Concert Commemorates Sgt. Pepper’s 50th Anniversary

sgt. pepperIt was 50 years ago today
Sgt. Pepper came to stay and stay.
Come and hear the album played in style
at Lakeland Live; you’re guaranteed a smile.
So may I introduce to you the band that’s gonna play the tunes:
Jason, David, Sumner, Shane — and the ISO

To celebrate today’s 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ landmark “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” 17 local musicians are staging an ambitious concert Saturday reproducing the entire album from start to finish. 

The trick the “Sgt. Pepper Redux” musicians undertake at 8 on Saturday at LkldLive is to perform an album that its creators never intended to play live.

Disclosure: I’m a board member for LkldLive, a non-profit organization. I receive no compensation from LkldLive, although I’ve gotten into a few events for free. I paid for my Sgt. Pepper Redux tickets.
Shane Lawlor
Shane Lawlor Frank Branca

The show (Tickets: $25-$35) is being produced by Shane Lawlor, the executive director of LkldLive, whose moptop hair, accent from the north of Britain and bouncy stage persona could mark him as a character in a Beatles tribute band.

But this won’t be a tribute show in that Lawlor and his fellow musicians won’t attempt to look like Beatles, just sound like them.

Lawlor, who’ll be singing and playing John Lennon rhythm guitar, will be joined by singers David Brimer, playing George Harrison lead guitar, and Sumner Curtis, along with keyboard player Jason Baker.

They’ll get by with a little help from their friends, musicians from the Imperial Symphony Orchestra: a string quintet, harpist, three brass players, two woodwinds, a percussionist and a bass player.

Video from LkldTV:

Lawlor acknowledges he knew staging “Sgt. Pepper” was ambitious, but concedes the complexity of the music makes it even more challenging than he anticipated.

“There’s a reason people don’t do this,” he said. “We were thinking about what we could do that’s never been done before here and would really show off the talent in Lakeland. With the 50th anniversary, we realized there would never be a better time. It’s such an influential album.”

The most time-consuming assignment went to Baker, who took on the role of musical director and created the musical score that will be used by the ISO players.

“I should have had two or three months to do it, but in this case it was more like two or three weeks,” said Baker, a 37-year-old career musician who is completing a degree in music management from Florida Southern College.

To a non-musician, the whole rehearsal schedule seems rushed — the four singers started working together Tuesday and don’t play with the rhythm section until Friday or the full ensemble until the day of the show — but they insist that’s typical for professional musicians.

“You spend the most time listening, and this is an album we really know,” Lawlor said.

Talk about “having been some days in preparation.”

Brimer, Curtis, Lawlor
In rehearsal, from left: David Brimer, Sumner Curtis, Shane Lawlor Frank Branca

The ‘Beatle’ musicians

* Lawlor, 39, (discography) grew up in Nottingham, England, and played bass for Nick Armstrong & the Thieves (video), which toured with Oasis and Paul Weller. Moving to the U.S., he helped form Electric Touch (video), which recorded for Island/Def Jam and was based alternately in Austin, New York City and Los Angeles.

He and his wife, Laura, moved to Lakeland, her hometown, around the time their son, who just turned 5, was born. Lawlor’s biggest worry this week is that his wife will deliver their second son the day of the show.

* Baker, who grew up in Fort Meade playing piano, took up the fiddle during high school years. As a young adult, he played in a bluegrass band while working as a disc jockey for classic country station WOKC in Okeechobee.

He left the station for music gigs and comedy training at theme parks and music shows in Tennessee and North Carolina before returning to Florida to attend FSC. While there, he has taken up classical violin, jazz piano and orchestration.

* Brimer, 31, (video) grew up in Lakeland, where he was part of the local band scene during its early 2000s heyday. After graduating from McKeel Academy, he moved to California to attend the Musicians Academy in Hollywood and become a professional musician.

Some career highlights include touring with Jackson Browne (Graham Nash taught him “Teach Your Children” before a performance with Browne) and Hanson. Brimer moved back to Lakeland about three years ago, played with the Dan Signor Project for awhile and now tours the country as a solo act.

* Curtis, 25, grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Lakeland, the son of an accomplished drummer. He recently graduated from Southeastern University, where he majored in English, and became a full-time freelance musician. (He said he thought his English degree would help him write lyrics, but it’s only made it harder.)

Curtis is a member of Valise, a Dallas-based band, which means a lot of flying to get to gigs.

Jason Baker and Christine Collister
Jason Baker confers with Christine Collister of the Imperial Symphony Orchestra. Frank Branca

The music

Since the orchestra won’t include players of sitar, shruti box or circus calliopes, Baker said he has had to figure out how to use available instruments to reproduce those sounds from the album. Expect creative use of guitars, keyboards and Baker’s melodica. I didn’t ask about the rooster or alarm clock in “A Day in the Life.”

Brimer has been learning how to play tabla, the Indian drum dominant in “Within You and Without You,” and will play it while singing the song, Lawlor said.

In general, Curtis will sing McCartney’s parts, Lawlor will sing Lennon, and Brimer will handle Harrison and Ringo Starr vocals, Lawlor  said.

The four musicians say they were already solid Beatles fans, but preparing for the concert has given them a deeper appreciation for the complexity of their compositions.

After studying orchestration and then charting out songs like “She’s Leaving Home,” Baker said, “You realize it’s all there. Literally everything you would study in a classical music school in terms of orchestration and arranging and composition exists in this music. This stuff is sophisticated harmonically, the use of chord inversions, the bass lines are really good.”

Lawlor agreed: “It’s mind blowing how simple it seems but how hard it is to do it when you tear it apart.”

The musicians promise to follow the “Sgt. Pepper” segment of the concert with other Beatles tunes, but they’re not specifying which, other than Brimer saying, “We’re definitely going to touch on the ‘Magical Mystery’ side of things, too.”

Any last words? Lawlor is asked. He assumes the jokey demeanor of a younger Lennon, the Beatle whose parts he’ll sing:

“I think we’re going to get away with it.”