Steve White, Paul McCartney with The Bootleg Beatles, chats with Kevin Cooper about how The Beatles came to be a part of his life, changing from John Lennon to Paul McCartney, playing at Hyde Park and Glastonbury, and their forthcoming tour of the UK
Steve White (Paul McCartney) with The Bootleg Beatles did not begin to play an instrument until he was twenty years old, when he self taught himself to play the guitar. After a lapse of five years he began to believe a career in music may be a possibility when he began playing with a few bands around the country.
When the band he was in was asked to play only Beatles songs at a wedding and a fortieth birthday party, he came to the attention of The Bootleg Beatles and was later asked to join them.
There have been many incarnations of the group, with band members leaving and being replaced. Steve White joined in 2012, as Paul McCartney. Other band members are Adam Hastings (John Lennon), Stephen Hill (George Harrison), and Gordon Elsmore (Ringo Starr).
About to embark upon a tour of the UK, Steve White took time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
I’m very well thank you Kevin and how are you?
I have to say things at the moment are very good thank you and let me just take the time to thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
Not at all, it’s my pleasure.
And just how is life treating you?
Life is really good at the moment and we are all trying to get some rest as we have only recently got back from a month’s tour of Australia and Singapore.
That must have been a real hardship for you (laughter).
(Hysterical laughter) I know that it sounds really glamorous but I have to say that it is probably not as glamorous as most people would think (laughter). We are always in and out, in a van, in a hotel or in a bedroom, that’s all that we get to see really (laughter).
I have to ask you, does Paul McCartney still live in Mansfield?
(Laughter) well, this Paul McCartney is actually currently living in Mansfield Woodhouse. I was born and bred in Mansfield but I have recently moved slightly out of the town by about ten minutes.
How did you get started in music?
I was really a late starter with music and I didn’t actually start playing an instrument until I was around twenty years old. In fact I was twenty-one when I finally picked up the guitar. I had a friend who taught me some basic keyboard skills but then I actually broke my keyboard. I couldn’t really afford to replace it so I picked up an old acoustic guitar which my dad had lying around the house and that is how I got started playing the guitar. I taught myself three basic chords and plodded on from there really. So as I said I was a late starter and then when I was twenty-five I found myself playing in a few small local bands playing country, rock and a whole manner of things.
How did The Beatles come to be playing a major part in your life?
Well after being in local bands I eventually I found myself playing the guitar in a retro 60’s show, playing anything from The Animals to The Searches. I had been a huge Beatles fan since I was nine years old, when I first found albums by The Beatles in my dad’s record collection. All that I can say is that I was smitten from that moment on. And so basically what happened was when I was playing in the 60’s group it transpired that we were all huge Beatles fans so we all started being a little self-indulgent learning lots and lots of Beatles songs (laughter). At one of our shows someone saw us playing a couple of Beatles songs and approached us to see if we would play just Beatles material at a wedding.
We agreed, went off and learnt a few more Beatles songs, and found ourselves at this wedding playing a Beatles show. Someone at the wedding then asked if we would play at their sixtieth birthday party as The Beatles and before we knew it we had turned into a Beatles tribute act. That was never the plan, it simply developed over a period of time.
So just how did John Lennon become Paul McCartney?
(Laughter) well, back then I was playing the guitar so I was more or less playing the part as John Lennon. However, everywhere we turned up to play people would always say that I looked more like Paul than John so me and the bass player swapped over. The problem was that I am a naturally right handed guitar player so I was playing the bass right handed. Everyone said that I had to be Paul but I wasn’t left handed so that always stood in the way. It was no good so I thought that I had to learn to play the bass left handed. So I got myself an old battered guitar, put some strings on it and I taught myself to play it left handed. And it is now around ten years that I have been playing left handed. Ten years down the line playing left handed it almost feels pretty natural now. So yes, John Lennon did become Paul McCartney (laughter).
Was it always going to be a career in music?
No, not at all. My family history funnily enough, all of my ancestors were stonemasons. Dating back right from the fifteenth century my family have always been stonemasons and involved in building. It was weird because when I left school all that I wanted to do was to be a builder. It was before I knew any of the family history, building just felt so very natural for me to become a builder. I went to college and got my qualifications in building and so that is what I was setting out to become. It just so happened that the company that I was working for fell upon hard times and eventually closed. This was back in the 1980’s when jobs were few and far between and I couldn’t get an apprenticeship with another building company so I found myself leaving the building trade. I have to say that I was never intending having a career in music at all. It all just happened accidently really.
You joined The Bootleg Beatles back in 2012. Just how did that come about?
