It’s a funny kind of soul who devotes his life to pretending to be someone else. Take Duck Chowles, a 52-year-old musician who has spent large chunks of his life impersonating John Lennon. It’s a role most of us wouldn’t envy: one’s livelihood, professional reputation and sense of self-worth is based not solely on your own talents or traits, but your ability to mimic the talents and traits of a personality far larger than yours.
Duck has been at this lark for two decades, on the road with his Beatles tribute The Fab Four since 1998, and playing solo gigs as Lennon long before then. We can’t help asking: what would the notoriously cynical Liverpudlian make of his act?
‘That’s a good question,’ Duck muses. A significant pause follows. ‘A very good question. I think he would enjoy it, because The Beatles never played a lot of these songs [live]. I think he would find it fun.’
Chowles has a Beatles obsession that some may say borders on mania. His mind is an encyclopaedia of trivia, reeling off the outcome of forgotten copyright court cases, or the date that the Fab Four first met Bob Dylan. He not only collects solo albums by all four former Beatles, but swears by them all. Even Wings. Even Ringo. But it’s John who stole his heart.
‘The main thing about the show is that the harmonies are brilliant,’ he tells me without a hint of modesty. ‘We sound just like The Beatles. I sing just like John Lennon and Andy Murray sings Paul McCartney’s parts. Together it sounds just right, and that’s the main reason we did the show.’
You could say it’s a stroke of luck that Duck’s voice sounds remarkably similar to that of one quarter of the world’s biggest ever band. But he fell under The Beatles’ spell long before he realised his talent. Growing up
on a rural farm in the east of South Africa, without electricity or running water, it was on battery-powered radio that a young Chowles first heard and fell in love with the Fab Four in 1965. When disaster struck a year later – the band were banned from the country’s airwaves – Chowles relied on records smuggled home from his elder brother in boarding school, and tuning into stations in neighbouring Mozambique. ‘It’s no exaggeration to say The Beatles changed my life,’ he says. ‘We lived in political and cultural isolation, and I grew up with The Beatles. As a kid I started singing, and I’ve always been John Lennon.’
Yet Duck’s first work was following the family trade, working as a product supplier for 500 farms. It was only following a career change at the age of 30 that he started life as a professional musician. He ran his own record studio for three years before starting work in rock’n’roll theatre shows. Later leaving the stage to produce and direct, Chowles has now clocked up 40 productions to his name, including Roll Over Beethoven and Rocking All Over the World, both of which have made it to Dubai. But this is the first time he’s come along for the ride. Chowles left the spotlight ten years ago, but has been coaxed out of retirement and back onto the stage to revive this much-loved Beatles tribute, which sees a core quartet joined by a female singer and a brass section to whizz through medleys of 40 Beatles classics. ‘The manager [of the First Group Theatre] talked me into it,’ he laughs.
The timing couldn’t be better, with this year marking the 50th anniversary of the Fab Four’s earliest records. It’s not hyperbole to say that no band is better known, more loved or half as influential as The Beatles: they sold more records, topped more charts and ultimately touched more people than any other artist.
‘The Beatles are sacred,’ says Duck. ‘They changed the world. The incredible thing is they were only around for a short period – they toured from 1962 to 1966, then they went into studio seclusion for three years. They were only really around for seven years – George Harrison was only 27 when they broke up – and in that short period of time they made such an impact, had so many hits and changed so many lives.
I don’t think rock’n’roll could change the world after the ’60s, but back then, The Beatles changed everything.’
The Fab Four take to the stage at the First Group Theatre, Souk Madinat Jumeirah on September 6-8. Tickets Dhs185. www.timeouttickets.com
Name that tune
We asked @timeoutdubai’s Twitter followers to reveal their favourite Beatles songs…
@peartreediaries ‘“Blackbird”. The song makes you appreciate life, and the cover by Eddie Vedder is brilliant as well :)’
@naomifantabulus: ‘“I’ve Just Seen a Face”. Reason: I dare you to listen to it and not fall in love with it.’
@EmmyC_UAE: ‘“Hey Jude”. You can really belt this one out while driving!’