At the end of November in 1968, arguably the biggest rock band to ever grace the universe The Beatles released their landmark self-titled album, better known as ‘The White Album’ and received yet again, critical acclaim and more global adoration. After 50 years the album is still cherished worldwide and the songs remain as timeless as ever.
Ten years ago, four Australian rock musicians: Tim Rogers from You Am I, Phil Jamieson from Grinspoon, Josh Pyke and Chris Cheney from The Living End were invited to perform the prestigious LP in full with a backing orchestra. The show was a remarkable success and has now begun its third nationwide tour to celebrate the full-length’s 50th anniversary. To describe this opportunity as an honour would be almost understated and as Chris Cheney describes to Glam Adelaide, the memories the production has provided are of the “unforgettable” nature.
“It has been incredible, I mean we wouldn’t be signing on to do it again if we didn’t enjoy it. It was weird, all four of us did not know what we were in for with the first one; none of us really like the idea of tribute kind of scenarios. However, none of us actually think of it as a tribute, it is us performing that record from start to finish with our own ‘stamp’ so to speak.”
He continues – “Understandably we were a little bit cautious the first time around, but we had such a blast playing those songs with an absolutely incredible band behind us. Then we were asked to do it again which was a bit weird, especially after five years; however, we agreed to do it on one condition, which is that it had to be the same four guys. Now here we are, 10 years since the first one and sure enough the call came out and honestly it is too good of an opportunity to knock back.”
With Mr. Cheney being mostly recognisable for his guitar and singing skills in punk rock long-serivng and loved band The Living End, one would think moving into the territory of the pop rock stylings of arguably the most successful group in the history of rock’n’roll would probably bring with it some trepidation amongst the esteemed invitation?
“Obviously that transition was WILDLY different for me, I had never sung in front of a band that big before ever! Well before the first time obviously doing this show, I mean I had done a couple of little things here and there with different layers; for the most part though I had been in the same band since I was like 14.” He explains – “But to stand in front of a 17-piece orchestra with a string section, horn section, two drummers, two guitar players, bass player and two keyboards, experiencing that sound and to hear those songs, like While My Guitar Gently Weeps and the other more epic tracks on that record; well to hear that blasting behind you and to sing over the top of it, it was very awe-inspiring.”
Chris is not only supported by an epic orchestral setup for the re-imagination of these worshipped songs by The Beatles; as previously mentioned he also has three great friends by his side putting their delightful stamp on the over 30 songs performed. It was a point of interest to ask however, how did these admired Australian musicians decide which song they were going to present in the showcase?
“The credit for that has to go to Lindsay Field who is one of the back-up singers and he was the musical director of the first tour. He actually divided up all the songs and decided who should actually sing what and we were all very happy with what he selected, there was a couple that were perhaps a bit met with some hesitation, I really wanted to do Happiness Is A Warm Gun, but Tim (Rogers) did that and superbly.” Chris admits in an exuberant manner – “It wasn’t competitive though or something we fought over, we accepted it happily. Honestly, I got some of the best songs I think, definitely my favourites, so I am really happy.
He continues – “It was a bit of a stab in the dark I guess, Lindsay must have just had an in depth look at each singer and assigned us with each song he thought suited. I was matter-of-factly frightened when I first saw it, I didn’t think I could sing Helter Skelter, it is way above my range; I am definitely not a screaming singer like Paul McCartney, but it ended up being one of my favourite tunes to do because I really had to push myself and it was off the hook!”
What do the preparations and rehearsals for such an extravagant production involve?
“I guess the rehearsals for the orchestral are quite stressful, it isn’t so bad for us. I mean we rehearse, the four of us, together for a few hours here and there to get our tracks ready. Then we do a few practices with the entire ensemble running the whole show start to finish. Honestly though, we kind of have the easy job, the guys onstage who are playing the 30-plus songs that are on that album, it’s a heavy gig for them, especially with the diversity of it all.” Mr. Cheney illustrates with idolisation – “There is literally everything on that record, for example: Blackbird which is just basically Josh (Pyke), right up to A Day In The Life, which isn’t even on that record but we have done as an encore and was a huge closer. Truthfully though, they are amazing musicians, so diverse and talented, it is an honour to perform with them.”
Shortly after The White Album tour concludes, Chris Cheney is back on the road supporting The Living End’s soon to be released eighth studio album ‘Wunderbar’. With little insight or knowledge about the LP for the allegiance of fans worldwide of the punk rock trio, it was necessary to ask, what can the world expect from this “wonderful” new record?
“We are feeling so AWESOME about it! We only decided in September that we were going to make a record and if it was going to happen it would go ahead in January and then we thought would do it in Germany. So it was a real rush, we threw it together somehow; I wrote the fastest I ever had, we spent six weeks in a freezing little town outside Berlin and it was unreal. The producer (Tobias Kuhn) was fantastic and I cannot wait for people to hear it, I have been sitting on it for months now. We are stoked though, it is different from the last two records, it’s energetic and fresh and I want it to be out there because they really are great songs!”
It seems that everything really is going to be more than “all right, all right, all right”.
The White Album Concert is on in Adelaide tonight at the Adelaide Festival Theatre at 8pm.
Full details here: http://www.whitealbumconcert.com/