The band that I had been in for years had finally folded and at that time I wasn’t in any band. I was kind of, for want of a better word, a Paul McCartney prostitute. I was offering my wares to various bands who needed someone to play Paul McCartney if their Paul was ill. I would stand in and do the show for them. I found myself doing that with over twenty bands whilst also working on the cruise ships playing shows for the holiday makers. And then one day totally out of the blue I got a call from Andre (Barreau) who was a founder member of The Bootleg Beatles and at that time he was playing George Harrison. He told me that he had heard that I stood in for bands who were struggling with band members and he asked me if I would be prepared to do a couple of shows with them.
I thought ‘Oh my god, it’s the Bootleg Beatles of course I will’ (laughter). So I jumped at the opportunity and it transpired that David Catlin-Birch who was playing Paul McCartney was suffering from an ongoing ear condition which was causing him a lot of problems onstage. Inadvertently he was missing more and more shows and I found myself filling in for the band whilst David was ill. This was now happening on a regular basis and I think that David got to the point where he simply couldn’t carry on as he was, so he decided to hang up his Bootleg boots and the band asked me if I would consider doing the job fulltime which was incredible. I jumped at the chance (laughter).
So you didn’t have to ask if you could take the weekend to consider the offer.
(Laughter) no, not at all. They phoned me and asked me and I said yes there and then (laughter).
Looking at the current line-up of The Bootleg Beatles you are all relatively young. How is this incarnation getting along with each other?
Adam (Hastings) who is the current John Lennon used to have his own band some years ago now and I have worked with him and stood in when his band were short so I had met him and we had become friends outside of The Bootleg Beatles. Steve (White) who has replaced Andre as George Harrison I had also worked with his band so we had already met, become acquainted and friends again outside of The Bootleg Beatles. For me being in The Bootleg Beatles has simply extended that friendship really, we are all good friends and get along really well.
Gordon Elsmore who plays Ringo Starr is the newest member having joined the band this year. How is he fitting in?
Yes he is, completely. Obviously we have had a change in personnel because Hugo Degenhardt who had previously played Ringo had been in the band for over twelve years and had decided that he wanted to branch out and develop his acting career. He took the decision to follow his acting route and called it a day with The Bootleg Beatles. Hugo’s replacement is Gordon, is a really nice guy and he has fitted in perfectly with the rest of the band. We have already had some great tours together and everything is brilliant.
Just how much time and effort goes into transforming Steve White into Paul McCartney?
After we have loaded all of the equipment into the venue, completed our sound checks, together with all of the other bits and pieces that we have to do, it takes a good hour and a half behind the scenes starting with the preparation of our costumes. Then I move onto the wig, together with an array of makeup. During all of those stages I am busy getting myself into the mind-set to enable me to go out onstage and perform as Paul McCartney. At no stage before that do I ever consider myself to be Paul McCartney nor do I ever after the wig and makeup are off. After that, for me it is done. It is simply a process that happens for about an hour and a half before I go on stage, the whole of the performance on stage, then for me Paul McCartney is left there on the stage (laughter). The minute the show is over and everything is off, after I have removed the clothing and the wig, he is gone. There are no illusions that I am the man (laughter).
Do you ever have any moments when onstage when you suddenly think what am I doing here, who am I?
That’s a good question but I have to say not really no (laughter). Generally everything is pretty much in character but I have to say that sometimes the accents can slip a little bit (laughter). But generally all in all things are pretty much as per character.
Just how critical of the band are The Beatles fans?
Oh gosh, incredibly. Some of The Beatles fans are so on it, they can tell you what John Lennon had for breakfast in his hotel on the 26th November 1964 (laughter). Some of the fans are so avid that they do point out any flaw or misgiving that is in the show. Some time ago now we had somebody point out that when we are playing Day Tripper, George and Paul were singing it at the Paul mic when in fact it should have been John and George at the same mic, not Paul. Their knowledge about the detail is incredible.
So they keep you on your toes then?
Very much so; this means that you have to do a hell of a lot of research and study. Obviously it is impossible to get every single thing correct. It is very easy to miss little things but the fans are not slow in pointing it out to you (laughter).
Has the current incarnation of the band ever had any feedback from either Paul or Ringo?
I have to say that the current line-up of the band have never met either Paul or Ringo. However, the original line-up was fortunate enough to meet Paul on two or three occasions. They managed to meet Paul, George and also George Martin. They were very fortunate indeed. The band were asked to play at the Queens Jubilee at Buckingham Palace and Paul was playing at the same time. He sent a note up to the band saying ‘don’t do Hey Jude because I’m doing it’ (laughter). Then he sent them a second message telling them that he was going to go into the crowd and heckle them (laughter).
There was a nice story involving both Neil (Harrison) the original John and Hugo (Degenhardt) the original Ringo; apparently they were carol singing in Liverpool and when they knocked on a door Paul McCartney answered the door (laughter). They had no idea that he lived there as it was one of the many houses that he had acquired and was living there at the time. He took them both in and played them one of his new songs; I’ve Got A Feeling which was later found on the Let It Be album. He actually sat at the piano and played that song to them before anybody in the world had heard it.
