How Sgt Pepper continues to inspire and influence today’s musicians
- Credit: Archant
Fifty years on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band continues to inspire new generations of musicians. José McGill of Norfolk's The Vagaband explains the enduring appeal of The Beatles classic.
'I love The Beatles but this album in particular because it is almost like them in fancy dress, and I don't just mean the cover,' says José McGill, vocalist and guitarist with The Vagaband.
Jose, who founded the eight-piece Norfolk band, who cite The Beatles as key influence, is explaining why Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, released 50 years ago today, still on holds a fascination to today's musicians five decades on.
Considered by critics and music lovers to be one of the greatest records ever made and a major cultural moment of the 1960s not only for this country but globally, the album features classic songs including, A Day In The Life, With A Little Help From My Friends, She's Leaving Home and Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.
But for Jose it's the album's unique musical mix of styles harking back to an even earlier age that appeals.
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'Sgt. Pepper was my first introduction to The Beatles when I was about 16 or something and since then I've been an obsessive fan,' he says. 'Even though it is seen as the first concept album, apart from the first song the rest of it has no tread, there is no concept at all. But over the years I've realised that it is a themed album because what it is doing is celebrating vaudeville, music hall, post war Britain.
'It has always got a foot in the past. Even when you listen to the opening lyric 'It was 20 years ago day…', it was done in 1967 so 20 years before that would have been 1947. So from the get-go they are saying look we are going to go back in time here. It's brilliant, like musical time travel.'
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In a double echo of the past, The Vagaband's debut album, Town & Country, amid their Americana influences, featured tracks directly inspired by The Beatles' ragtime tunes which themselves echoed another earlier musical era.
'Musically Sgt. Pepper is them adopting a musical persona,' adds Jose. 'The music doesn't just present The Beatles as The Beatles, it presents them under this different guise. It is a homage to the big band era, the brass band playing in the park and the music hall period of 'where's mi washboard', ukuleles and 'when I get older…'.
'Most of the songs are pastiches of yesteryear. Not all of the tracks, you have George doing his Within You Without You and A Day in the Life, which is a post-modern thing, though even that has a middle eight that goes back into the whole 1930s swing era again.
'Even elements of the cover are looking back to Victoriana and the Edwardian era. So for me that is what makes it a cohesive and great album.'
The cover of The Vagaband's Town & Country bears more than a passing resemblance to that famous Peter Blake Sgt. Pepper's iconic cover art, though Jose says this was accidental.
'You know so many people say that but that was the one influence that we hadn't thought of. I sent the photographer a brief with three album covers; Bob Dylan Basement Tapes, The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter by The Incredible String Band, a 60s British psychedelic folk group, and an American band called Ween's album Pure Guava, which is basically a load of people outside the back of their house. The one that I didn't think of was Sgt. Pepper. It's odd really. It must have been in the back of my head and photographer's head because obviously everyone is so aware of it.'
The band are currently putting the finishing touches to their third album, Something Wicked This Way Comes, follow-up to 2014's Medicine for the Soul, and Jose admits The Beatles continue to inspire.
'Like with our previous two we are doing, as The Beatles thought us, we're putting a different hat on for different songs. It's about saying we're going to fully embrace this style and go down this musical route and produce it in a particular way as they did back then.'
• The Vagaband are playing numerous shows this summer including dates in Norwich, Bury St Edmunds, Stowmarket and Bungay. They will also be playing at the Woolpit Festival in Suffolk on June 16 and The Folk in the Field Festival in Norfolk on July 1.
• For a full list of upcoming gigs visit: www.thevagaband.co.uk