Gary James' Interview With Jon Ferris Of
The Beatles Tribute Act
Britishmania have taken their Beatles tribute act all over the world. They've performed in Liverpool, England, London, England, Canada, Mexico, Amsterdam, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Washington, D.C. They use the iconic replica instruments and amplifiers used by The Beatles. We're talking Vox, Rickenbacker, Hofner and Ludwig among others. We spoke with Jon Ferris who portrays John Lennon in Britishmania.
Q - Jon, could you be wearing any more hats in Britishmania? You're the manager, the agent, the producer, and you're portraying John Lennon. You're a busy guy!
A - (laughs) Yeah, I mean when you look at it that way, I do wear a lot of hats, but it's one of those things where this is my act and has been since the very, very beginning. If I don't do anything, nothing gets done. It's the way it is.
Q - You don't trust the business to outside people then?
A - Well, I certainly do, but they don't work for us. We have independent contractors that are the band guys. Usually the other guys that work for us, sound guys and what not, they have their own thing on the side.
Q - Do you have a substantial financial investment in Britishmania?
A - I would say yes. It's pretty substantial from anyone investing in the necessary guitars, amps and drums to a P.A., custom wigs. That's just to create the character on that side, not to mention the thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars that I invest back into the business for promoting, marketing website management, SEO marketing, all of the above. There's a lot of dollars that roll back into the business to make people find us.
Q - How far into the future is Britishmania booked?
A - I'm booked into next year (2017).
Q - I imagine the work comes in every day.
A - Yeah. Opportunities come my way quite frequently so it's just a matter of me putting together, negotiating the show.
Q - Where does the band call home?
A - Well, the band is actually based in two areas. Two areas is where I have the majority of my cast. One area is Los Angeles and the other is Mt. Laurel, New Jersey.
Q - Are you one of these tribute groups that has two sets of equipment? One on the East Coast and one on the West Coast?
A - I don't really run it that way per se. Really what we do is we will put cast from wherever we can but we will get whatever is the show and I will decide who needs to be on the show. As far as equipment goes, it's either negotiated into the contract with the venue or I bring it in from various companies all over the country. And it's local to wherever the venue is.
Q - I notice you refer to yourself as a John Lennon impersonator. Most of the people I interview refer to themselves as a tribute artist, not an impersonator.
A - I guess you could look at two different aspects of the definition of those. They probably cross over. But I would probably say I'm an impersonator doing a tribute, (laughs) to John. Beatle John. I should clarify that. It's pretty much where I drew the line.
Q - Did you ever see the real John Lennon in person?
A - I did not. I did not see him, but I certainly have been around awhile. I was very, very young when I saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. So, I had a chance to do that and kind of get a feel for Beatlemania like everybody else did. It was quite a phenomenon. I had the privilege of going to Liverpool back in 2006 and I actually got to play at The Cavern Club and some various other little clubs around Liverpool. That same euphoric feeling when you've seen all the videos and listen to all the records, you get that when you're in Liverpool too. It was like, "Wow! This is where he was and they were." It was quite a privilege, but an eye-opener. I just remember one of the first shows we did in The Cavern Club, it was so much like Beatlemania must have been. The way I'm going to describe it is pretty much like everything I've heard about Beatlemania, meaning that first crazy, crazy period where everybody screamed. We were staying at the Adelphia Hotel in Liverpool. We were all just kind of getting in the lobby and we're dressed. We've got our guitars in our hands. All of a sudden people are coming up. Young girls are kind of screaming and were taking pictures. Then a cab pulls up in front and we all jump in. We've laughing just like a cartoon. Just like a Beatles movie. Then we go all the way to Matthews Street and we get out and there's a crowd of people around us. They're going "Beatles, Beatles." Screaming. Jumping up and down. "Can we take pictures?" So we all just kind of ran into The Cavern Club. When we got into The Cavern Club and go down those stairs, all of a sudden this heat hits you in the face. It felt about 150 degrees. You'd push your way through the crowd. The crowd is going crazy. You go to the back of the stage. Then we wait until it was our turn to go out and play. Boy, when we hit the first chord, the place just went nuts. I remember saying to myself, "So this what Beatlemania felt like."
Q - I don't have to tell you there are a lot of Beatle tribute groups out there in the marketplace. How does an event planner know to call you?
A - Well, that's a good question. An event planner usually has their system of doing business and how they get talent. It boils down to finding them on the internet or word of mouth. My business is generated by those two and referrals of course, more ways than not. That's the way people find us. And why would they choose me as opposed to another Beatle act? Well, I look at what we're all about. Some people are shopping for budget 'cause they have a certain amount of money. Other people want something more authentic and I try to put that on our website as authentic as possible. I spent a lot of money with videos and things like that to let people know we're not some weekend act, part-time guys. Every guy I have is a full-time Beatle musician. That's something I instill to the people that are serious buyers and that's how I market us.
Q - As you see it, is the tribute band business growing or has it leveled off?
A - Good question. I really believe that like any other type of business, there's competition. I don't care what the business is. It's always the business that gets the most referrals, the most professional, the easiest to work with, the most value, all the principles of running a good business always show up in the end. So the way I see it, for Britishmania to make it long term we have to keep instilling these values into the integrity of what Britishmania is all about. So with that said, The Beatles' body of work is done. They did what they did. Apple, as well as Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, Olivia Harrison, they all do a wonderful job of keeping The Beatles relevant. What I see is that being passed down to generations. When we do a show, there's a lot of little kids that know the music. There's high school kids. There's college kids. Every time we do a college show there's tons of kids that know the music. So, I don't think the music is going anywhere. It's a matter of The Beatles tribute acts can, they still carry authenticity of The Beatles forward so that people can really feel what The Beatles were all about.