Picture: Gareth Jones


Birmingham Hippodrome


Those who were wondering if they would still be loved when they reached 64, back in those heady, flower-powered, summers of love, will have found their answer to that particular dilemma long ago by now.

And no doubt some of those loving you forevers will have ended with her leaving home, but, hopefully, her partner will have got by with a little help from their friends.

For a certain generation Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was one of the coming of age albums along with the likes of Space Odity, Sounds of Silence, The Freeweelin’ Bob Dyland, Dusty in Memphis, Tommy, In the Court of the Crimson King, Led Zeppelin . . . the list goes on and on. It was a great decade for music, perhaps the greatest.

Mark Morris and his celebrated New York based Dance Group have marked the golden jubilee of the iconic 1967 Beatle’s album with Pepperland, a dance piece not so much based on as influenced by the album.

It opens with the eponymous song and incorporates With a Little Help from My Friends. When I’m Sixty Four and a haunting A Day in the Life, while along the way you get a hint, no more, of other tracks on the album, which, to be honest, you might struggle to identify without the programme as a guide.

The only rogue track is Penny Lane, which was never on the album – but it was meant to be. Demand from Parlophone for a single saw it released early as a double A side single with Strawberry Fields Forever. The Beatles’ policy was never to include already issued singles on future albums, so Penny Lane led only to Strawberry Fields  . . . well, forever.

The visual effect is . . . well fun. It perhaps doesn’t have the psychedelic 76 trombones band-cum-pirate flamboyance of the waxwork Beatles on the album cover – but the bright colours become the theme of Elizabeth Kurtzman’s vibrant costumes, modern, casual and if not altogether in style, at least in spirit, a taste of the swinging sixties.

There is a homage paid to pop artists Jann Haworth and Sir Peter Blake’s award-winning album cover as well, when some of 70 or so celebrities depicted on the cover are introduced with the likes of Shirley Temple, Laurel and Hardy and Sonny Liston, taking up stylised poses in a section called Magna Carta.

Incidentally of all the people depicted on the cover only five are still alive - admittedly many were already dead by 1967 but 23 were still breathing in and breathing out. The five survivors are Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, along with Bob Dylan and, less well known, Dion DiMucci, the New York R&B singer better known as just Dion, and Los Angeles sculptor Larry Bell – all in the upper reaches of their 70s.

Penny Lane and the tracks from the album, including George Harrison’s Indian influenced Within You Without You, are all arranged by Ethan Iverson, and there are also six original compositions by Iverson, inspired by aspects of the album.

One such being Wilber Scoville, a horn led blues. The album started with a blues lick while Scoville is the man who invented the scale to measure heat in chillies. Sgt. Pepper . . . chillies . . .blues . . .join the dots.

The dancing by the team of 17 is energetic and fun, criss crossing the stage on a whirl of colour, or pausing and slowing to more tender moments as in an adagio for lonely hearts. There are some clever moments with a sort of asynchronous symmetry others with repetition becoming a theme.

There are also moments of great strength, with tremendous dead weight lifts, partners being carried on straight arms at speed around the stage, and there are moments of great humour as in When I’m Sixty Four punctuated by drum crashes, increasing tempo and a jazzy interpretation, resulting in an exhausted dance troupe-cum-chorus line. With the final little joke, the last female dancer carrying off the final male – will she still be doing that when he hits 64 you might ask.

Most haunting is A Day in the Life, arranged as a nocturn played on that most ethereal of instruments the theremin by Rob Schwimmer, a world renowned maestro of this incredible electronic instrument – an instrument which had it’s own 90th anniversary last year.

The dancing and music is more jazzy than pop and more West End or Broadway than Top of The Pops and the 60s, but this is contemporary dance paying homage to a landmark album not a dance karaoke session, and it brings freshness, vivid primary colours and out and out fun to the stage whether you know anything about the album or not. To 27-03-19

Roger Clarke


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