If you want to be a a serious tribute band, attention to detail is vital.
That’s the philosophy of Ron McNeil, the founding member of the Fab Four and a living clone of John Lennon, the founding member of the Beatles.
To help make the experience more authentic for fans, members of the Fab Four – the California-based tribute band that will bring the Beatles to life at Wichita’s Orpheum Theatre on Wednesday – have become obsessed with detail.
Their costumes, shoes and instruments are exact replicas of the costumes, shoes and instruments the Beatles had.
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The band members don’t drink from plastic water bottles onstage because there was no such thing as plastic water bottles in the 1960s.
And the group’s bassist, Paul McCartney look- and sound-alike Ardy Sarraf, took authenticity to a new level when he taught himself to play with his other hand.
“He’s a right-handed bass player, but he learned to play left-handed for the show,” McNeil said during a phone interview from California last week. “That’s a big part of it. A lot of audiences notice a lot of details like that.”
The Fab Four was born a couple of years after McNeil met Sarraf, when he saw him at a Beatles festival in Los Angeles. Sarraf was participating in a Beatles’ sound-alike contest and was performing Paul McCartney’s song “Coming Up.”
“He sounded so much like him, I could not believe it,” McNeil remembers. “It was amazing.”
McNeil, had always been a musician and was talented at imitating voices. A couple of years after they met, McNeil and Sarraf formed the Fab Four. That was 15 years ago.
Since then, the group has been touring almost nonstop, bringing a Beatles experience to audiences who still love the group but will never get a chance to see the original “Fab Four” perform live. The modern Fab Four also had its own Las Vegas-based show for several years, and in 2012, it filmed a PBS special that still is frequently aired during fundraising drives across the country. The group won an Emmy for its performance in that special.
The lineup has changed over the years, and McNeil and Sarraf are the only two remaining original members still performing, though the original Ringo and George still work on their crew. The new George Harrison is a Liverpool native named Gavin Pring who is “crazy, and he looks a lot like George Harrison,” McNeil said. In fact, Pring has a side George Harrison project called “George Harry’s Son.”
And the new Ringo, Erik Fidel, is a Sacramento-based musician who wears a prosthetic nose onstage because his own isn’t bulbous enough.
What the Fab Four does not have is any member who actually remembers the Beatles being together. Though McNeil’s memories include the death of John Lennon, and he was deeply affected by it, that’s his earliest recollection.
“None of us are old enough to have an original Beatles memory,” McNeil said. “I’m the oldest guy in the group, and I don’t remember the Beatles being together at all.”
Still, the four put on a stage show that includes several costume changes, lots of fake mustaches, and every note and harmony of the Beatles’ greatest hits, starting with the Ed Sullivan age and traveling through the group’s hippie days and breakup era. It’s a hits show, McNeil said, and includes all the favorites, from “Can’t Buy me Love” to “Hey Jude.”
McNeil, an accomplished keyboardist, also put together arrangements of later songs released after the group stopped touring in 1967, including “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “A Day In The Life.”
“Your typical bar band is not going to play those,” he said. “They can’t arrange it or pull it off.”
The shows tend to draw crowds made up mostly of the Beatles’ contemporaries, though younger people often tag along, McNeil said. And just like the real Beatles, the tribute Beatles still inspire plenty of screaming – and even the occasional undergarment tossing.
“You can still go see Paul. You can still go see Ringo. But you can’t still go see the Beatles,” McNeil said. “I think people miss seeing those four guys together doing their thing.”