The History Of The Hollies
Reproduced from Goldmine, an American Record & CD Collecting magazine.
July 5, 1996. Volume 22 - No 14 - Issue 416
“The road is long, with many a winding turn” – the opening line of ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’, the band’s biggest and most enduring hit single. It could have been written about the career of the Hollies, which is now entering its fifth decade and which stretches back to the dawn of British rock’n’roll.
Of the bands who emerged alongside them in the 60s, only the Beatles sold more singles than the Hollies. Yet beyond those familiar hits, the Hollies have been responsible for a remarkably varied and consistently intriguing catalogue of music. Too often overshadowed by the success and sales of their singles, this material forms the bulk of our alternative history of the band. Assembled across these six CDs are the choicest cuts from their twenty studio albums, their best non-album singles, B-sides and EP tracks, rarities culled from releases all over the world, and a number of unreleased gems seeing the light of the day for the first time. There’s also an entire disc devoted to the Hollies in concert, built around their best-selling Hollies Live Hits LP from 1976.
Through many changes of style and personnel over the last 40 years, the Hollies’ trademarks have remained consistent: impeccable vocal harmonies, powerhouse instrumental work, and quality songwriting. For most of their career, they were fronted by Allan Clarke, one of the most distinctive vocalists in pop history; while his long-term friend and Hollies co-founder, Graham Nash, has left his own mark on rock’n’roll via his counter-culture adventures with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. But every member of the Hollies has played a vital role in creating their legend, which is maintained today by Tony Hicks and Bobby Elliott, both 40-year veterans with the band.
In the beginning, three strands of Lancashire rock’n’roll ran together to form the Hollies. The first was centered around two six-year-olds in the late 1940s, who met at school in Ordsall. “I’d moved districts,” Allan Clarke recalls, “and when I arrived at my new school, the teacher asked who wanted to sit next to this new boy. This kid called Graham Nash put his hand up, so I sat next to him.” “Allan Clarke changed my life completely,” Graham says today. “We became lifelong friends.” Allan continues the story: “We went through school together until he passed his eleven-plus, and I didn’t, which was a great trauma. But we stayed in contact with each other.”
Their shared love of singing was the bond which ensured that the two boys remained inseparable. “In those days, we sang in choirs, churches, boys’ clubs, anywhere we could,” Allan explains. “Then when skiffle arrived in the mid-50s, everyone wanted a guitar to emulate Lonnie Donegan. My dad bought me one, and Graham got one too. We learned the basic three chords in our front rooms, and then joined up with a couple of guys, one playing string bass, one washboard. We just did it for fun.
“Then one day my brother suggested that we should go to the Northern Sporting Club in Salford. We asked for an audition on a Saturday night, turned up the next week in short trousers, and sang ‘Rock Island Line’. We went down a storm – anyone would have done in those trousers! They loved us for our innocence, but I’m sure it sounded diabolical. We came off stage, and the guy gave us a ten-bob note [50p] – and asked us back to play the next weekend, for £5! It was incredible.”
Like hundreds of other teenagers in the Manchester area, Allan and Graham worked their way through a succession of skiffle and then rock’n’roll bands in the late 50s and early 60s. First they were the Two Teens, turning their adolescent voices to imitating the skintight harmonies of the Everly Brothers. They even changed their names to Ricky and Dane Young, hoping to masquerade as a fraternal duo in the Everlys’ tradition. Ricky and Dane became the featured singers with a Manchester band called the Fourtones, with whom they recorded their first primitive demos.
In 1962, the duo linked up with the second strand, in the person of bass player Eric Haydock. “I heard Allan and Graham singing at the La Ronde club in Cheetham Hill,” he recalls. “I was walking past and thought, ‘That’s the nearest thing I’ve ever heard to the Everly Brothers’. Listen to ‘Lucille’ on our first album, and you’ll hear what I mean. So we got talking, and they ended up joining the band I was in. We became Kirk Daniels & the Deltas, Featuring Ricky & Dane Young.”
Within a few months, a quick flurry of personnel changes and swapped allegiances brought together Allan, Graham, Eric, drummer Don Rathbone and guitarist Vic Steele. Inspired by one of their rock’n’roll idols, the late Buddy Holly, the band changed their name to the Hollies, taking the stage under their new billing for the first time in December 1962.
At this stage, all of the band kept their day jobs, as their earnings from gigs were minimal. Allan recalls: “We had to hire a driver to take us, and he would get more money than we did. We went on like that until we met Allan Cheetham, who became our first manager. We were getting well-known in the area, playing clubs like the Cavern, in direct competition with the Beatles. When they started having hits, the managers from down South thought they ought to go where the action was, and started signing everyone up.” Eric adds: “The North was a long way away from London in those days, so we felt we needed a manager in the South as well. This guy Tommy Sanderson came to see us, because everybody was looking for a Northern group.”
