The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and the Classical Mystery Tour

Conductor Martin Herman Featured performers Jim Owen - rhythm guitar & piano, Tony Kishman - bass & piano, Thomas Teeley - lead guitar and Chris Camilleri - drums

Date and Venue 3 December 2008, 8pm | Orpheum Theatre

Reviewer John Jane

The Beatles gave their final live performance on the rooftop of the Apple building in London in the middle of the day on the 30th January, 1969. Since then, two of them, John Lennon and George Harrison have sadly departed our world, leaving behind their musical legacy for our continued delight. The ensuing forty years (has it really been that long?) have hardly diminished the public appetite for their music, If anything, the demand for Beatles material is greater than ever.

So, hot on the heels of two recent Beatles tribute concerts in Vancouver, 1964 at the Orpheum in May and Fab Four barely a couple of weeks ago at the Red Robinson Theatre, we get Classical Mystery Tour (a word-play on the song title Magical Mystery Tour). However, what sets these guys apart from other tribute bands is that their performance has the backing of a full symphony orchestra!

Jim Owen (Lennon), Tony Kishman (McCartney), Tom Teeley (Harrison) and Chris Camilleri (Starr) together with their arranger, Martin Herman who, on this occasion conducted the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra brought out some fascinating interpretations of Lennon and McCartney (plus George Harrison) compositions.

Herman, who bears a passing physical resemblance to George Martin, the Beatles original producer, has adapted Martin’s brilliant studio arrangements to suit live performance and the effect is spellbinding.

You have to be good when you come to a concert hall to simulate a performance of arguably the most popular band in rock music history and play with the top class musicians in the VSO. Well, these guys are good! After all, they’ve been playing these songs longer than the “real” Beatles ever did.

The concert got under way with a symphonic medley of early Beatles tunes by the VSO that included “She Loves You” and “Michelle.”

The four featured performers then took the stage, wearing those classic black Italian-styled suits with velvet lapels and drain-pipe trousers popular in the early sixties. "Got to Get You into my Life" was the first song, and followed by (a second hearing of) “She Loves You” with Tony Kishman performing as Paul McCartney on vocals and bass. A forgivable departure from accuracy here, as Kishman plays his Hofner bass replica right-handed while McCartney was a “leftie.”

It only took the third song in the programme, “I saw her Standing There” to get the capacity crowd clapping in time and singing along with the chorus. Most of the responsibility for vocals in these earlier numbers fell onto Kishman who, then picked up the acoustic guitar while the other band members left the stage....obviously it was time for McCartney’s signature "Yesterday."

The group closed out the first act with tunes from the Beatles psychedelic era with an appropriate custom change to the “Sgt. Pepper” uniforms: “Penny Lane” accompanied by the orchestra’s amazing brass section, George Harrison’s inspirational “Here comes the Sun” and finally a marathon version of the once controversial, “A day in a Life” (when first heard, it was thought to usher the news of McCartney’s death).

After an intermission, the musicians returned for the second set with the orchestra playing a more prominent role in the performance of the Beatles later catalogue, principally coming from their so-called “White Album”.

All four are Americans with Teeley and Camilleri hailing from New York, Owen from California and Kishman coming out of Tucson, Arizona. All have impressive artistic portfolios in their own right; Teeley in particular has portrayed George Harrison both in the stage production and movie version of Beatlemania. Kishman perhaps a little more than his band-mates has managed to acquire a passable pseudo British accent.

Post-Beatles solo achievements also received some recognition. It was, in a way rather bizarre to hear McCartney’s “Live and let Die” – a tune he wrote for the James Bond film and performed with his latter band, Wings presented as a Beatles song. Likewise, Lennon’s quietly affecting “Imagine” whose lyrics are as profound today as when first written in 1971.

The predictable encore brought about an exuberant rendition of “Hey Jude” that ultimately turned into an audience participation sing-along and the most popular Beatles song that they never wrote, “Twist and Shout” brought everyone to their feet.

At the end of the show I found myself leaving the theatre humming my favourite Beatles tune. There is, after all, a future in nostalgia.

© 2008 John Jane