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Brian Hebert and Friends: News

Traditional Irish Session Musician Pays Tribute to the Beatles - October 5, 2008

Brian Hebert, a Boston area resident, has just released a CD of Beatle songs arranged as instrumental Irish and American folk tunes. The album, entitled: Any Time At All – A Session Picker’s Tribute to the Beatles, is an hour long collection of 26 jigs, reels, hornpipes, and instrumental covers, inspired from songs of the Beatles’ earlier, or Red Album period, and can be purchased at
Hebert, an avid traditional Irish banjo and octave mandolin player, is accompanied on the album by Boston area flatpicking legend John McGann, a strings professor at Berklee College in Boston, and a former national mandolin champion, along with Joey Sullivan on Irish drum (bodhran), and Pelham Norville on Irish pipes. Hebert, Sullivan, and Norville are all regular players at the John Stone’s Public House Irish Session on Tuesday nights, in Ashland, MA. To top it off, Hebert enlisted master sound engineer, Stephen Webber, also from Berklee, to mix the album, and seasoned Mark Donahue, of SoundMirror, Inc. to master it.

The tunes on the album, or Beatle morphs as Hebert calls them, were several years in the making. It all started in 2006 when, on a pilgrimage to Liverpool, Hebert picked up a Beatles song book. “What began as a review of chord changes of some of my favorite Beatles’ songs took on a life of its own and turned into this album” says Hebert. Included on the album are arrangements of Please Please Me, I Want to Hold Your Hand, She Loves You, Yesterday, Eleanor Rigby, Strawberry Fields, and many others.

As for many, Hebert’s musical life began on Sunday, February 9th, 1964 when the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. “Everything changed after that for so many people” says Hebert. “Everybody went out, got a guitar, and started playing rock and pop songs. It became life's mainstream activity. There is something so incredibly special and amazing about the Beatles and their music. We must have listened to those songs thousands of times – they form musical life bedrock for so many of us.”

Hebert doesn’t know what genre to put the music in. “It’s hard to categorize this stuff” says Hebert. “Sort of acoustical instrumental morphs of Beatle songs as traditional Celtic and American folk tunes”. Like the Beatles music itself, there are hints of blues, folk, rock, jazz, country, Latin, you name it. Some of the tunes weren’t changed that much and are fairly recognizable. Others, particularly the slip jigs in 9/8 meter, which is one of the oldest forms in Irish step dancing, are a bit more elusive.

Hebert explains that he first heard a traditional Irish arrangement of a Beatle song in the late 1970’s in Ireland when Frankie Gavin, fiddler extraordinaire, and his band De Dannan, did a hornpipe arrangement of Hey Jude. “It was really a beautiful piece of work” says Hebert.

It wasn’t easy getting other traditional musicians interested in the project. “Traditional Irish music is kind of a pure, sacred territory for many players – you do have to respect them, after all, this attitude is what has kept the music alive and kicking for generations and generations”. But John McGann and Joey Sullivan, both life-time Beatles fans and avid traditional musicians, were keen to help out.

“Having John and Joey on the album has really helped make the tunes so unique – they’re both such great players. John McGann basically knows every note of every instrument of every measure of every Beatles song – he says they form part of his musical DNA. John also helped out a lot in the beginning with all the arrangements. When I first came up with the idea, I sent him some rough takes and asked him if I was going crazy, but he was very encouraging“. Hebert goes on to explain that Joey Sullivan, who also plays as a kit drummer for rock and blues bands in Rhode Island, and is a big fan of Ringo’s, also knows the Beatles songbook cold. “As a tribute to Ringo, Joey does this great bodhran solo on I Wanna Be Your Man, which gets sandwiched between two kind of Appalachian flatpicking sounding sections, it’s really something else. Pelham also did a great job – especially on the slow bluesy Irish march version of Paperback Writer – we almost called it Piperback Writer”.

“Classical and pop music have long drawn material from the folk repertoire – maybe this is a little bit of that process in reverse” Hebert adds. “I’m just combining the acoustic sounds, textures, and rhythms you get from traditional Irish session and American folk instruments with a life-long love of all those songs we heard as kids – all those great melodies, harmonies, and chord progressions, they’re just the best”. Hebert goes on to say “Every once in a while, at an Irish pub session, we’ll play a Christmas Carol, Happy Birthday, or some pop song as kind of a joke - I guess I got a bit carried away with this kind of thing”.

When asked about a target audience for the album Hebert says “Well, it’s really a kind of a hybrid blend for people who like both the Beatles and instrumental acoustic tunes”.

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