HENLEY Festival is used to playing host to long-established world-famous acts, but even on that basis, this year’s opening night headliners The Beach Boys are in a class of their own. The band started life in California in 1961, and have been touring in various formations ever since, notching up more concerts than any other rock band.
Mike Love, who was in the original Beach Boys line-up with his cousins Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, and friend Al Jardine, is the man bringing The Beach Boys to the festival in July, and the only member of the original line-up currently touring under the band’s name.
“I’ve been lead singer for 50 years and I still love it,” he tells us. “It’s great to still be walking out on the stage and being appreciated by fans who love the music. It’s very rewarding to see people of all ages respond to your efforts, joining in and having a great time with us as we recreate these iconic songs.
“It’s especially nice to play outdoors, I think our music suits it, so Henley is going to be special. I’m brushing up my look, getting some fashion tips. I’ve been told it’s a black tie affair. We don’t do many of those so it’s going to be quite an experience.”
The festival show will include a few songs from the new album, That’s Why God Made The Radio — released last year when Love reunited briefly with Al Jardine and Brian Wilson for a few shows to mark the group’s 50th anniversary — as well as the much-loved back catalogue of classics.
Jardine and Wilson’s return to the group was temporary, although Love insists that the acrimony the founder members are supposed to have with each other (he previously unsuccessfully sued Brian Wilson for using the Beach Boys’ name on his own promotional material) is unfounded.
Speaking of the reunion he says: “It was actually pretty cool. Really great. Listening to the harmonies coming back it was like it was the mid-Sixties all over again. Brian hasn’t lost his touch. It was very uplifting and a really great experience working with them again.”
But when asked whether a more permanent reformation is on the cards (Love currently owns the licence to The Beach Boys name, while Jardine and Wilson have announced they are “spending the summer together”, raising hopes of some more new material and potentially an associated tour), Love remains firm: “We’ll see what the future brings, but for now we’re going back to how things were.” That status quo is the seven-strong line-up playing the festival. As well as Love it also includes stalwart Bruce Johnston, who joined The Beach Boys in 1965 and was a big influence in creating the iconic Pet Sounds album along with Brian Wilson.
Whoever’s singing them, the power of the songs is indisputable even all these years on. Love believes the timelessness of the music comes from the universal themes.
“I think it’s a mixture of the subjects of the songs, the harmonies and the arrangements. That combination makes a body of work that’s deep and wide. We sang about the common experiences, everyone could relate to them. The cars we liked, the girls we liked, school life, and of course surfing.
“Later it was lots of eternal themes. By Pet Sounds we started to get a bit more introspective. But everything we did had the harmonies at the centre. No matter what the subject matter, harmonies infuse the music with warmth.”
He adds: “The Beach Boys have been more popular in Great Britain than the US over the years. In 1966 one of your music magazines — maybe Melody Maker or the New Musical Express — named The Beach Boys the number one group in the UK on the basis of Good Vibrations. Number two was The Beatles, and number three The Rolling Stones. That was and remains a massive compliment. In Great Britain we have a tremendous core of fans who have appreciated our music for decades. We’re looking forward to playing for them, especially in such a beautiful setting as Henley.”
Love may not have been to Henley before, but he spent some time with one of the town’s most well-known residents, the late George Harrison.
“George was a great guy,” he says. “We met in India in 1968 when we all went to meet a very great man, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. We were all there for a while, then Ringo left, but Paul, John and George stayed. It was a fascinating time, we learned Transcendental Meditation together. One morning Paul McCartney came to the table with his guitar singing ‘I flew in from Miami Beach, BOAC’, basically the original version of Back In The USSR. I told him he should talk about all the girls around Russia like we talked about all the girls around the world in California Girls and he did.”
While the Sixties saw lots of rock stars, actors and socialites going to India to meet the renowned guru Maharishi, the legacy of Love’s experiences there is still a big part of his life today.
“I meditate every day,” he says. “The meditation has a huge impact. You do deep relaxation and get rid of a lot of the stress and hassle of the practicalities of life — the travel or business stresses. It restores your energy and clarity. It has been a fantastic and tremendous help in my touring and day-to-day life. It’s a great outlet.”
His boundless energy is just as well as Love has no plans to slow down any time soon.
“We’re touring a lot of Europe this year, we’re up to 70 shows booked already. We’ve got a lot of plans and so much more to do.
“Tony Bennett is my hero. He’s still writing, performing and going strong. He’s a fantastic guy, with so much energy. That’s what I aspire to.”
As Bennett is almost 90, it would seem that if he has his way Love — still a relative youngster at 72 — will be rocking for a few more decades yet.
Mike Love of The Beach Boys tells NARIN BAHAR all about his days hanging with The Beatles, and how he can’t wait to stand on the floating stage in front of a crowd decked out in full English evening regalia at the Henley Festival.