Their numerous themed performances have set the benchmark in Australia for so many of the Beatle tribute groups that have formed in their wake, with some acknowledging that it was seeing THE BEATELS that made them want to play Beatles music too - the ultimate compliment.
Over the 20 years that THE BEATELS have been performing, they have understandably had some changes in personnel, which is only natural. Not many acts in Australia have been able to maintain this level of quality over their entire career, which makes the acheivements of THE BEATELS even more impressive. In this short biography of the band, we will try to describe the various phases of the group, from how they came to meet and form, as well as the changes in personnel over the years, and some of the more memorable things that happened during that time.
The coming together of this particular line-up of the group coincided with a unique moment in Australia's musical history, when tribute bands first began gaining a much higher profile than ever before. The Beatnix was among the earliest tribute groups to gain notoriety in Australia, but by 1990, others were starting up, including one of the more famous Australian tribute acts to emerge from this era, Bjorn Again. It was at this time that Neil Rankin - future Ringo for THE BEATELS was making a name for himself internationally in the hugely successful act The Australian Doors Show. So in Australia, the early 1990's was a seminal moment for the tribute genre. Besides the obvious musical talent of the group, The Beatnix were certainly helped by the fact that Bruce Coble bore an uncanny resemblance to John Lennon. Beginning with an appearance on a telethon for Channel 7 in Sydney in 1990, The Beatnix began to appear live on national television in Australia on a regular basis. Appearances on the hugely popular daytime programme The Midday Show with Ray Martin became so frequent that by 1993 & 1994, The Beatnix appeared in the opening credits of the daily show, wedged between John Farnham and Tom Jones in the pantheon of artists that had appeared on it previously.
One of the early highlights for that group of musicians was an opportunity to appear in Andrew Denton's seminal television show in the early 1990's, The Money Or The Gun. At that stage of their career with The Beatnix, they were asked by the show's producers to contribute a "Beatle" version of the iconic Led Zeppelin tune "A Stairway To Heaven". Their version of the song became a cult hit on ABC TV's Rage in the early 1990's.
At the same time, Neil Rankin, who would join THE BEATELS in 2002, was performing in The Australian Doors Show, who also recorded their own "Doors" version of the Led Zeppelin classic.
In 1992, David Wood left the group for a period to focus on running a music shop in Brookvale, & he was replaced as George in the group by Marcus Phelan. Prior to joining The Beatnix, Marcus Phelan had played in many well know original bands in Sydney, including The Numbers, Spy vs Spy and Jeremy Oxley's The Chinless Elite. Marcus Phelan toured with The Beatnix in it's first overseas shows, playing extensively throughout Malaysia (where the group performed before Chief Ministers & Sultans) & New Zealand, which included a Beatlemania segment specially recorded for TV1 in Auckland.
In late 1993, Marcus Phelan left, unimpressed by the way the act was being run, and went on to perform & record with (amongst others) well-known Sydney ska group The Allniters. He would later rejoin THE BEATELS as their George six years later.
After Marcus left, The Beatnix toured Hong Kong & Bangkok for Xmas & NYE in 1993 at the Hong Kong Hilton with Kevin Utley as George. They also played with The Platters at the Hong Kong Regent. David Wood chose to return to The Beatnix in 1994, keen to perform again. This coincided with some historic moments, including - in 1994 - a series of shows celebrating the 30th Anniversary of The Beatles Australian tour in 1964. Highlights of that period included performing at Festival Hall in Melbourne 30 years to the day since The Beatles did (with most of the same support acts as well), a performance on the popular show Hey Hey It's Saturday. In that same year, they also recorded an album for Glenn A Baker's label Raven Records titled It's Four You, which was an album of the 19 songs written by Lennon/McCartney that had not been officially released by The Beatles (though many tracks would come out on the Anthology series The Beatles would later release).
1995 would prove to be a difficult year for Bruce, Steven, David & John in The Beatnix, as they were in seemingly endless negotiations with management over pay rates, which were very low. This was a critical moment in the life of The Beatnix. At that time, other leading acts like Bjorn Again were relocating internationally and setting themselves up to become some of Australia's highest paid entertainers. Meanwhile, for the musicians in The Beatnix, it was becoming clear that management had neither the will to negotiate a decent improvement in conditions for it's musicians, or the vision to be able to achieve international expansion. Finally on NYE 1995, Bruce Coble left The Beatnix, with the other other 3 leaving shortly after. But even though they had left The Beatnix, the four musicians felt that they still wanted to perfom together in a group, and that there was still a lot more that they wanted to do when it came to performing the music of The Beatles live on stage. Just because they had left The Beatnix, didn't mean that they wanted to stop playing The Beatles.
In an ironic tribute to The Beatles however, legal troubles were soon afoot. After an industry magazine "Club News" wrote an article titled "Beatnix Renamed - Beatels Reign", management for The Beatnix, understandably upset by the ambiguous headline, launched a Supreme Court injunction, even though the article had not been written by THE BEATELS - it was the journalist's "artistic touch". They asked the court to prevent THE BEATELS from performing, on the basis of a claim of passing off. The injunction was thrown out of court, but a possibly very costly damages case hung over the heads of the group.
But in mid-1996 THE BEATELS got the break they were looking for, when they were booked to be the support act for an extensive tour with the high-profile 60's act Herman's Hermits. The tour included live television peformances on The Bert Newton Show and The Midday Show, & put them in some of the biggest of the venues on the east coast of Australia. Very soon, word got out that there was a new Beatles tribute act in Australia, which was gaining a reputation for being a classy & polished act in it's own right. However the tour very nearly did not go ahead, as The Beatnix launched another Supreme Court injunction requesting the court to order THE BEATELS to stop all performances until a claim for damages could be heard, again on the basis of "passing off". The injunction hearing was heard at the very same time that THE BEATELS were performing live on The Bert Newton Show, adding a whole new meaning to the term "stage fright". Finally though, that request was dismissed by the court, and the tour was allowed to continue, which it did very successfully.
The stress of court cases and legal action took it's toll on the group, and eventually John Taylor decided that he wanted leave THE BEATELS to write & perform original music with a group "Blue World", which he did in late-1997. John was a Sydney Conservatorium trained musician, & he wanted to do more musically than just play Ringo. To this day, he is one the most sought after drummers on cruise liners around the world, & music continues to be his passion!
Also in 1999, THE BEATELS undertook a celebration of 35 years since The Beatles 1964 Australian Tour, by performing in a number of the venues that The Beatles played in on their historic tour. They played in Festival Hall in Melbourne & Festival Hall in Brisbane, as well as a number of larger venues on the East Coast, such as The Metro in Sydney and Seagulls on the Gold Coast. They also played the 1999 The Desperate And Dateless Ball @ The Sydney Entertainment Centre
After many years of playing "George" to perfection, David Wood decided in late 1999 that it was time for him to put away his Beatle boots and concentrate on family.
In late 2002, after 5 years, Simon Merlo decided it was time for him to hang up his "Ringo" suit, as he felt that it was time for him to try his hand at other musical endeavours.
During this time, THE BEATELS made quite a name for themselves by performing special shows featuring entire Beatle albums, 40 years since their release:
In 2013, founding member Steven Shipley became too ill to continue to perform. He performed with the group at Smithfield RSL on 27th July 2013, and was able to sing for that show. On 10th August 2013, Steven played his last show with the group, and though for much of that show he was unable to sing. It was at that point that he suggested that we find someone to fill in for him onstage, so he could take time out to focus on fighting the illness.