Music Interview: John Reilly, The Definitive Burt Bacharach Songbook, Epstein Theatre, Liverpool

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The Definitive Burt Bacharach Songbook comes to Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre on Saturday July 20, and it is a show that will be packed with a plethora of fantastic tunes, all written by the great man himself and having been performed by a multitude of famous artists all over the globe. Bringing this show to life are John Reilly and Lewis Nitikman, and we recently spoke to John about the show and why returning to Liverpool makes this a particularly appealing performance.

First of all, tell us about the Burt Bacharach Songbook.

Lewis (the musical director) and I are song-writers, and we grew up as kids listening to these songs. So, we decided to put on a show celebrating how brilliant they are based on the musicality and the lyrics. We’ve done a couple of the shows and they proved to be really successful, and so we’ve decided to bring it to Liverpool, with plans to take it on the road next year.

John, when did you first realise that you had a gift when it came to writing music and performing in front of a live audience?

A long time ago. Lewis is from Vancouver in Canada, and I got signed to Atlantis Records in the 1990s, which is how I met him over there. While I was touring over there with my band, a publishing company put me together with Lewis, and we found that we worked really well together. So, we’ve been co-writing since then, and he has actually moved over to England now. Most of what we do is playing original stuff, but for this particular show, we have got a brilliant team of backing performers who have played with the likes of Take That and Amy Winehouse. So, we have got a great band together to play these fabulous songs. When you talk to people about Burt Bacharach, they aren’t quite sure until you start mentioning the songs. Once you start mentioning Close To You, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, Anyone Who Had A Heart and 24 Hours From Tulsa, they ask “did he write them”? That’s the reason behind the show, because there are just so many great songs. There is also a bit of a Liverpool connection because Cilla Black had some of those big hits.

What are your favourite songs from this show to perform live?

It is probably one of the least-known tunes which is my personal favourite, and that is an Elvis Costello song which was written with Burt Bacharach. It’s called Gotta Give Me Strength, and it shows that he is still writing with contemporary artists. That is my favourite, and it is a very challenging song to sing as well.

What have been the main highlights of your time working with Lewis?

I think mainly the fact that we became recognised on radio, really. Being playlisted on Radio 2, and also some of the other great shows that we have done. We did a show with Alfie Boe, which was fantastic. I think just having the chance to get up and play your own songs is amazing, and of course this show is all about Burt Bacharach songs; it’s a labour of love really, and not many people can play them because they are quite sophisticated arrangements.

What are the future ambitions both for yourselves and for the production as a whole?

As I mentioned earlier, this is something that we would like to take on the road next year, so we wanted to hold two or three shows to test the waters, and they have been a big success. I’m really looking forward to playing Liverpool because I am originally from Liverpool; I moved away in the 1980s, though I still have family there, which is partly why Liverpool was chosen for this show. Me and Lewis will be back there later in the year to perform our own stuff at the Philharmonic Hall.

Finally, why should the Liverpool audience come to see this show live?

First of all, the songs are just unbelievable, classic tunes that you don’t hear being performed live very often, and we have got such a great band. Those who grew up with these songs will love this, as we will have them singing along with one hit after another. Also, the Cilla connections make this a cool show, as the likes of Anyone Who Had A Heart turned a lot of people on to Burt Bacharach.

The Definitive Burt Bacharach Songbook performs at the Epstein Theatre on Saturday July 20. To book your tickets, click here or call 0844 888 4411.