Before a recent show in Amersfoort, Vinyl Me, Please talked to Bart van Poppel, the Analogues’ bass guitarist, keyboardist and above all, music director. We meet Bart shortly before he has to go on stage at De Flint, a theatre in the Dutch town of Amersfoort. The show is part of the band’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Tour, which started last October and sees the Analogues play over thirty venues across the Netherlands. The tour marks the second Beatles record the band have translated to the stage. First came 1967’s Magical Mystery Tour, which featured songs from the Beatles third film as well as several hit singles, “Hello, Goodbye,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “All You Need Is Love,” amongst others.
I saw them the first time in early 2016 in my hometown. When the quintet, backed by four brass players and as many string players, started their set with “Magical Mystery Tour,” I closed my eyes and heard the band that I had already accepted I would never hear. The experience must have been somewhat the same for Van Poppel himself, a Beatles fan since his early years. “I remember listening to the Beatles for the first time when I was eight years old”, he tells me in Amersfoort, half an hour before show time. “The boy next door was three years older than me. He got hold of the first Beatles singles that were released in the Netherlands. There just wasn’t anything else like that around back then.”
Van Poppel went on to play in and write for a broad range of bands, yet he was never able to shake the preference for the ‘60s. Among Van Poppel’s projects was a band called Tambourine, in which the bass guitarist played alongside the Analogues’ current guitarist Jac Bico. When the Dutchman stopped playing around 13 years ago, he got involved in the business of commercial music. As vintage sounds had just made their way into the mainstream, the job saw Van Poppel creating sound-alikes of songs his employers could not afford the master tapes of. The work would turn out to be a perfect preamble to the project Van Poppel would soon get involved in. Three years ago, the multi-instrumentalist was approached by millionaire musician Fred Gehring, who was looking to trade in his seat at the director’s board of Tommy Hilfiger for a drum kit. In 2013, he quit his job at the multinational clothing corporation and chose to pursue his dream of playing his beloved Beatles songs on stage. With the help of Van Poppel, the aforementioned Jac Bico and renowned Dutch musicians Diederik Nomden and Jan van der Meij, he’d be able to fulfil it.
“It was clear from the start that we weren’t going to become a band who hold dress parties,” Van Poppel explains. “The bands that do sure are entertaining enough, but it’s just not something we’re into personally. It has to be about the music. Besides, we look nothing like the Beatles, so we’d be terrible at that.” Luckily, the Analogues soon found out what they were good at. In an ambitious attempt to replicate the Beatles’ sound as closely as possible, Van Poppel started surfing on eBay and gathering the instruments, amps and effects pedals that are the exact same type as the Beatles used themselves in 1967. The band eventually turned their studio, where Van Poppel writes their arrangements (scores do not exist) and they rehearse, into some sort of museum which accommodates, among others, the Gretsch Country Gentlemen (George Harrison’s go-to guitar), a Ludwig Black Oyster Pearl drum kit and range of Rickenbacker guitars, Wurlitzer pianos (with the Hohner pianet, they’ve even got the “poor man’s Wurlitzer”) and Vox amplifiers. “There’s not much we’re still looking for,” Van Poppel flaunts laughingly. The mastermind takes pride in the Analogues’ collection, and justly so. He’s most proud of the clavioline, the mellotron and the two Lowrey Heritage deluxe DSO 1 organs the band have managed to get hold of. “Lowreys are a type of organ of which not many were made, but the Beatles had one in the Abbey Road Studios at one point. They used it for the famed intro of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” for instance. I managed to buy one at an auction in the States for the starting bid of $195. It then had to be shipped to the Netherlands for thorough restoration. When I’d finally found someone who could do the job, he found two mice nests inside the organ.”
The organ was restored just in time, as the band embarked on their Sgt. Pepper’s Tour last year, an album on which the Lowrey plays a central role. The record is a special one, even in the British band’s discography, knows Van Poppel. “It marked such a turning point for them. They’d stopped playing live a few years before, so they could basically do whatever they wanted in the studio. That didn’t only change the Beatles, it changed pop music as a whole. No album – not even the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds which was released one year earlier – had ever made such an impact.” For that reason, their choice to play the albums the Beatles never performed live makes for a challenge. “We obviously listen to the records a lot, but even throughout the tour, changes are being made continuously”, Bart explains. One of the most challenging elements of the Beatles’ most challenging records remains playing backwards, which has sometimes proven impossible, even for the Analogues. “In some cases, we’ve made our own recordings of certain parts of songs, which we then play backwards during our live shows. In other cases, our guitarist Jan is actually able to record the riffs silently earlier on in a song and play them backwards by using a pedal.”
For one of the tracks on Sgt. Pepper’s, the Analogues left on a pilgrimage to Abbey Road Studios in London. The Dutchmen went there to record their version of “A Day In The Life,” the legendary closing track of the record. The crescendo towards the end of the song was originally played with 160 musicians, which obviously is impossible for the Analogues to recreate night after night. So the band took their own orchestra to the room where John, Paul, George and Ringo had once recorded the original and recorded the track with the help of some local musicians. At live shows, the recording is played in the background while the orchestra plays along to it. “Obviously, it was an enormously exciting experience for us to record at Abbey Road. It’s holy ground for us and all Beatles fans.”
It’s this combination of quality and quantity that has allowed the Analogues to become one of Europe’s most respected Beatles tributes in just over three years. The biggest compliment Van Poppel and his peers have received until now came from Geoff Emerick, the recording studio audio engineer who worked with the Beatles on Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s, the White Album and Abbey Road. When he first came across the Analogues online, he believed the band had stolen samples from the original songs and played along to them. Emmerick himself commented on the band for a one hour documentary that will be aired on June 1, 2017 on Dutch national television. Excerpts of that document are now being used in The Analogues' *Sgt. Pepper'*s live shows.
Besides, the band have not only played in the Netherlands, but in the UK and Germany (with Hamburg obviously being a special destination) as well. On the 1st of June, when Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band turns fifty, the band are the centrepiece of Dutch celebrations, which will take place at the Ziggo Dome, at a capacity of 17,000 the biggest music venue of the country. Meanwhile, Van Poppel values the fact that the Analogues have also managed to draw younger people, like myself, to themselves and by extension to the Beatles. “We love seeing parents and even grandparents bringing kids and youngsters to our concerts. It’s a sign that the Beatles will live on forever.”
For a lot more information, for instance on the instruments The Analogues have gathered, be sure to visit their official website.