The Beach Boys – or at least Mike Love and Bruce Johnston – are back in London, a place that has always cherished their music. Perhaps second only to their native California, in fact, with the UK allowing the group’s adventurous pop sound to claim its heart like few other international groups during the tumultuous era known as the 60s.
But we’re not here to talk about the past. The Beach Boys have just completed a fresh project, working with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to place those classic hits in a new setting, giving them the lush, orchestral textures they dreamed about all those years ago.
“The remix uncovers things we forgot were there,” Bruce admits, while his band mate immediately starts to grin: “Oh yeah, definitely. Emotionally and musically.”
“It’s a new incarnation of all these songs,” he says. “A different version of the clarity shows different things, but they peeled things off and didn’t put them back, so it’s pretty interesting, pretty good.”
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For once The Beach Boys are able to stand back a little from the project, with the bulk of those sessions taking place at Abbey Road’s world famous studios – home to everyone from Glenn Miller to the American group’s old competitors The Beatles. “Ain’t that something?” says Mike. “A lot of cosmic synergy has gone into this album.”
Bruce Johnston was immediately taken by the building, and the weight of history that touches on a still-thriving studio. “Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band recorded there, too,” he exclaims. “They recorded on glass masters! And they made beautiful recordings. You think about the memories. The beautiful ghosts that walk Abbey Road.”
There’s one British fan in particular that they’d love to meet, a certain member of the Royal Family. Mike starts to smile: “We were told that the Queen likes ‘California Girls’.”
His band mate gleefully adds: “She likes two things: she likes to dance with Elton (John) to ‘Rock Around The Clock’ and she likes ‘California Girls’.”
So, if the Royal invitation came would The Beach Boys play it for her? Mike is typically professional: “If there’s a special event we think it would be wonderful.”-
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Of course, this isn’t the first time the group’s catalogue has been set to music – the Beach Boys regularly play with orchestras, and have their own charts. “It’s really funny,” Bruce explains. “When we play with the symphony the soundchecks are my favourite part because I can listen to everything, and then I have our engineer turn the symphony off because we’re leading the symphony. I take all the symphony out of it because they can’t be good unless we’re good.”
“We have our own charts,” Mike adds. “These are different charts, made by the producers and they did a fantastic job – it’s good to hear the differences in those same songs.”
“When they found a little space they threw something in it,” his band mate enthuses. “They didn’t play something on top of us and cause a little traffic jam.”
The main challenge, it seems, was actually picking which of the Beach Boys countless hits to utilise. “There’s several 100 songs to choose from, but some of them were obvious,” Mike explains. “They’re already talking about doing another volume, so there’s room for more. I mean, ‘Do It Again’ is not on this album but it was number one in Great Britain…”
Bruce adds: “There’s enough to have a second album that isn’t watered down. Don’t worry – it’s going to be good!”
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Right now, though, The Beach Boys are concentrating on their touring activities. Last year the band played 185 shows, criss-crossing several different continents in the process. It’s a schedule that leaves many lesser, much younger, bands in their wake. “We work all the time,” Bruce nods. “We don’t go and sit on the beach for a few years.”
“I’ve always preferred the live music thing because of the spontaneity and the challenge of re-creating those songs as close to the original arrangements and performances as possible,” Mike explains. “It’s not 100% achievable because Carl Wilson is, y’know, no longer with us, but we have some excellent musicians and we can replicate it as good as anyone ever will.”
“It’s just that the audience response is so great for us,” Bruce continues. “First of all, we had a hand in recording these songs, so when we can step out and play them to an appreciative audience it feels good to us, and the audience get so much out of it, so much happiness. If we were to do it in a vacuum I don’t think any of us would be doing it like that. We’re in a very fortunate position.”
“Tonight, if you look on Amazon then we’re number one on Amazon with this album – which is just unbelievable!”
The Beach Boys’ music is reaching another generation, with countless young kids experiencing those seminal hits for the first time. “It’s wonderful because we have entire families who can come out and enjoy our music together, and that’s not always the case,” Mike insists. “A lot of time the older generations have their music and the younger generations have their music but with The Beach Boys it seems that our songs transcend generations and bring families together. That in itself is a wonderful achievement… and it’s kinda rare.”
With The Beach Boys set for another lung-bursting run of live shows in 2018 – and potentially another orchestral record up their sleeves – it seems that this legendary group will have plenty more waves to overcome.
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'The Beach Boys with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra' is out now.
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