SLIDESHOW: ‘Playing Let It Be in Blackpool is a dream come true’

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Unlike many of their cast mates, both Paul Canning and James Fox – who play the legendary song-writing duo John Lennon and Paul McCartney in Let It Be – have never performed in Beatles tribute acts prior to joining the hit show.

Dubbed a ‘theatrical concert’, Let It Be charts the rise of The Beatles from Liverpool’s Cavern Club to the late Seventies.

Scenes from Let It Be

Scenes from Let It Be

Prior to joining the cast of Let It Be, when it opened in London’s West End in 2012, James was a ‘jobbing musician and actor’, who some may recognise from BBC1’s Fame Academy in 2003 and representing the UK in the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest.

When every audience member, every night, knows pretty much every word of every song you’re set to perform – that must be a scary feeling?

“Playing McCartney, I was afraid of not making it authentic enough because I’m more used to doing my own version of these classic songs,” he said.

“But we work hard on it all the time.

“It plays tricks with your mind, representing these great musicians. At the start it was a challenge just to learn it all, then you get the first review and it gives you a chance to see how things are working.

“Even now, still, when you’re singing on your own you are thinking ‘Am I getting this?’. It’s not like people don’t know The Beatles and Paul McCartney, so it’s a lot of pressure.

“But the way the show is set up, it’s not that the audience forgive anything, but once it starts you transport the audience into that world.”

And Paul, happy to admit to being a “Beatles geek”, was a gigging musician, too – playing weddings, functions and pubs, although he has also toured supporting ex-Spice Girl Mel C – when he joined the London company as the original cast took the show to Broadway.

“I have been a Beatles fan since I was a kid so it was kind of a dream job for me to even audition,” he said.

“I knew a guy in the show and he said they were looking for extra Lennons – and I learned the piano for the role. I’m a singer-songwriter, and I’ve never acted before.

“I could play basic chords and in my first audition my hands were shaking and I kept getting it wrong but they could see something they liked. I went home and sat at the piano for a few weeks to practise.

“Now, getting the gig to play in Blackpool really is like a dream come true for me... My first Beatles tribute band, and it’s this one!”

But ‘becoming’ a Beatle is not just about mastering the Scouse accent, playing the instruments and learning the songs.

The most recognisable faces of a generation, The Beatles were famed the world over for their image, the trademark floppy hair, sharp suits and as hearthrobs, so there’s the physical transformation to undergo, too.

“The eyebrows form part of the physical change,” James said. “And the wig because I haven’t got much hair!

“But you can’t draw Paul McCartney’s face on – although some people have tried that.

“The costumes are really authentic, they have spent a fortune on them, then it’s about creating the spirit and finding the mannerisms and tics – the way he stands, looks and points.”

And part of The Beatles’ own heritage has helped Paul recreate Lennon’s character.

“Playing the Opera House will be fantastic – they played there twice in 1964, and a television special was filmed of them from Blackpool in 1965 and that’s been a massive frame of reference for John Lennon’s mannerisms for me as there’s about a 15 to 20-minute clip and a famous piece.

“It included the first performance of Yesterday – I’m a Beatles geek – and there’s a certain level of performance that’s especially famous from that.

“Lennon’s quite a cool character – and I’m not cool. Although if I was closest to any of The Beatles in character I’d say it was him; he’s witty and sarcastic, with quite a dry sense of humour.”

Let it Be features more than 40 of The Beatles hits, with the second half songs coming from the period when they had stopped playing live.

It’s billed as a ‘theatrical concert’ aiming to faithfully recreate the times and to take audiences back to the band’s heyday.

James said: “The strength of this show, which started two-and-a-half years ago in what was intended to be a limited run at the Prince Of Wales Theatre in London and then went to the Savoy, is the attention to detail which has been paid in terms of the show, from the guitars to the costumes, and the speaking and singing voices in every part of every song.

“And if you can do this show in Liverpool and get five star reviews, and have original members of The Quarrymen – John Lennon’s original band – turn up and say they thought they were back at the Cavern, then you’re doing something right.

“The acid test for the show is if you can sell The Beatles to Liverpool.”

But the fear for the cast is not whether the audience will ‘like the songs’ as is often the case for musicians, but whether their performance is up to scratch.

Paul added: “You don’t have to worry if people will like the songs, the worry is that we do it well enough. If you can’t play it, you’ve failed.”

Besides the cast’s precision in faithfully taking their audience back in time, the other constant, according to James, is the reaction the show gets.

“I’ve enjoyed playing the show in different places for different reasons. Being Welsh, I loved being in Cardiff, but wherever you are it is the same reaction every night – which is pretty much that it’s full of people up dancing and singing, because it is a concert not a theatre piece. You can almost set your clock by the reaction of audiences.”

As well as the excitement of recreating the musical icons, the cast have the chance, on rare occasions to follow in their actual footsteps – and the Opera House is one of those occasions.

“There have been a handful of venues we have played where The Beatles have been – the Prince Of Wales was where they did the Royal Variety, and the theatre in Southampton – but we always try to recreate something, a photo from those shows,” said James.

“It does feel quite special when you go back to those places; some, of course, have been refurbished but others you can literally sit in the same chairs.

“And once you’ve been doing a show for two-and-a-half years, these are the things which are the extra incentives, where you can turn round and say ‘we did that as well’.”

But he has his own fond memories of Blackpool, with three summer seasons under his belt - playing The Star at the Pleasure Beach and the Dutchman piano bar on the Promenade – as well as childhood visits with family.

“I was always back and forth to Blackpool and we always went to the lights in the October school holidays week,” he said.

“We would see the big names on the piers back then and it was something I wanted to work for. Blackpool has always been a benchmark for success to me – and here I am about to play the Opera House.”

James’ time working in Blackpool came just before he signed a record deal, and as he started playing ‘better venues’.

“I’ve come full circle now to be back and in such a prestigious venue is phenomenal.”