The Feb Four
California-Based Band Celebrates the Lasting Legacy of the Beatles

By Lee Valentine Smith

February is a big month in Beatle history. This month, the iconic musicians' ultimate tribute band returns to Atlanta on the exact anniversary of John, Paul, George and Ringo's initial arrival in America. The California-based Fab Four will bring another two-hour recreation of the group's influential catalog to Symphony Hall.

Formed in 1997 by Ron McNeil as John Lennon and Ardy Sarraf as Paul McCartney, the band has grown from fan convention performances to big-budget Vegas residencies to annual international tours.

INsite caught up with Sarraf by phone from his home in Los Angeles.

Since the last time we talked, there's a new John in town.

Yeah his name is Adam Hastings and he comes from Newcastle, England. So now we have two Brits in the band and half of the Fab Four are American. Adam is great and he's actually making us all up the ante a little bit in terms of his presence.

He has quite the pedigree with a long stint in the Bootleg Beatles and other projects.

Yeah he's been doing it for close to ten years now and we're so glad to have him in the band. He's so good and he can really belt out "Twist and Shout" like nobody else.

When you bring in a new member, it obviously changes the band dynamic a bit, even though you're playing familiar material.

It really does. But Adam has really given us a shot in the arm and he's keeping us focused on what we're doing. His attitude, his energy on stage, his uncanny likeness - just his look and those incredible vocals - I don't know anyone else who could do what he does. So he made the jump. He moved his family and everything to the United States to be a member of the Fab Four.

That's a big commitment to the project.

It sure is, but it's working out so well. We couldn't be happier to have him a part of the show.

So Ron has transitioned to a behind-the-scenes member at this point?

He'll do a show or two a month and he's still a partner in the band. Of course I'm one as well. He's finally taking some time off to be home with his family a little more. We started way back in '96 or '97, so we've been working together for a long time.

At this point, you've saluted the Beatles for longer than they were actually together.

It's funny, we've pretty much doubled the Beatles' career and it's been a wild ride. Along the way, we've been able to meet and work with a lot of our heroes. We've done shows for John Fogerty, Bruce Springsteen and the guys from Kiss and we even worked with Robert Zemeckis on the Yellow Submarine remake that never quite got finished.

The Fab Four have accomplished what most original bands only dream of doing.

In our case, we're very lucky to have the Beatle catalog to fall back on. We approach it as we always have, to just give the audience a great two-hour Beatles show. The goal is to make it like it's something they'll never forget. Going back to the addition of Adam, it's just about keeping the Fab Four fresh - for us and the audience.

Right, as much as we all love the music, when you replicate it over and over from city to city, the show can obviously become a bit of a grind.

The only thing that's truly tiring is being on the road - that's always tough. It certainly helps that we love what we're doing but it's like being an athlete or being in the military, repetition just becomes part of the process. It's the old saying, we just get paid to travel. We get paid for travelling, and we do the show for free. The playing is the gravy.

It's a plus that you truly love the music.

Yeah, that's why we never get sick of doing the shows. We are playing the best music ever made. We all grew up idolizing the Beatles so we approach it that way. It's all about the music, no matter what. That's what really keeps it fresh. The music feels new even though it's now over half a century old.

Even though we obviously know the release dates, the music itself doesn't sound dated.

Well that's the beauty of the Beatles and why we're still talking about them and playing their music today. That's why there are all the Beatle bands out there now - people love hearing it, people love singing it.

You're tasked with the unenviable task of replicating the music, personas and performances of real people for equally real hardcore, obsessive fans.

Well, that's the goal. We've spent so many years with the music and watching the videos and films. But every show is still a learning experience even after this many years of doing it. We know we'll never be them. Our goal is to keep pushing the envelope to capture that essence.

You were here last year. How does that push you to raise the bar of performance?

It's a celebration of the Beatles and we want all the fans to come out to celebrate the music along with us. So hopefully the show keeps everyone coming back to see us. We do change it up a little, too. We're playing brand-new, fifty-plus-year-old songs this time. There a lot of songs you can play, over 200. But you need to stick with the hits but we do throw in some cool gems. There'll be several different songs this time around and we'll see what the reaction is for folks. Or for "y'all," right?

Let's talk about touring. The Fab Four seems to be on tour most of the year; how do you ship all those instruments?

We actually have four sets of gear. Every set of gear has four huge cases and so there are four sets of our gear crisscrossing the country at any given time. So when we arrive at a city, our gear is ready.

Do you ever bring your own favorite guitars?

When we first started we all brought our own personal guitars. But over the years as we've continued to tour, a lot of our favorite guitars are being retired and kept at home. We've replaced them with exact reissues of the Hofners, the Rickenbackers or the Gretsch stuff. Everything we use is still authentic and it's a big investment. It's all as authentic to the original equipment as possible. Because you can't beat the sound. Visually and sonically, it really makes it a complete package to be playing the same instruments the band used to create those sounds in the first place.

A key element of the Fab Four is there are no tracks, no pre-recorded stuff. It's all live.

Yeah it's all live. We're playing live and singing live. No tracks, no trickery and we're bringing it all to Atlanta. We hope the all fans who saw us last time around will come back and bring their friends. It's just a commemoration of the music.

Many musicians were inspired by The Beatles' performance on the Sullivan show. What was your introduction to the catalog?

I wasn't around when they played on the Sullivan show but my connection came in the '80s from basically when John was murdered. I was a kid and wondering why everyone was so upset. Then I started getting into the music and realized why the world was so sad. There's a universal appeal to those songs, never matched by anyone since. They pretty much covered every style and every emotion on those records and it literally strikes a chord with everybody. Every person has a Beatles song that works for any given mood, or any given day of their life.

Since Valentines Day is coming up, it's a good time to talk about the Beatles' love songs. Paul is still a master at expressing that particular emotion. So what are your top five - from the McCartney point of view?

There are so many good ones, it's tough. "If I Fell" is definitely one of the greatest duo love songs. It has that Everly Brothers feel and it's so simple but so beautiful. Lately we've doing that one in the show and people love it. "Yesterday" is good because it's about missing someone who used to be there for you. Also for missing people you love, "In My Life" is a good one. And I love "Hey Jude," too. But I think my favorite one is - and to me it's actually the greatest love song: "All You Need Is Love." The message is romantic, but it's also universal. It pretty much says it all and it's what we still need today.

The Fab Four return to Symphony Hall on Friday, February 7. For more information, please visit atlantasymphony.org.

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