REVIEW: Sheffield Beatles Project @ Octagon Centre

For the past six years, there’s been a Sheffield tradition that I look forward to more and more each Christmas, and no, it’s not the Lyceum pantomime. What started as a one-off show at Tramlines has become the Sheffield Beatles Project – a collection of our finest musicians who come together with one aim: to perform the magical, timeless and superb music of the Beatles.

Or so it seemed, because this year, they’ve gone somewhat off-message. They played the entire Sgt. Pepper album back in 2017, so this year, to enhance what most of us knew would be a fabulous night, they delved into the history of the album. In January 1966, with The Beatles’ album Rubber Soul ringing in his ears, Brian Wilson entered a studio in California with the Beach Boys to record what he hoped would be the ‘greatest rock album ever made’. Five months later, in London, Paul McCartney listened to the result, Pet Sounds, and was blown away by the musical invention and wondered how to rival it. Even George Martin admitted that this record inspired the group to reach even greater heights. So, as if to set the scene for the second half of the show, the SBP attempted the entire Pet Sounds album, along with a couple of bonus tracks.

“A collection of our finest musicians who come together with one aim: to perform the magical, timeless and superb music of the Beatles.” Photo: Calvin Merry Productions

The performances of the singers and musicians were astonishing, and it was easy to appreciate how the scope and ambition of the album matched the Beatles’ eighth LP. But of course, the main fun was to be had in the main event: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band being played live, in its entirety, by what was at times a 30-piece ensemble. Nothing needed introducing as the entire audience knew every word and note emanating from the stage. We basked in wave upon wave of the album’s creativity and songwriting excellence, which some would maintain has remained unmatched since the album’s release in May 1967. From the excitement of the opening title track to the long, single note fade at the end of ‘Day In The Life’, we were all transfixed by music which, at the time it was released, would have been impossible to hear performed live. Off they all went, and then back on for an inevitable encore. How to follow that? Well, for starters, ‘Now And Then’, their ‘new’ single and number one song, followed by one giant singalong session of ‘Penny Lane’, ‘All You Need Is Love’ and ‘I Am The Walrus’. Special mention must go to the five singers up front: Sarah Carroll, Teah Lewis, Jack Weston (aka Kid Conventional), Jaz Kelly and Ad Follett. The two dozen-plus musicians on stage with them performed faultlessly, led by their phenomenal musical director Ben Eckersley, without whom this astonishing evening just would not exist. One of the biggest cheers of the night was when they announced the date for next year’s show, and my advice would be to book early!


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