On Tour With The Beach Boys: The Left Banke
by Daniel Coston
The Beach Boys are not the only masters of harmony to return to the stage in recent years. In 1966, the Left Banke crashed the top 5 with “Walk Away Renee,” a stunning blend of melancholy strings and three-part harmony. Over the next two years, the band stayed on the road constantly, all while still producing great singles like “Pretty Ballerina,” “Desiree” and several others. This touring included several dates with the Beach Boys, a double-bill of harmony-pop titans that is still discussed among fans.
In 2011, original bandmembers and singers Tom Finn and George Cameron reformed the Left Banke with a pair of sold out shows at Joe’s Pub, in New York City. Now touring as a ten-piece band, Finn and Cameron have thrilled audiences by delivering the band’s layered sound on stage, something that they did not have the chance to do in the 1960s. As a longtime fan, the return of the Left Banke has been both a thrill, and a pleasure to see and hear.
Tom Finn and George Cameron talk about touring with the Beach Boys, and the current edition of the Left Banke.
Coston: How did the Left Banke come to tour with the Beach Boys?
Tom Finn: We were chosen by The Beach Boys, whose management procured some groups that had recent hit records, so they could fill seats.
Coston: Describe opening for the Beach Boys. What were their crowds like?
Finn: Opening for the Beach Boys was a thrill. We were very excited because the crowds were much larger than the shows we had done before this. The crowds were mostly younger teens, but I also noticed some older folks who brought their children.
George Cameron: The crowds were great, energized and ready to hear music.
Coston: How long a set did you play?
Finn: We played three or four songs, about 15 minutes. This was because there were about four or other groups on the bill.
Coston: Tom and George, you’ve said in the past that you preferred playing through the Beach Boys' PA and monitors, as opposed to playing through other systems (or no systems) on club shows.
Finn: Oh Yes!!! No question about it. We were so happy to be able to hear ourselves singing. We sounded infinitely better on The Beach Boys tour. They had monitors, which we never used before, and the sound in the room also were loud and full. It was wonderful.
Cameron: It was grand. They where a big vocal group, so their system was excellent. We could finally hear ourselves what a plearsure, and these guys were great to tour with.
Coston: How many times did you open for the Boys?
Finn: If I can recall, I think we did about ten shows.
Coston: Talk about any special memories you have of those shows?
Finn: I remember we had a piano player named Emmitt Lake, who looked like a bearded mountain man. The rest of us were all slim, and mod looking. At one show, I recall that during the pause after the bridge in "Pretty Ballerina" Emmitt produced a starter pistol (fake gun) and shot it at [lead singer] Steve Martin-Caro, who fell to the floor pretending that Emmitt shot him. After about five seconds Steve got up and continued the song. We were out of our minds. Laughing our asses off.
Cameron: Al Jardine invited me and Steve over to his place. We had fun, they liked us and we liked them.
Coston: How were the Beach Boys to interact with? Did you all travel together?
Finn: Generally speaking, I found them very easy to interact with. Of course they were several years older than us, so there was a respectfulness that we exhibited toward them. No, we didn't travel with them. But, we were provided with a Cadillac limo to travel from show to show. Also the tour was very professionally run, so, there wasn't more than about four or five hours drive between cities.
Coston: Describe the various Beach Boys bandmembers. I know that both Carl and Al were really nice to you guys.
Finn: Yeah! Carl and Al were very friendly toward us, I think I recall Dennis Wilson hanging around with Steve Martin-Caro a little bit, too. I also remember going to Al or Carl's room, and hanging out and talking a little bit. They were curious how a group as young as us could sing and record like we did. Bruce Johnston was also curious about "Pretty Ballerina," so he played it on stage at one show, and The Beach Boys sang a few bars and broke into harmony as we watched from the wings. So, it was obvious that they liked us a lot.
Coston: After 43 years away, the Left Banke returned to the stage in 2011. How did that come about?
Finn: It was George's idea. He was inspired when I told him about how many people were liking The Left Banke on my Facebook Left Banke Fan Page, which I started because of thousands of friend requests. George wanted to reform the group, but [with us] as singers, with a backing band.
Cameron: Let me tell you, I was humbled after all these years, people still liked us and our music.
Coston: The response so far to the LB's return has been great. What does this mean to you both?
Finn: It means a lot to me, to know that so many people like our music. There seems to be many thousands of new fans. It's just a miracle. We worked so very hard to make the group sound better than we ever have on stage live.
Coston: How is it to play live with string players, something you didn't do back in the 1960s?
Finn: It's a great feeling to bring our recorded sound to the public consciousness, because back in the 60's, we were just thrown out there on the road, with no strings or harpsichord or any of instruments that were in our records, whatsoever. But now, we have a cellist, a violinist and a second keyboard that plays orchestral samples along with our live strings, thereby making our sound full and authentic.
Cameron: For me, it's a dream come true. Although we don't have Steve [Martin-Caro], we finally sound like we should have sounded years ago. I love strings and having them on stage, what a feeeling.
Coston: What's next for the Left Banke?
Finn: An album, hopefully. I've written some new songs and George is writing, too. We'd also like to get some new songs from Michael Brown, who joined us on stage recently.
Coston: You're back on the road, and so are the Beach Boys. What would you say to the Beach Boys, if you had the chance?
Finn: I'd like to say, "It would be so great to do a duet recording with The Beach Boys and The Left Banke."
Cameron: Hey guys, let’s do it again.