for their professionalism and good natured manner.
When asked if he had any advice for other acts, Sandy says, “Be nice to everyone..the guy sweeping the floor this year, might be the entertainment co-ordinator next year.”
Each member of the Caverners is a very big Beatles fan. Sandy also says, “I think anyone performing any tribute has to have the initial interest in the character in order to give it their best effort...if you don’t have a liking for the artist you are portraying, it will show in your performance.”
The Caverners have worked with a number of ETA’s over the years (for example: Anthony Von, Max Pellicano, Stephen Kabakos, Roy LeBlanc) and Sandy says that, as Elvis and the Beatles together have collectively about “a billion hits,” it’s always a crowd-pleasing double bill show -- he adds that he’s a big Elvis fan, too! Although the Caverners usually headline by themselves as there are so many Beatles hits to get through in a typical evening, they have shared bills not only with Elvis tributes, but also with Roy Orbison, Rolling Stones, Shania Twain, Abba, Guess Who, and Bee Gees tribute acts.
I asked if they use English accents when they perform and how they refer to each other on stage. They do keep in character during the show, using Liverpool accents and introducing each other using their Beatles’ characters’ names...the people in the audience “get” it and enjoy being a part of it by allowing themselves for that moment to be listening to “the real thing.” Sandy does say, however, that he’s never understood the tribute artists who continue on with their character after finishing a performance, and that when the Caverners meet with fans after a show, the English accents are left on the stage and they are just regular guys who enjoy the fact that the fans had a good time and are willing to come up and express their appreciation.