Classical Mystery Tour: Roll up for ‘Abbey Road’ 50th anniversary tribute with Allentown Symphony
“Roll up, roll up for
the Mystery Tour”
- The Beatles,
“Magical Mystery Tour”
When The Beatles performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” Feb. 9, 1964, Jim Owen wasn’t among the 73 million viewers of the legendary British rock group’s United States’ television debut.
Owen wasn’t born yet.
When The Beatles’ “Magical Mysery Tour” album was released in 1967, Owen was in diapers.
The Classical Mystery Tour, featuring Jim Owen as Beatle John, rolls up to Miller Symphony Hall for an Allentown Symphony Pops concert, 7:30 p.m. July 13.
The concert is a tribute to the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ “Abbey Road,” released in 1969 in the U.S.
The “Abbey Road” tribute is making its debut in Allentown.
Beatles’ fans will not want to miss the concert. For those who never experienced Beatlemania, it’s a great introduction to The Fab Four’s music.
Of a Classical Mystery Tour performance, the Los Angeles Times stated: “A high goosebump quotient.”
“These four musicians are jaw-droppingly accurate … The concept is a Beatles’ concert if the lads had been accompanied by a gifted symphony orchestra,” states the Cape Cod Times.
With only two members, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, of The Beatles still alive (John Lennon died in 1980. George Harrison died in 2001.), a tribute band is an opportunity, other than Beatles songs performed by McCartney and Starr at their concerts, for a Beatles’ concert experience.
The Beatles, formed in Liverpool, Great Britain, in 1960, disbanded in 1970. “Abbey Road” was the last album recorded by the group, even though “Let It Be” was the group’s last album released in 1970.
“I discovered The Beatles in the 1970s,” says Owen. “I was born in 1966, so I missed the Beatles altogether.
“Before I knew about The Beatles, my dad got me into classical music. I was taking classical piano lessons at age six,” Owen says in a phone interview from his home in Huntington Beach, Calif.
Owen’s father was an aerospace engineer for the former McDonnell Douglas, Huntington Beach, Calif.
“My dad’s sister came out to stay with the family for awhile. She brought her record collection. And one day she put on ‘Meet the Beatles!’ [the group’s first U.S. album, released in 1964]. I stopped in my tracks and said, ‘Who’s that?’ I was about seven-years-old.”
Now some 23 years later as a founder in 1996 of Classical Mystery Tour, Owen arrives in the Lehigh Valley to sing and play as John Lennon with Tony Kishman (as Paul McCartney), Tom Teeley (George Harrison) and Doug Cox (Ringo Starr).
The Allentown Symphony is conducted by Ron Demkee, Allentown Symphony Orchestra Associate Conductor.
“We worked with Ron Demkee a few years ago,” Owen says. Classical Mystery Tour was presented with the ASO in 2011 and 2015 at Miller Symphony Hall.
This time around, the Classical Mystery Tour emphasis is on “Abbey Road.”
“It’s a bit from the first side and a bit from the second side [of the album],” Owen says.
Owen outlines the July 13 Classical Mystery Tour concert.
The concert opens with an overture, an arrangement of The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” performed by the ASO.
Then it’s “early Beatles’ songs.” As Owen explains it, “We do add a few early Beatles’ songs, so we can come out in the black suits.
“In the first half, there’s a costume change into the Sgt. Pepper’s costumes [with music from The Beatles’ 1967 landmark album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”].
“After intermission, it’ll be the later stuff ... a few songs from ‘The Magical Mystery Tour’ album.
“Before we do the ‘Abbey Road’ segment, we do ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and ‘Yellow Submarine.’
“We close it with the ‘Abbey Road’ segment ... nine songs from the album.”
Continues Owen, “Some of the people who hire us don’t particularly care about the [‘Abbey Road’] anniversary, but some of them do. I believe it’s the first time this year, we’ll be doing the ‘Abbey Road’ segment.”
Owen credits Classical Mystery Tour’s own version of George Martin, Beatles’ recording sessions producer, for authenticity.
“Dr. Martin Herman recreated note-for-note from the original Beatles’ recordings.
“He’s a composer, arranger, conductor, music theorist ... you name it. He has a doctorate of music.
