ettle into your seat at London's
Garrick Theatre and, as the lights
go down, four geezers with
moptop haircuts are revealed,
silhouetted against the backdrop
of the Cavern Club in Liverpool.
Bassist Peter John Jackson leads
the band into 'I Saw Her Standing There’. His impression
of Paul McCartney is uncanny: playing a left-handed
Hofner with a pick, singing and bobbing his locks
around in the patented Macca manner, Jackson delivers
an impression of the great man of which even Rory
Bremner would be proud.
From his confident performance, you'd never know
that Jackson was quivering with nerves a few seconds
ago. “When you're sitting in the audience, watching
the build-up on screen,”
he tells
BGM
in a backstage bar
after the show, “that's also the build-up for us on stage. I
get stage nerves every night. After all, the opening one-
two-three-four before 'I Saw Her Standing There' has to
be the greatest count-in of all time!”
He's got that absolutely right - and
Let It Be,
as the
show has been called since it launched in 2012, doesn't
stop there. It's an ambitious production, for what is
essentially a straight stage performance plus some
between-song humour and audience participation.
Jackson and his three colleagues cover various scenarios
(and costume changes) from the Cavern and Hamburg
days, via the Royal Variety Performance of 1963 and the
psychedelia of
Sgt Pepper
through to the 'Get Back' era
and the Beatles' split. Along the way, Jackson is required
to do the most work of any of the band-members.
“There's so much going on: it's a unique role,”
he tells us.
“I get to play bass, guitar and piano, and I sing lead and
harmony vocals.”
The show covers a mighty 42 songs: you try doing
that at your next gig. Then try doing it four times a
week, which is what Jackson does out of
Let It Be’s
eight
weekly performances. He's even taken his dedication
to the role as far as learning to play bass left-handed.
To our total admiration, Jackson chose to do this out
of a desire to get the part completely right, rather than
because the producers suggested he do so.
“There was nothing in the contract that said I had to
play left-handed,” he chuckles. “It took two and a half
months, playing every single day, to get it right. Why
did I do it? Well, I'd read the show's reviews, and some
people would say, 'We had a great night, but the guy
playing McCartney was right-handed. Other people
would get a bit narky and say, 'When did McCartney
become right-handed?' More importantly, when the
curtain goes up at the beginning and it's the Cavern
scene, the band are really just silhouettes, and it could be
any band if it's just three right-handed guitarists at the
front. When you have the guitar necks sticking out to
left and right like wings, you know it's the Beatles.”
So how did Jackson go about switching picking
hands? “The first time I tried to do it, I couldn't even get
into the strap - it felt so strange. It was like putting a tie
on backwards! Playing the actual lines wasn't too much
of a problem, because I knew where they were on the
fretboard, but stretching between frets with my right
hand was a bit more difficult - and picking the strings
with a plectrum in my left hand was the hardest thing
of all. Being spatially aware of where the strings are is
something you take for granted with your usual hand.”
He continues: “Anyway, I played every day until I
couldn't play any more, because my brain was fried.
The next day I'd do it all again, until one day I noticed I
was finally hitting the right notes. I was still a long way
off playing something like 'I Saw Her Standing There',
though.
.. Perseverance and practice are basically what
it takes. Being able to switch a guitar from right to left is
always a great party trick!”
Aged 33, Jackson has been a full-time musician
for the last six years, although he's been playing
sessions and in bands for much longer than that. “Like
everybody, I got started in a school band,”
he recalls. “I
always liked rock'n'roll, and the Beatles were always
there.
Abbey Road
was my first album that was 'mine,
if you like, that belonged to me. I was hooked from then
on. My band played rock'n'roll covers by Little Richard,
Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran and the Beatles, especially
the early stuff and the Hamburg songs. I started on
guitar but quickly moved to bass, and I fell in love with
it: I really loved being able to play melodies and rhythms
as well as singing. I guess my influences back then were
Free, Cream, the Who, and Rosco Levee as well as the
Beatles and Wings.”
He adds: “After college I put together a band called
the Delaners, which released a couple of singles and
toured in 2006 to '07. We were lucky enough to do some
recording at Wheeler End Studios in High Wycombe,
where they have a Mellotron and all the flutes from
'Strawberry Fields' and so on.”
Theatre came calling while Jackson was working
on his own albums, he recalls. “I was recording my
own material in 2009, and a friend of mine called me
up. He was working on a really successful show called
Rockin' On Heaven's Door,
which was touring the UK
at the time. He told me that the guy who played Eddie
Cochran in the show was ill, and asked me to come and
PETER J O H N JA C K S O N ,L E T IT BE
BASSISTS
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