André Barreau spent 30 years studying the mannerisms and music of George Harrison in The Beatles.
The now retired member of one of the world’s first tribute bands, the Bootleg Beatles, is still involved with the band as a manager.
Speaking from the UK where he was getting ready to accompany a new crop of musicians playing the roles of John, Paul, George and Ringo for their Australian tour, André says the band has come a long way since it was formed in March 1980.
André played the role of George Harrison until he handed the reins over to Stephen Hill in July 2014.
Since its beginning, Bootleg Beatles have been renowned for their attention to detail from costumes to authentic period instruments, to their note-perfect reproductions of some of the world’s most famous music.
He met Paul McCartney and George Harrison who asked: “Who’s the Bootleg Brian Epstein ‘cos he’s got all the money?”
The Bootleg Beatles
has supported many of the world’s biggest stars including Oasis, Rod Stewart, Tom Jones, Elton John and even Sir Paul McCartney himself.
They are also the second and only other group – after the Beatles – to play on the Apple Rooftop on SavileRow, London.
André was born in Wimbledon in London and worked at the BBC for a year or two where he got involved with a band and went into music full time.
When he was 22 years old, an audition came up for Beatlemania which had been a success on Broadway. When it went to the UK the musician’s union required it to have a B cast of British performers.
“They hurriedly auditioned for a British cast, of which I was one, but it didn’t do that well, it was the wrong time, in ‘79 the mood was not warmly reflective to The Beatles, so it didn’t last very long in the West End.
“Within six months we were out of work, but decided not to go back to the bands we’d been in before but to form the Bootleg
Beatles to see if it lasted.
“It was meant to be a six-month project, but it’s still going now, 42 years later,” André laughs.
He shares management duties with Neil Harrison who plays John Lennon. Neil had originally suggested they try to keep the band going.
And keep going it did, now performing regular high-level concert tours of Australia, New Zealand, South America, Belgium, the Netherlands and Scandinavia as well as an annual sell-out 50-date national UK tour and a summer festival season including Glastonbury’s Pyramid and Acoustic stages.
It was formed at a time when tribute bands were in their infancy.
“I think there was a Fat Elvis in Wales, a guy called Rupert, but there wasn’t the concept of being a band on your own replicating another act. What we put into our act, as well as trying to be as accurate as possible, was humour, not cheesy cabaret humour, but more ironic humour. This has stood us in good stead.
“When we formed in 1980 John Lennon was still alive, so for the first six or nine months or so John was on the planet so the Beatles could have reformed and it was funny. It was John’s murder that meant that it really couldn’t happen, the dream was over, and the world had changed.
“From a sad perspective it brought on this whole tribute world because as George Harrison said: “as long as John Lennon remains dead the Beatles won’t re-form.”
“In the beginning in some places we did face anger with people saying we were dancing on his grave, but we said, ‘do you think we learned all these songs in a week and we have these suits?’
“That would be even worse, I imagine, these days with the way the planet is, but that soon settled down and people realised there was a need for it and we were in the right place.”
André says that over the years the demands on the band to be even more accurate in its portrayal of the Beatles has become even more important.
“Forty-two years ago PAs weren’t as pinpoint accurate and there weren’t people filming you during a show, so now if you hit a bum note in any band you have ‘some friend’ putting it up on YouTube; there you are forever more playing a bum note – and we didn’t have that pressure – which is the biggest difference.
“And this group is very accurate. For us it wasn’t a career choice, it happened by mistake if you like, but for the people who are in it now, it is a career choice.”
Audiences have also changed a lot over the years.
“When we first played, after we signed to Brian Epstein’s old company NEMS, we did some universities, we did working-men’s clubs in England. We did more glorious work abroad with proper concerts, but at first in England we weren’t on the theatre circuit and those audiences and clubs used to come up to us and say things like ‘I loved that solo in Michelle, I’m very happy to hear it’, people had such a current memory of the Beatles.
“Now, it’s not so much nostalgia, and while I have a memory of being given Twist and Shout by my grandmother when I was seven; for most people it’s about discovery.”
André adored the Beatles from the age of seven and says he was one of those people who didn’t give up the flame. While he appreciates other music, the way the catalogue of Beatles music is still so revered and enjoyed is proof of its quality.
“My love of the Beatles is as deep as ever, it has never waned,” he said.