On the Scene with Alastar McNeil
Alastar McNeil will be back in Honolulu next weekend when “Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles” plays a three-night engagement, Friday through June 2, at the Hawaii Theatre Center.
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Alastar McNeil spent almost eight years working for Kanile‘a ‘Ukulele, but these days he plays musical instruments rather than making them. He’s a member of Beat-lele, the Hawaii-based Beatles tribute group that uses ukulele and a cajon instead of guitars, bass and drums (McNeil plays a Kanile‘a eight-string tenor instrument). He is also a member of “Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles,” the international tribute show that was created almost 40 years ago. (“Rain” doesn’t mention the four Beatles by their names, so we’ll say that McNeil plays the lead guitarist).
McNeil, 41, will be back in Honolulu next weekend when Rain plays a three-night engagement, Friday through June 2, at the Hawaii Theatre Center.
What brings Rain to the Hawaii Theatre Center?
We’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the “Abbey Road” album. The previous two tours we were doing the whole “Sgt. Pepper’s” album. Now we’ve boiled that down to “the best of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ and the best of “Abbey Road.” One of the magical things about what we do is when we do the early Beatles you can actually hear us instead of just hearing girls screaming, and we play the later stuff that the Beatles never played live at all.
How did you become part of Rain?
I had been playing with Day In The Life, the group which eventually became Beat-lele, so I’d had the experience of learning a lot of George (Harrison) songs and the harmonies in Beatles songs, and then I happened to do a couple of Beatles songs with another group. Someone who was in contact with Rain was there and he put me in contact with them.
What are the biggest challenges in portraying the Beatles in a high-tech multimedia show?
We have to look right and sound right and play the right instrument. In Rain, the gentleman who plays Paul is Paul Curatolo, and he is actually a right-handed guy who learned how to play bass left-handed (like Paul). He is massively talented, he’s not only got the voice but the characterizations and all that.
Let’s remind people what you do with Beat-lele.
We started Beat-lele about 10 years ago as a regular Beatles tribute group. We switched over to ukulele about three years ago and we’ve been loving it ever since. We’ve been to Liverpool for International Beatleweek, we’ve played in The Cavern Pub and we hope to go back again this year.
What’s one of the funniest things that’s happened to you as a member of Rain?
I came out after a show and I saw a girl with a poster standing by the tour buses. I offered to sign it for her and she looked at me and said, “You weren’t in the show.” Paul (Curatolo) told her that I had been, but it’s kinda cool after the show to be able to go out and be incognito.
George Harrison lived to be 58 years old, so you have some years to go — perhaps even a solo tribute to Harrison?
There’s a guy who does a (solo) evening with George Harrison (show), but I almost feel like for me that would be taking it too far. I love what I’m doing right now, but my ultimate goal is to be writing and recording my own music. I’m hoping that playing all the music of the Beatles eventually rubs off some of their songwriting talent on me.
If you could talk with Harrison about something, what would it be?
I’d like to play ukulele with him. And I’d love to talk with him about meditation and music in general, and how he wrote his songs.