Arts

The Beach Boys' Mike Love on returning to Ireland – hopefully they won't be booed this time

The Beach Boys return to Ireland next week. David Roy spoke to original member Mike Love about the iconic US band's new orchestrally enhanced album, their difficult Irish debut some 51 years ago and the chances of another reunion with cousin and chief songwriter, Brian Wilson

The Beach Boys are back in Ireland next week for shows in Belfast and Dublin

"DOES that mean we're conducting this in Gaelic?" jokes Beach Boys leader Mike Love when he learns that he's speaking to The Irish News about the iconic US hit-makers' imminent return to Dublin and Belfast

We offer to try our best if he's game, but the suggestion is quickly brushed aside with a cheerful "just kidding" before the singer and founding band member gets down to plugging the Boys' latest release.

"Are you aware of that the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is coming out with an album?" asks Love (77), referring to the new The Beach Boys with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra record: symphonic arrangements of classic Beach Boys tracks recorded at Abbey Road studios topped with original vocal harmony performances lifted straight off the bands' master tapes from the 1960s.

"One of the guys in our management is Jerry Schilling, who was one of Elvis Presley's guys and travelled with him," explains Love of how the project came to be.

"He's been involved with the Elvis estate over the years and they'd done a couple of album projects with Elvis and symphonies. So that's how this came about.

"Jerry suggested it and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was happy to join us. You know, we have done orchestral performances live before, but never on record using the original vocal performances – so it's a brand new incarnation of The Beach Boys."

Indeed, the album includes new 'symphonically enhanced' versions of Pet Sounds favourites Good Vibrations, God Only Knows, Wouldn't It Be Nice? and Sloop John B alongside other Beach Boys staples including California Girls, In My Room, Fun Fun Fun, Help Me Rhonda and Kokomo.

"I thought it was great," enthuses Love of the first time he heard a finished track successfully marrying newly captured symphonic arrangements to the original vocals and harmonies that he and cousins Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson recorded over 50 years ago.

"There's another approach, which is getting together and re-recording [the vocals] but, y'know, I don't think you're gonna do any better than Good Vibrations, which Carl Wilson sang – and he's not available anymore [Carl died in 1998]."

"This is The Beach Boys at the peak of their popularity and creativity complimented by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra."

Love tells me he is particularly fond of a new take on a song co-written with Brian Wilson back in 1963.

"The Warmth Of The Sun is a beautiful ballad," he enthuses of the song, originally released on 1964's LP Shut Down Volume 2, "but to hear it with the complement of the orchestra is just fantastic."

While the surviving Wilsons (Dennis drowned in 1983) and long-time Beach Boys Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston reunited for a tour and a new album, That's Why God Made The Radio, back in 2012, Brian has since reverted to touring with his own band (which also features Jardine and Beach Boys alumnus Blondie Chapman) performing Pet Sounds in its entirety alongside selections from his solo career and The Beach Boys' greatest hits.

Love, who's joined by bassist Johnson in the current Beach Boys line-up, says he's "open to discussions" as regards working with his cousin again in the future – there have been rumours of a live reunion for the Glastonbury Festival, for example.

However, Brian will have to fully recover from his recent back surgery before that can happen.

"I sent a message to him which ended up becoming a [Facebook] post saying I know what it's like to have back problems," says the Beach Boys leader of his currently laid-up cousin, referencing 'the Wilson back gene' which has long plagued their family.

"I hope he does better and that he's feeling well."

Getting back to Love's more pressing live engagements in Ireland, The Beach Boys have been regular visitors here over the years despite the fact that our relationship with the band got off to a slightly rocky start: back in May 1967, one of the band failed to turn up for the Californian group's first ever Irish show.

With the late Carl Wilson detained in New York due to an issue with his Vietnam draft papers, the rest of the band were forced to perform a matinee show at Dublin's Adelphi Cinema (now a multi-storey car park) without him.

According to press reports, the crowd were not best pleased: some booed the band during the set and chanted "we want Carl!", with around 300 fans demanding their money back afterwards.

With the fate of their scheduled evening performance hanging in the balance, luckily the errant Wilson brother finally made it to Dublin just in time to play a much more enthusiastically received set and The Beach Boys' Belfast debut at the ABC Cinema (now a Jury's Inn) the following night went off without incident.

"Yes, I remember that – it was very difficult!" recalls Love of their introduction to Ireland.

"[Carl] was being pursued by the Draft Board who wanted him for the army. He took a Lear Jet to Ireland but didn't get here in time to make the first show. Carl was our lead guitar player so it wasn't good for us to be missing that back in the day.

"He also sang beautifully from the beginning right up until he died from lung cancer in 1998. That was a sad occurrence and we miss him greatly."

Love adds: "My son Christian travels with me now and he sings [Carl's lead vocal] on God Only Knows. It sounds beautiful and he actually gets standing ovations once in a while."

Love and the rest of The Beach Boys are not ones for taking it easy as they hit their twilight years: they played over 180 concerts last year, with the band's current set clocking in at an impressive two hours (with intermission) and featuring over 30 songs from their hit-studded back catalogue.

"The set changes a bit depending on where we play," explains the Beach Boys frontman.

"We have a big catalogue so we are able to put in less well-known songs from time to time. For example, Cottonfields [from 1969's 20/20 LP] was a hit in Europe, so we might play that for our fans from back in the day who would like to hear it again.

"But we definitely have a lot of songs that we'd be ill-advised not to perform, like California Girls, I Get Around and so on."

Happily, it seems that even some 57 years into their career, Love is still not bored with performing the band's best-loved numbers.

"A lot of people come to see us because they want to hear certain songs, be it Good Vibrations or California Girls or something from Pet Sounds," he reasons.

"I don't ever want to disappoint anybody and I love those songs. We're obsessed with recreating them live as close to the original recordings as possible."

With obvious pride, he adds: "We even still sing them in the same keys."

:: The Beach Boys, June 17, Bord Gáis Theatre, Dublin and June 18, Waterfront Hall, Belfast. Tickets via Ticketmaster outlets.

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