CALGARY – There’s a scene in the TV series, Vinyl, produced by Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese about the lusty music industry in full bloom during the early ’70s, in which Robert Plant is squaring off with a record label exec over royalties. The backstage scene, also posted on YouTube, is lifted from a 1973 concert that’s featured in Led Zeppelin’s myopic The Song Remains The Same docufantasy. The clip depicts Plant as a scrawny, cocky, annoying semi-articulate goof that doesn’t have much charm or swagger. And when he returns to the stage for an encore, he holds the mic all wrong and prances around like a bad, a very bad imitation – clearly not the charismatic rock god the world has come to love and cherish.
Craig Martin, founder of Classic Albums Live, knows that type of scenario all too well. While he, you and I might not know the real Robert Plant, there’s something terribly offsetting about the way he’s presented in Vinyl. The 27 commentators who posted below the YouTube clip also felt the same way; all of them expressed some sort of WTF!?!?, what-a-load-of-horseshit reply. Essentially, too often imitations just leave a bad taste in your brain, whether it’s acting in a movie or playing on a stage in a Zeppelin or Beatles’ tribute band, which Martin has a total disdain for.
“They’re just ruining it, with their imitations. You get those Zeppelin bands with their costumes and all that. Yeah, some of those guys can play but it sounds nothing like the original document. And frankly, they’re imparting their own personality on the music, which is fine, I guess. But,” adds Martin raising his voice. “It’s not what I do! I want musically purity. I want the best musicians up there, that’s all I care about. I don’t care what they look like, or what their lives are like, as long as they can get on stage and hit it!”
Based in Toronto, Martin founded Classic Albums Live in 2003 largely in response to tribute bands butchering music that many people hold as scared. “It is the soundtrack to our lives, as corny as that sounds,” he says. “And I got feed up with seeing tribute bands wreck it. Our shows don’t have bad impersonations, no cheesy costumes, we just play the albums exactly they way they were recorded.”
Over the past 15 years, the bands Martin has assembled have toured across North America performing more than 70 different classic rock albums, front to back, ranging from the Beatles (entire catalogue) to Zeppelin with lots of Stones, Pink Floyd, AC/DC, Eagles, The Doors as well as Prince, Bowie, The Police, Radiohead and even Michael Jackson and Saturday Night Fever in between. It’s a comprehensive outpouring that Martin is committed to maliciously recreating “note for note” treating and recognizing classic rock music the same as we value the classic composition of Mozart and Bach. This January he’s bringing his show to the Jack Singer to perform one of his favourite albums, The Beatles’ Abbey Road.
“The Beatles are the greatest band that ever lived. We do all their records, and the Abbey Road album is especially hard because you’ve got all four Beatles represented. You have “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun”, so you need a proper George singer, someone to cover the frailty of his vocals. You’ve got Lennon’s snark, you’ve got McCartney’s happy voice and you’ve got Ringo singing “Carry That Weight” and “Octopus’s Garden”. So that’s the challenge. But,” adds Martin with absolute confidence, “We’ve got it down.”
Experience Abbey Road live at the Jack Singer Concert Hall Wednesday, Jan. 24.Abbey Road, Jack Singer Concert Hall