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Tribute bands continue Beatles’ legacy

The Mentles perform at the Space the Beatles pub. (Yoo Jae-son)
The Mentles perform at the Space the Beatles pub. (Yoo Jae-son)

From the outside, Space the Beatles is just another establishment in the cool entertainment district of Hongdae in Seoul. But a step inside reveals a shrine where Beatles records, posters, artwork and books adorn the walls.

Owner Seo Kang-seok counts himself as one of Korea’s biggest Beatles fans.

“I listened to the song ‘Yesterday’ for the first time in my life (in 1984) and thought, ‘Wow, it’s very good,’” he said.

The pub, opened in 2016, often plays host to Korea’s four main Beatles tribute bands: Tatles, Mentles, Beagles and the Apples.

Yoo Jae-son is a member of both the Mentles and the Beagles. The Mentles, formed in 2008 and revived in 2019 after a hiatus, targets Koreans, while the Beagles, formed by Yoo in 2017, targets foreign residents here.

“I think the best way to explain it is that we (Beagles) drink onstage. All the audience people drink, it’s a good time, a lot of people dance, and I think it’s a lot to do with that there’s a lot of American teachers from military bases, a lot of expat populations, so when they hear rock and roll music … they’re going to come out onto the dance floor and start dancing,” he said.

“The Mentles is a different thing altogether. It’s a Korean audience so … they do scream and sometimes they get up and dance but it’s a much calmer crowd.”

Yoo believes that playing for crowds is a balance between catering to hardcore fans and those who want to hear the well-known hits. “We have to do either ‘Hey Jude’ or ‘Let It Be,’ and that’s kind of become one of the unwritten rules on one of our outings.”

The Beagles take the stage at Re.Pub.Lic on Feb. 15. (Yoo Jae-son)
The Beagles take the stage at Re.Pub.Lic on Feb. 15. (Yoo Jae-son)

Jeon Sang-kyu, a member of the Tatles, also finds that Korean audiences prefer these songs. “People love the Beatles and everybody knows the Beatles, but in Korea the songs that we like are very slow songs of the Beatles like ‘Yesterday,’ ‘Let It Be’ and ‘Hey Jude,’” he said.

The Tatles are the only band to consist of professional musicians by trade, with each member working on individual music projects full-time. They perform as the Tatles often -- two or three times a week in December -- while the other bands aim for about once a month.

“If the Beagles or Mentles could get together five times a week, play six hours a night, I’m sure we’d get so much better, (but) it’s just not a reality at our advanced age and all of our responsibilities,” said Yoo, who works at Auto Crypt, the smart car security arm of Penta Security Systems, as his day job.

The Apples (Lee Jong-min)
The Apples (Lee Jong-min)

Lee Jong-min, John Lennon of the Apples and a full-time teacher, sees the same in his tribute band. Lee says it is “special” to be able to perform as the Beatles.

“I can hardly explain in words. I feel it deep inside but I can’t express,” he said.

The love and respect of the Beatles unites the four bands. “It’s like digging into a bottomless well of joy that just never stops giving,” said Yoo, referring to the Beatles’ extensive back catalog.

K-pop boy band BTS showed their respect to the Beatles in a May 2019 appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” in the US, performing in the same theater where the Beatles made their first American television appearance on Feb. 9, 1964.

“(It was) not just a TV show or musical event. It overwhelmed me because it’s history, like man on the moon,” Seo said.

Seo, who also runs the Beatles Fan Club Korea and is an ambassador for the Beatles Story museum, says trying to compare the Beatles and BTS is futile.

“K-pop is K-pop, Beatles is Beatles. Different genre, different musicians. But they all want people to be happy,” he said.

By Jack Ryan (jryan47e@gmail.com)
Intern Reporter
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