With the recent release of the re-mastered Beatles catalog and the iconic band’s hit version of the “Rock Band” video game, enthusiasm for the Fab Four is the highest it’s been in years.
A number of tribute bands have cropped up in the decades since The Beatles dissolved in 1970, but Classical Mystery Tour stands out, for its incorporation of a full orchestra, as well as a dedication to an exact reproduction of The Beatles’ sound.
“We really make an effort to sound exactly like the original album recordings. It’s what everyone has in their heads,” said founder and front man Jim Owen. “The orchestra score is exact, right down to every note and instrument. On ‘Got to Get You Into My Life,’ we have two tenor saxes and three trumpets. That’s what it was written for, and that’s what we use.”
Classical Mystery Tour joins the Oklahoma City Philharmonic on Friday and Saturday to re-create songs spanning the entire Beatles catalog. Owen said classical musicians tapped to perform have enjoyed imagining what it might have been like at Abbey Road Studios in the 1960s.
At age 8, Owen had already been studying classical piano for two years when first heard The Beatles.
“I was pretty convinced at 6 years old that I wanted to be a composer or classical pianist,” he said. “When I heard The Beatles for the first time, it definitely shifted my focus toward wanting to learn the guitar.”
ATTRACTING AN AGENT
As a teenager, he earned a reputation for performing in character as George Harrison at shows he organized with friends, attracting the attention of an agent representing the touring company of the “Beatlemania” revue. A successful audition put Owen on the road with the troupe, performing in Japan, Korea, China, Canada, Mexico and much of South America.
Inspired by the classical and pops concerts he’d attended as a budding musician, Owen began working on a new Beatles show in the mid-1990s that would incorporate more orchestral instruments.
“The original idea was that it would be fun to have a few orchestral instruments, like a saxophone here, a trumpet there, maybe some strings for ‘Yesterday’ or ‘Eleanor Rigby.’ From that small idea, it grew into the idea of using the whole orchestra,” he said.
Out of that, Classical Mystery Tour was born. In the beginning, Beatles tunes were chosen only if they made interesting use of the orchestra.
“When we started playing the show, we realized very few early Beatles songs were represented,” he said. “Now, at the top of the show, we do a couple of early Beatles songs without the orchestra so we can represent their whole progression.”
He said some of his best experiences with Classical Mystery Tour have been performing with esteemed orchestras or at iconic venues.
“Even better than that,” Owen said, “is knowing that no matter where we go, or how big or small the show is, because of The Beatles’ music and their message, that we make a lot of people happy.”
Classical Mystery Tour with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic perform at 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday at Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N. Walker. “Eric Webb