Becoming the Beatles

You have to wonder why four guys from Southern California would put together yet another Beatles tribute show when there are already so many out there. With California being a melting pot for so many different kinds of music, why not go a different route? With this particular group, Britain’s Finest — The Beatles Experience, it all boils down to the belief in what they’re doing and finding a different twist to this notorious four-piece from across the pond. Besides, they are having a ball playing this music.
Let’s face it, John, Paul, George and Ringo have been the subject of as many tributes as Elvis, but like all tributes, some take the cartoonish route, amidst those who take their roles more seriously. So co-founder of Britain’s Finest, Robert Bielma and his mates wanted to make sure every detail musically, visually, historically and sonically was in place out of respect for audiences who still remember every nuance of every song.
The group includes Bielma portraying George Harrison, Benny Chadwick as Paul McCartney, Ruben Amaya as John Lennon, and Luis Renteria as Ringo Starr. The guys set out to recreate those oh-so familiar songs much of the world grew up to, while introducing the music to those who never had the opportunity to experience the crazy excitement associated with the Beatles in their heyday.
The “fab four” return to the Tropicana Laughlin to remind people what the fuss with the Beatles was all about, as if they are taking a step back in time to the 1960s.
“There are a ton of Beatles’ tributes out there and I think the thing that sets ourselves apart from the rest of them first is we are young, we look young and that helps,” he said. “Unfortunately a lot of these tribute guys are older and they look older and God bless ’em they’re still out there in the trenches working.
“But, for us, we want to sell the whole idea like you’re seeing the Beatles,” he explained. “The way we try to see it is, we’re not four guys up there playing the Beatles and wearing Beatles’ suits. As far as we’re concerned, the minute we step on stage we are the Beatles and you’re seeing the Beatles. That’s what we try to sell.
“We also have a certain rawness and kind of comedic theme to our show as well like the Beatles did,” he added. “The Beatles were funny guys. They were comedians in their own right and that’s what we try to portray too, that comedic side of the Beatles. That definitely adds to the show.
“We try to connect with people as well. That’s another thing, that’s the thing that made the Beatles who they were. They were good at connecting with their audience.”
Britain’s Finest tribute was founded in 2011, by Bielma, Chadwick, Renteria and a guy named Tyson Kelly, who left the group. He was replaced in 2013 by Amaya.
The show has a certain order.
“Since we’re American, of course, we start as how the people in America probably first saw the Beatles on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,'” Bielma said. “Then we have our intro and we start in the black suits doing that era. That covers pretty much all the early stuff, up until about ’66. Then we have a 15-minute intermission where we play videos and commercials of the era so if you were around in the ’60s you’ll remember some of those commercials. Then we come back and do the Sgt. Pepper era.”
The Sullivan show at the time was ground-breaking, introducing Americans everywhere to a variety of entertainers from different music and artistic genres.
“It changed the music landscape, and the crazy thing is I have the Ed Sullivan DVDs and it doesn’t matter how many times I watch them, I still get excited when he introduces the Beatles and they come on stage,” he said. “I still get that little kid feeling. My dad took me to see “Beatlemania” when I was a kid. I was blown away by it. I thought I saw the Beatles. I was convinced they were the Beatles. My dad didn’t make it clear that it was a tribute show, and I get home and I’m bragging to my mom, ‘Dad took me to the Beatles.’ My dad was like, ‘That wasn’t the Beatles, they were guys pretending to be the Beatles.’ I was totally crushed. He said, ‘the Beatles broke up before you were born.’ Unfortunately I missed it and I’m very sad about it. I think the ’60s would have been my time. I’m a kid of the ’90s and it wasn’t as much fun.
“There was something about them, people seemed to feel like they were accessible. They weren’t these total rock stars that we have nowadays, like Beyonce,” he said. “I can’t connect with Beyonce, I don’t know what’s going on with her. But I hear the Beatles music and I can connect with that. There’s something about it. They wrote for the people and that’s why people connected with them so much.”
What challenges did the guys face in putting this show together?
“Our biggest challenge is we don’t use tracks,” he said. “Everything you hear on stage is live. We’ve had to sit down and dole out parts deciding who’s going to play what and where. There’s a lot of stuff that has double tracking so when we were developing the show, we knew there were certain songs we’d love to do but we can’t unless we play with an orchestra — which we have done and that’s when we get to do some cool songs.
“Certain stuff we were able to do live and I think the hardest part for me, ’cause I did all the tech stuff as far as all the sampling for the keyboard, which included building all the patches to recreate the songs live as closely as possible,” he added. “For example, we do ‘Penny Lane’ and our John Lennon, Ruben, handles all the brass stuff in the song and I handle the piano part. Finding the fire bell to sound just like the record and scouring through the Internet trying to find bell sounds and stuff like that, to make the horns sound like the record was tough.
“The idea is to make stuff sound like the record but at the same time we’ve learned you can’t do it just like the record. Sometimes it doesn’t come across as epic if it’s just like the record. Sometimes we have to add some trash-canning at the end to kind of signal people to really clap and stuff like that.”
The name of the game is also crowd interaction and participation.
“There’s nothing I think audiences like more than participating and feeling like they’re part of the show,” he said. “The idea is really to get people to spread the word about our show. When people walk away and tell their friends, ‘I saw this band last night, Britain’s Finest, you have to check them out next time they’re in town,’ and we get response from that, it’s cool.”
In some respects Britain’s Finest might just be raising the bar when it comes to the tribute genre.
“The bar was set with the Beatles,” he said. “We will always strive to get to that point. We have no egos. We’ll never be the Beatles, that’s for sure, but we can try to be as close to them as possible. I think that’s all anybody can do.”
The show isn’t simply about playing the instruments and singing the songs spot-on. For these guys, the look is just as important.
“We try to maintain the look,” Bielma said. “They were all slender, but George was a stick. I want to maintain the thinness. We try to do the best job, to create a quality show and give people the best show they can get.
“What we’re trying to do is bring back a memory for people,” he added. “The way we always say it — for the people who saw the Beatles, we’re trying to give you that memory back and remember that time — when you saw the Beatles live, whether it was Shea Stadium or you saw them when they were on the US tour, or on TV.
“For the generations, especially the young kids that come see our show, they’re being exposed to this music that hopefully will connect with them the way it did when I was a kid and pass it on to the next generation,” he said. “That’s what keeps the music alive, passing the torch to the next generation and telling them this band happened 60 years ago, but their music is still relevant today. Everything that’s musically based, one way or another, whether they want to admit it or not, is based on something the Beatles did 60 years ago.”


BRITAIN’S FINEST

Pavilion Theater at the Tropicana

Saturday, Feb. 8 (7 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info