Some artists are inspired by anger. Others by the powerful need to say something to or about the world.
Naomi Price’s latest show? Not so much.
“I wish I could say that it was born of an amazing epiphany,” says Price of her new show Lady Beatle. “But the truth is, we were drunk and staying up really late in a hotel room drinking wine.”
Lady Beatle is the latest in a series of Price’s music and storytelling showcases that began in 2012 with Rumour Has It, a show fuelled by the songs of UK pop siren Adele, and continued with Wrecking Ball, a show that invited Miley Cyrus (as embodied by Price) to the funeral of her Nickelodeon alter ego Hannah Montana.
It was during a tour of Wrecking Ball that the boozy creative session with co-writer Adam Brunes took place. From it came an idea for a show drawing together the many songs written by The Beatles that referenced women: Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, Eleanor Rigby, Lovely Rita and Penny Lane among them.
“Initially, we were only exploring the female characters in the songs,” explains Price. “But when it became clear that we were actually telling a different story entirely, we were able to extend the show to include a lot more of the repertoire. Now we play 35 or more songs – in an excerpt or in their entirety. And the show ends with a dance party mega-mix where I try and cram in as many as I can into 15 minutes.”
But Lady Beatle is more than a cabaret of well-known tunes, Price adds. It’s a full-blown musical mystery tour based on an enigmatic character with insider knowledge of the Fab Four’s rise to superstardom. Her identity is revealed only in the final minutes of the show – and it knocks audiences for a loop.
“I’m in character throughout the show telling a story that unfolds bit by bit,” Price says. “You don’t know whether she’s a crazy fan, or a girlfriend or an acquaintance, but she seems to know everything about the band, about where they lived, about their music and their experiences. And everything she says about The Beatles is true.”
Price meets a lot of people touring the show and just about everyone seems to have a Beatles story.
“I have had people telling me about the time they waited on the tarmac at Sydney airport when The Beatles touched down in Australia for the first time,” Price says. “I’ve met people in the audience who are related to them or walked down the aisle to a Beatles song.”
And nearly everyone everybody has some sort of anecdote about the first time they heard a particular song, says Price. “It doesn’t matter how old people are. The Beatles seem to be a part of their lives.”
Price has a distant connection herself.
“My dad’s side of the family are from Liverpool and so I grew up listening to The Beatles and believing that my grandmother actually knew them personally because she would talk about them so fondly and so vividly. I really thought they were her friends.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles’ Abbey Road, the last album the band recorded together (Let It Be was released in 1970 but drew on sessions recorded before Abbey Road).
Why does the music of The Beatles endure?
“One of the things that really appeals to people is that The Beatles were ordinary lads,” says Price. “Pop fame is very constructed in today’s world … it feels like a really contrived process. But The Beatles came from working class backgrounds in a northern town. They didn’t come from fame and fortune. They were just normal guys who happened to be amazing songwriters. And I think that’s why people will always love them and identify with them.”
Lady Beatle pays loving homage to John, Paul George and Ringo and their extraordinary catalogue of songs through the eyes and voice of a female artist.
“Beatles fans tell us that you come away feeling exhilarated by the music but also by a show that treats their story respectfully,” says Price. “We’ve had everyone from people my grandparents’ age, right down to 10 or 12-year-olds who have never really heard The Beatles before. And they’re all dancing at the end.
“It’s an amazing testament to the genius of a band that split up 50 years ago.”
Naomi Price’s Fab Faves
This reminds me of walking hand-in-hand with my grandma through the streets of Liverpool during the summer holidays, and her pointing out all the significant locations in The Beatles’ songs. I love that it’s a song about ordinary people with ordinary jobs, but yet the images are so vivid and magical.
This was the first Beatles song I remember learning to play, and I think (much to the dismay of my brothers) that I learned to play it on the recorder. I thought this song was so cheeky because it has the word ‘breast’ in it. Even today, I get excited when I hear the iconic bassline.
When I’m 64
When my grandfather was 64, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was given a year to live. My dad and my uncles decided to buy him a trip around the world, and we sang this song to him when they surprised him with the tickets. As it turned out, he was a total legend and lived until he was 88. I always think of him when I hear this song.
This has got to be one of my all-time favourites. I love the outro and how they take it from being a straightforward ditty to something funkier. The whole Sgt Pepper’s album is a masterpiece, but this is my favourite track. I also love the anecdote about real-life meter maid Meta Davis who gave Paul a parking ticket while the band were recording in St John’s Wood. He swears the song isn’t about her; I’m not so sure.
Here Comes the Sun
If you’ve ever heard Nina Simone’s cover of this song, you’ll understand why it’s so special. The original is iconic, but I think a song is truly remarkable when the cover versions are just as good. Nina’s version inspired our version in the show, and it’s such a gorgeous homage to the artists before us who have taken on the extraordinary catalogue of The Beatles’ music.
Lady Beatle plays The Riverside Theatres, September 7