Stage performance of ‘The British Invasion’ brings sounds, sights of the ’60s to Eccles Theater

Photo: Timothy Norris

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, March 23, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — Early in 1964, a quote in Life magazine summed it up best: “In (1776) England lost her American colonies. Last week The Beatles took them back.”

It was all part of that first frenzied wave of mop-topped pop culture known as The British Invasion.

Fifty-eight years later, the sounds and sights of that madcap era will be making waves once again, as the touring stage performance of “The British Invasion” rolls into Salt Lake City for a one-night engagement, Thursday, March 24, at Eccles Theater.

In January of 1964, America was still in the throes of mourning President John F. Kennedy. On Sunday night, Feb. 9, 1964, close to 50% of U.S. television viewers tuned in to “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the #1 variety show of the era, to see the American debut of a then little-known British band. Those chipper lads were The Beatles — and the performance opened the floodgates on one of the most formative periods of pop and rock music.

Within a week, Brits dominated the charts and the airwaves. The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark 5, The Animals, The Hollies, Manfred Mann, Dusty Springfield, The Searchers, Gerry and The Pacemakers, The Zombies, Freddie and the Dreamers, Herman’s Hermits, The Kinks, and dozens more prompted teen girls across the nation to tease their hair and hike up their hemlines, while young men narrowed their ties and trousers and dreamed of being John, Paul, George or Ringo.

“The British Invasion,” is an immersive multi-media show that will place viewers at the front and center of pop culture history. Huge projection period photos and original film footage recreate the era’s excitement, fashion, and headlines, while a seven-piece live band performs all of the hits of the Swingin’ ’60s; the iconic British pop sound that swept across America and the world.

Billy Harrington, who is a freelance percussionist from Ann Arbor, Michigan, plays drums and also sings in the show.

“I went to University of Michigan for music and just decided to stay after school, and started doing gigs. I graduated in 2010… that’s really freaky, so like 12 years later, I play a lot of weddings, I play a lot of recording sessions for artists and I make a living just playing the drums,” he said.

Harrington said a former professor of his saw a notice that the touring show needed a Ringo Starr-type drummer.

“Because people back home know me as a Beatles nerd, and I’ve done a couple of lectures on Ringo Starr and stuff like that she said, ‘Hey, I saw this, and you should go out for this,'” Harrington said.

“I do musical stuff at home but only in the pit. I’ve done a couple of shows when I’m onstage and I have one line, but this was a bit different, and it sounded like an adventure, so she sent it to me and I thought about it. I was pretty comfortable with being at home and being a freelancer, but after a while, I thought, this sounds like a nice adventure and a good change, so I’m just going to go out for it, and it worked out.”

Drummer Billy Harrington covers the iconic works of Ringo Starr, Keith Moon and other top percussionists in the traveling stage performance of ‘The British Invasion’ coming to the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City, March 24, 2022. Photo: Timothy Norris

Harrington said he flew out for an audition in New York.

“They were constantly subbing people in and out. I didn’t get to see everyone that day because it was spread out over the course of a couple of days. It’s such a blur, I felt like I just arrived in New York and walked straight into the audition off the plane. That’s kind of what it felt like, it was kind of a whirlwind.”

Harrington also described the show itself.

“I like to say it’s sort of in between a musical theater review or like a jukebox musical and a rock show; it’s like teetering in between those,” he said.

“It’s a seven-piece band on stage, and we’re talking about the music of the British Invasion and playing the music of the British Invasion, and for people who don’t know what that was, it was a period in the mid-’60s and we kind of use The Beatles as sort of that jumping-off point, where The Beatles came to America, played ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in February 1964, and that sort of started this waterfall of all of these British acts coming over to the United States.

“All of a sudden, the United States’ Top 40 became covered in British artists, so it was kind of a unique time and it wasn’t that long; I mean our show covers around 1962-ish to 1967.”

Photo: Timothy Norris

“So it was a very short period of time but in that short period of time, culture changed for the world but more specifically in this show, for people that were stateside, so Brit culture just became a phenomenon and it changed a lot of different facets of art, and fashion, and so we talk about that during the show.

“It’s kind of like a time capsule sort of thing, where we want to take you back into that time… it’s basically a show that’s trying to relive that magical time.”

Besides songs by The Beatles, the band plays hits by The Rolling Stones, The Who, Donovan, Lulu and others.

“We have kind of like a ’60s television screen behind us so we have some black and white shots that are live and make us look like we’re on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,'” Harrington explained.

“Some of the more psychedelic songs, some of The Who stuff, we have kind of a more colorful, psychedelic thing … we’ve got two costume changes that sort of reflect kind of where it starts with a more conservative sort of suit look, more black and white colors, more grays, then we kind of transfer over into the colorful, psychedelic kind of thing, London, Carnaby Street, a lot of loud colors, patterns that people maybe wouldn’t put together today.

“We do talk a little bit between the songs, saying what’s happening either in fashion or the mental headspace of the fans at the time.”

Photo: Timothy Norris

Harrington also talked about why he enjoys playing the Starr-style of drumming.

“Ringo is left-handed, but Ringo plays the drum set right-handed,” he said. “I’m also a lefty but I play the drums right-handed, thank God, because I can’t imagine trying to having to switch over the drums, like flip it, mirror image every time I wanted to do a gig or sit in somewhere so, thankfully, I didn’t make that mistake.

“But because we’re both lefty and we play on a right-hand kit, Ringo has been known to plays things that were slightly unusual, like leading with his left hand, so because he played that way on a right-handed drum set, he was able to sort of create a lot of unique things that I think spoke to a lot of the people on those recordings, like, wow that’s really unique, that’s really interesting, that’s just slightly different, and it was a lot because he was a lefty, and he was trying to get around something that a right-handed person would do but had to do it with his left hand first, and make use of that, so he kind of has this unique style.”

Photo: Timothy Norris

He added: “Ringo has the most incredible timing and feel, like the way he plays the song, he plays for the song, you know, he never plays too much, so everyone gets the spotlight, the song gets the spotlight, it’s never a drum feature.

“Sure there’s a couple of cool things here and there that make it unique, but it also is  just like, the other three Beatles, everyone is sort of doing a unique part that has a high level of musicianship, but it’s all going to serve a great song and that’s something that I love about this show the most, that we do have some features.

“You know, I have a drum solo at the end of the show, and there’s a couple of bombastic elements or what not, of heavy playing, but for the most part it’s about showcasing these great songs and the songwriters.”

Photo: Timothy Norris

Harrington says that getting to play as different musicians throughout the show also keeps the performers fresh.

“It would be different if I was acting solely as Ringo, which would be great, because I’m a Ringo fan, but I do think that’s also something so great about the show and why everyone isn’t burnt already, we get such a big spectrum of songs, and styles inside such a short period of time. The show goes by really fast.”

Audience members are encouraged to get up and dance during the show.

“Just like you would go and see a gig for someone, we want you to be involved and laugh and shout out things, because we really feed off of that,” Harrington said.

Photo: Timothy Norris

Harrington also shared his favorite recent gigs: Liam Gallagher in the former Oasis star’s hometown of Manchester pre-pandemic, and a John Bonham tribute by his son Jason, called “Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience,” featuring guitarist Jimmy Sakurai.

“The British Invasion” tour goes through May 15.

The show takes place at the Eccles Theater on Thursday, March 24 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available from saltlakecountyarts.org or by calling 801-255-2787. Proof of vaccination or negative test is required to attend all Live at the Eccles performances until further notice.

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