What is your favourite Beatles song?
That’s a tough question because I like all of them but if I had to choose one that I am very fond of it would have to be Ticket To Ride. The reason why I say that is because if you listen to Ticket To Ride compared to a lot of the songs that came before it, well they were very much boy meets girl poppy kind of songs whereas Ticket To Ride has quite a heavy sound compared to anything that came before. It was just on the cusp of when they started to self-indulge, as it were with more contemporary music. So that for me was kind of like the pinnacle turning point song for me personally. So that is the one that I would go for.
You are playing the Royal Concert Hall here in Nottingham on Monday 5th December, what can we expect, any surprises?
Obviously, what we try to do is every year we will try to do something different. We obviously have a fan base who come to see us on a regular basis, so there will be a staple of mainstream hits. For example, from the early mop top period there will be She Loves You, Hard Day’s Night, through to Sgt. Pepper where obviously an orchestra is added to the stage. We are able to perform songs with additional musicians which even The Beatles could not perform live on stage, such as All You Need Is Love, I Am The Walrus, things like that. The Beatles were never able to perform those songs live so we are lucky to be able to perform those in a live show. So you have those but we have also added a few quirky songs for the diehard fans and they are quirky songs that we have not done before.
Hopefully they will quench the thirst of the diehard fans and there will be something that they have never seen us do before. We really do try to put a little bit in there for everyone. And then the show finishes with The Beatles in their bohemian kind of look; the long hair and the roof top performance. So hopefully you will hear a few oddities and songs that the diehard fans have never heard us play before. It should, fingers crossed, be nice for them too. Also it opens the causal fans ears to different songs that The Beatles did also because everyone is familiar with She Loves You and Twist And Shout, but if you are playing something like Helter Skelter they probably wouldn’t know it. It opens their ears to something different also so hopefully there is a little bit for everyone.
You mention that the show is split into four segments, which is your favourite Beatles period?
Oh crikey, it is really hard to say. I guess that from a costume point of view I would probably say the latter because the costume is a little less formal. It is more of a casual attire on the stage so that is quite nice. Obviously when you are suited and booted it is quite stifling to be wearing a collar and tie under the lights so I would say that from a costume point of view it would probably be the latter. However, from a musical point of view I honestly don’t know. Each and every period that we portray on stage that happens to be my favourite at that time. I guess that the early period is very exciting so I would probably say from a performance point of view together with the energy that is on stage from that early rock and roll type music is just so very exciting. Having said all of that, the Sgt. Pepper stuff is a hell of a lot more technical so it really is hard for me to say. It really is hard to say.
The Bootleg Beatles are the longest running tribute band ever. Just how long do you see yourself being a part of it?
(Laughter) as long as they will have me and just as long as they can put up with me. I guess that I would like to stick my neck out and say that certainly I would hope to still be in the band for the next five years or so. Everything being equal and good then, yes, I would like to think so. Probably by then it will time for me to step aside and let another young guy come into the band. When you are on stage portraying someone who is in their twenties it takes its toll on a long tour, night after night after night. It really is quite demanding. Most of the tours are really physical anyway but when you are trying to portray someone who is essentially a kid on stage, then it becomes very demanding both vocally and physically.
The Bootleg Beatles have recently played at both Hyde Park and Glastonbury, how was that?
I have to say that they were both totally fantastic, and Glastonbury was amazing. The audience in Hyde Park is dotted about over a vast area so although it is a great buzz and a great feeling, everyone is dotted all over the place. But at Glastonbury we were playing in the acoustic tent and it was absolutely packed. The atmosphere was just electric. There was just so many people crammed into a relatively small area when you compare it to Hyde Park. The feedback that was coming from the audience was deafening; it was just unbelievable. It really was fantastic.
If you could take the band and perform in any one place of your choice, where would you perform?
That’s a hard question and I have to say that I simply don’t know. We have been lucky enough to perform at some at some absolutely wonderful venues, Glastonbury being one of them. We have played the Royal Albert Hall, places like that. It is incredibly mind-blowing for us to be able to step out in places such as that. Everybody and anybody has stood on that stage at the Royal Albert Hall and that is quite something. Oh dear, I don’t really know. Maybe something like one of the big American stadiums, somewhere where The Beatles actually played, that would be quite nice. Perhaps Shea Stadium where The Beatles performed, that would be very nice.
Who has musically inspired you?
I have always been inspired by country music because that is how I learnt to sing harmonies. A lot of the old country stars such as Johnny Cash have inspired me and I learnt all about them from my father.
What was the first record that you bought?
That would have been Faith by George Michael (laughter).
Who did you first see playing live in concert?
That was back in the 1980s and I saw The Beastie Boys.
On that note Steve let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been great speaking to you.
Not at all Kevin, it’s been my pleasure. You take care and I will see you in Nottingham.