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Let it be... Beijing

Updated: 2012-06-18 11:05
By Ji Xiang (China Daily)

The Chinese capital gets own version of the Fab Four. Ji Xiang soaks up a little Beatlemania.

More than 50 years have passed since the Beatles put out their first records - in Hamburg - but millions of feet are still tapping to their music. Plenty of those fans are in China, and the Beijing Beatles, a tribute band based in the capital, thrives on the music that set off Beatlemania in the early 1960s. The first two members of the Beijing band when it was founded in 2010 were Troy Reilly, an Australian, and Greg Desbuquois, a Frenchman.

Reilly says the idea for the band came to him after he attended a Beatles tribute concert in Melbourne. Although the Beatles never performed in China, he felt forming a band in the Chinese capital could be special.

Let it be... Beijing

"George, Ringo, John and Paul" find their own Abbey Road in a Beijing hutong. From left: Greg Desbuquois, John Devlin, Troy Reilly and Ian Burns. [Photo provided to China Daily]

In a case of art replicating life, the Beijing band has lost original members, but now the lineup looks like this: Reilly is "Jorge Arrowsmith"; Desbuquois is "Gringo Star"; Ian Burns, an Englishman, is "Don Lemmon"; and John Devlin, also an Englishman, is "Raul McCarthy".

Reilly jokes that with the two Englishmen in the band, the vocals have significantly improved.

The humorous names - each a play on the originals George Harrison, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and Paul McCartney - adding an extra dash of entertainment to the proceedings, as the four try to emulate their heroes without too much pressure.

"I'm not sure what sort of a job I do being Lennon," says Burns. I don't feel any pressure really, [since] we all try to keep it quite light-hearted [in my case by being] Don Lemmon."

The quartet assumed individual roles more or less randomly - Devlin says he mimics Paul McCartney because all of the other roles were taken. Desbuquois adds his own idiosyncratic touches to Ringo Starr by sometimes jumping out to center stage to sing. But it is clear that Reilly has a soft spot for George Harrison.

"In a world driven by ego, George, the quiet Beatle, seemed to come across as being more about finding peace within himself, a quality that I really admire," Reilly says. I also love the lyrical style of his guitar soloing, the tone of his playing and the choice of equipment he popularized, including Gretsch guitars and Vox amplification."

With full mops of hair and often dressed in the kind of glistening, kaleidoscopic garb that Sergeant Pepper would be proud of, they usually perform for about two hours, re-creating the Beatles music of Hamburg, the Merseybeat sounds of the mid-'60s and more. Their name does not tie them down to Beijing; they've played in other metropolises like Hong Kong and provincial cities like Hefei.

The four band members were drawn to Beijing for a variety of professional and personal reasons.

Reilly has been the longest in the country, more than a decade. Comfortable speaking in Mandarin, he works at the Australian embassy in Beijing.

Burns is the entrepreneur owner of Redstar, a publishing and creative services company based in Qingdao. He moved to Beijing three years ago to expand the creative side of his business and launch a new venture "Burns Guitars". Devlin works as a professional musician in Beijing. Desbuquois is a manager at Beijing Relocation Company.

Just as the real Beatles had diverging ideas on how things should be run, the Beijing four had different expectations when they formed. They play for fun, though Desbuquois was not averse to making money out of the venture if the band was going to be popular.

For Devlin, the audience is "the only thing that is important", a sentiment they all embrace.

"At the vast majority of [the shows] the audience totally get it, and that's what makes it enjoyable," Burns says.

The Beijing Beatles have played about 100 shows over the past year. One of the highlights was performing at the British Chamber of Commerce's Swinging '60s ball in Shanghai. There, the stage set was designed to resemble the Cavern Club in Liverpool, the live-music venue that was a key stop on the Fab Four's journey to fame.

A documentary film has been made about the Beijing band and Reilly's life and was broadcast on Chinese television.

Burns says that they aim to have 50 songs to perform this summer, about 10 more than now. At the same time, new suits will be added to their wardrobe to give the show a lift. Devlin hopes the band will venture to more places in China, thus introducing more people to the music of the Beatles.

"These guys are really good," says Neil Bhullar from Wales, who recently saw the band at Beijing's Hot Cat Club. "They get all the parts right; all the harmonies are bang on.

"Music scenes like those in Britain and the US have a huge historical legacy upon which to base new ideas. Beijing doesn't, and that's another reason why the Beijing Beatles are such a hit in town."

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