Sanderson, who worked as a plugger for Francis Day & Hunter music publishers, alerted Ron Richards, George Martin’s colleague at Parlophone Records in London. He agreed to travel north to watch the Hollies in action. At stake was the chance of a recording contract, and a professional career, but there was a problem: “Vic didn’t want to turn pro, because he had a good career as an apprentice draughtsman,” Eric explains. “So we needed a guitar player.”
It was time for the third and final piece of Hollies DNA to be added to the stew. Bernie Calvert was the bass player in one of the rival bands on the Lancashire circuit: “Ricky Shaw & the Dolphins were myself, Tony Hicks on guitar, Alan Buck on drums, and Patrick Belshaw, who was the singer. Then Bobby Elliott joined us on drums.” While most of his peers were diehard rock’n’roll fans, Bobby’s first love was jazz. “I was listening to the likes of Gene Krupa with the Benny Goodman orchestra,” he explains, “and I was very much into the cool West Coast stuff. One day this friend said, ‘There’s a local rock group advertising for a drummer’. I said, ‘Rock’n’roll? No way. It’s too bloody boring!’ But my first gig with this rock band was at the Nelson Imperial - everybody worked there, from the Beatles down. There were 600 kids there, and what with the adulation and the atmosphere, I thought, ‘Take me, rock’n’roll, I’m yours’!”
“The Dolphins went from strength to strength,” Bernie continues, “getting bookings in Manchester, and then further afield. Our reputation grew, and we were a pretty solid unit from 1958 to 1963.” The Dolphins’ instrumental skills hadn’t passed unnoticed; as Bobby recalls, “Tony was probably the best guitar player in the North”.
The Hollies offered Tony Hicks the job of lead guitarist. “I wasn’t interested,” he admits. “I was quite happy being semi-pro. But the lads talked me into coming into Manchester on a Friday night to see them at the Twisted Wheel. I stood outside near an air vent, thinking that if I didn’t like what I heard, I could give it a miss. But I eventually went inside, watched them onstage, and then started chatting to them. They explained about the interest from EMI. Well, it was everyone’s ambition in those days to go into a professional recording studio, so I decided to give it a go.”
Bernie Calvert recalls what happened next: “The Hollies headhunted Tony away from us. Bobby said, ‘Well, that’s the end of the Dolphins, because we’ll never find another player as good as Tony, so I’m going to turn pro’. He got a job with Shane Fenton & the Fentones, and the band more or less fell apart. I ended up working in a factory.”
Meanwhile, his former bandmate Tony Hicks had joined the Hollies in time to appear at the legendary Cavern Club in Liverpool, watched by Ron Richards. “God knows what Ron thought,” Eric laughs, “because the Cavern was a stinking filthy hole. Above it, they used to store vegetables. There weren’t any freezers in those days, so all the cabbage water used to run down the walls into the Cavern. It was absolutely disgusting!” Ron remembers that, “The walls were dripping, and I couldn’t believe how much noise there was in such a small room”.
Graham Nash also has clear memories of that show: “Obviously we knew that there was going to be an A&R man from London at the Cavern. It was a lunchtime show, and I had broken my last string the night before, so I had to play my guitar with no strings at all. I think Ron thought that was cute, in a way. I mean, what a silly thing to do. But I felt that if I wasn’t holding the guitar, what could I do with my hands?”
“I was impressed,” Ron Richards says, “so I invited them down to London for a test on a Monday afternoon. They were one of four or five acts I would have seen that day, and they each had 30 minutes. It was quite informal and pretty easy-going: by the time they’d unpacked their gear and done a few songs, it would be over. There was no time for them to be nervous.”
Having passed the audition, the group were called back for their first official recording session. “We recorded ‘Just Like Me’, the Coasters thing,” Graham recalls, “and two of the first songs that Allan and I had written, ‘Whole World Over’, and ‘Hey What’s Wrong With Me’ which had this really interesting six-string bass part from Eric.” Ron notes that the version of ‘Just Like Me’ cut that day wasn’t as good as their audition version, and that it was the latter which he issued as their debut single.
Tony Hicks had good cause to remember that first studio session at Abbey Road: “I got to my guitar solo, and I must have played a bum note, because I stopped playing. Ron immediately said, ‘You must never do that, because you might lose a really magical, happening track. Don’t worry about the odd bum note; it’s better to get it down and then try to repair it.’ It overwhelmed us when we went into the listening room and heard what we’d recorded, coming out of these big speakers. It sounded fantastic when they put the reverb on.”
Although they were allowed to write the B-sides themselves, the Hollies’ first three singles were all covers of American songs: ‘Just Like Me’ (No. 25 in the UK charts) and ‘Searchin’ (No. 12) from the Coasters’ repertoire, and then the 1960 hit by Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs, ‘Stay’ (No. 8). Their first album, Stay With The Hollies, followed exactly the same pattern.