“That’s how I found him. I was taking some classes at California State University Long Beach. i went to the music office and asked one of the staff if they knew someone who could recreate Beatles’ songs for an idea I had. She said, ‘You gotta talk to Dr. Herman.’ He turned out to be a Beatles’ fan like me and all the rest in the group are.
“We call him George Martin Herman. What he’s done is so close to what George Martin did.”
Owen says that, when he was a lad, “I didn’t have any exposure to rock or pop. It was all classical up to that point.”
That “point” was when he “met” The Beatles after listening to his aunt’s copy of the “Meet The Beatles!” album.
“From there on, I kept up the classical music and I learned to play The Beatles’ music on guitar by listening to the records. Luckily, I had a good ear. Kind of like how Martin Herman did. He listened to the records.
“Starting at 11-years-old, I put a band together with friends from school. Our other friends wanted to play other songs, like Led Zeppelin, but Mike Cernak [a fellow student who was Beatle Ringo on drums], and I just wanted to play Beatles.”
The lads from Huntington Beach mostly played in garages and living rooms.
“I think I got my first paying jobs when I was 16. We finally got four guys together to play only Beatles’ songs. At that time, I was studying George Harrison’s guitar and vocals.
“Around that time, other Beatles’ tribute groups asked me to fill in.”
And then “Beatlemania” hit Broadway. The musical revue ran from 1977-1979 for 1,006 performances.
“I saw the show, ‘Beatlemania,’ and I thought, ’That’s just what I want to do, recreate for people what it would be like to see The Beatles.’”
Kishman played bass and guitar for six years as Paul McCartney in the national and international tours of “Beatlemania.”
Teeley starred as George Harrison in the Broadway production of “Beatlemania.” Teeley worked with the late Geoff Emerick, chief engineer for the Beatles at Abbey Road Studios, as musical consultant and performer in the British production, “Sessions at Abbey Road.”
At 18, Owen began touring internationally with “Beatlemania” in Japan, Korea, China, Canada, Mexico and South America.
In 1979, Apple Corps sued the “Beatlemania” show creator and producers. In 1986, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ordered Beatlemania Inc. to pay Apple $5.6 million, plus 7 percent interest from September 1979.
Even before Classical Mystery Tour rolled out, Owen consulted an entertainment lawyer.
“There’s difference from playing in a tribute band and doing a musical story about the band. I didn’t want to do anything that would get me stopped before I would get started,” recounted Owen.
“I actually took it a step further and wrote to Sir George Martin in London. I thought it would be great to get directly from him, his original studio charts and also some of the film music.
“I thought it would be really neat to do some of the orchestral work from ‘Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘Help!’ [Beatles feature movies, released in 1964 and 1965, respectively].
“His [George Martin’s] assistant, or right-hand man, wrote back and said thanks for asking and said he [George Martin] prefers to perform his own charts. He did make appearances at the time.”
Classical Mystery Tour debuted in 1996 at The Orange County Performing Arts Center, now Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa, Calif.
Classical Mystery Tour performs once or twice per month, including this year, with the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, Honolulu, Hi; Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Little Rock Ark.; Binghamton Philharmonic, Ithaca, N.Y.; Richmond Symphony, Richmond, Va.; Dayton Philharmonic, Dayton, Oh., and Forth Worth Symphony Orchestra, Fort Worth, Tex.
Since its inception, Classical Mystery Tour has performed with more than 100 orchestras in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia and Australia, including the Cleveland Orchestra, The Boston Pops, The Philadelphia Orchestra and The San Francisco Symphony.
“It seems the more time goes by, there seem to be more Beatles tribute groups,” says Owen. “I know that a lot of people who’ve been to Beatles tribute shows and a tribute show with an orchestra say with an orchestra it brings it to a whole other new level.”
Classical Mystery Tour CDs and T-Shirts will be available for sale in the lobby at the Miller Symphony Hall concert. “We typically like to come out after the show and sign them,” Owen says.
“One of the great elements about Beatles’ music is the positive messge,” says Owen. “‘All you need is love’ and all that stuff. And you couple that people’s familiarity and love of Beatles’ songs, at the end of the night, at the end of the show, it’s really a positlve uplifting happiness that people leave the show with.”
Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall box office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; millersymphonyhall.org; 610-432-6715