“We were incredible fans of early American rock’n’roll,” Graham explains. “We just ate it up, everything we could find. Our first album was just our stage set-list that we chose the best from. We made our first album in an afternoon, I think.” It was actually two afternoons, with each session providing seven potential album tracks, almost every song borrowed from the States.
By then, the Hollies had suffered another personnel change. “When we started to take off in a big way,” Tony says, “we started looking at the individuals in the group. I thought that Don really didn’t make it. Bobby stood out as a drummer, so I suggested him to the rest of the band.” “I was sad about Don leaving; he was the Pete Best of the group, in a way,” Eric says, referring to the Beatles’ original drummer who was sacked in 1962. “He was a good-looking kid, a few years older than the rest of us, and he had a big following among the girls. But Bobby was definitely a better drummer.”
Bobby’s talents are a rare subject on which every member of the Hollies is in agreement. “Bobby is one of the best drummers around,” says Terry Sylvester, who joined the band in 1969, “he's outrageously good.” Graham Nash adds: “When I first saw Bobby play, I thought, ‘My God, this guy is completely on top of his game’. He was completely different from what we’d been used to, because he was very influenced by American jazz drummers. He was a more worldly musician than anybody I’d met before. I think he’s one of the most underrated drummers in the world.”
Eric agrees that Bobby’s arrival unleashed the Hollies’ full musical potential: “Everybody said we were the best band ever to come out of Manchester. Me and Bobby were very much into jazz, so our arrangements used to really swing. I had this six-string bass, which cost almost as much as a terraced house in Manchester in the early 60s. Tony and I started dueling on guitar and bass, which was unheard of back then. I was always experimenting with basses. At one point, I had the world’s one and only 12-string bass, a prototype built by Jim Burns, which I used on ‘It’s In Her Kiss’. It sounded great, but it was a bugger to play, and impossible to keep in tune.”
Bobby found that the comparatively primitive recording techniques of the early 60s didn’t always do his skills justice: “I was never happy with the drum sound in the early days. When we played on the radio, the BBC engineers would put a separate mike on the bass drum, but the EMI engineers said they didn’t do that at Abbey Road. It was very frustrating, but what could I do? We were having roaring chart success, so what did the drums matter?” Allan adds: “Recording techniques then were very basic. They put one mike over the drums, and another one for us three singers.”
Tony Hicks also discovered that performing live was entirely different from making records. “The first time I went in the studio,” he says, “I learned that something has to take precedence, and it isn’t always the guitar. I realised that if I took 50% of the notes out of my solos, I ended up with something that was effective rather than clever.”
Besides his role as a guitarist, Tony was now required to master another talent in the studio: “I never joined the Hollies to become any part of the vocals. As far as I was concerned, the group was a two-way thing. Then I started putting the bottom harmony on, but it was always a bit of a joke, because I’d never sung before. We were always having to do re-takes in the studio because I’d get the harmony wrong. But I got more into it, and now I sing harmonies naturally.”
Of the two acknowledged singers in the group, Allan took precedence. “Graham always put the harmony to my melody,” he explains. “When we were a duo, we couldn’t both sing the lead. I had a stronger voice, so Graham sang harmony.” Graham denies any resentment about Allan being chosen as the lead voice: “That all worked its way out, pretty much. Allan is a very, very underrated singer. He had one of the best pop voices ever. When you combined that with my voice, that’s when you get that sound happening. But I often ended up singing the middle sections of the singles. If the melody of the middle eight went up, as normal middle eights do, then my high voice was more natural.” Their fourth single, ‘Just One Look’, illustrates the point perfectly.
“We had got into writing songs by this time,” Allan remembers, “but the stuff we were writing wasn’t wanted at gigs. All the beat bands were basically doing the same American rock’n’roll and R&B songs. So after ‘Stay’, we had to find something that would make us stand out from the rest. ‘Just One Look’ was still a cover version, but at least it was more recent.” A No. 2 hit in the UK, ‘Just One Look’ was followed by ‘Here I Go Again’, written by professional songsmiths Clive Westlake and Mort Shuman. “We were sent stuff from all over the world,” Allan continues, “but we started to realise that these guys were getting well paid for writing the songs, so we started to try and write our own. Mostly, though, we were writing B-sides, not A-sides.”
These flipsides were far from shabby. ‘Keep Off That Friend Of Mine’ captured some of that Everly Brothers magic, while ‘Come On Back’ featured Allan’s blueswailing harmonica. Cut a few months later in the same vein, but bizarrely never released at the time, was a frantic cover of Larry Williams’ R&B hit, ‘She Said Yeah’, which easily matches the more famous rendition by the Rolling Stones a few months later. Through 1965, the Hollies continued to tackle their favourite American soul and R&B material. Their third album, The Hollies, included noteworthy versions of the Miracles’ ‘Mickey’s Monkey’ and the Impressions’ ‘You Must Believe Me’.
Raucous R&B was fine for the group’s stage shows and albums, but singles were supposed to be more overtly commercial. That said, their third single of 1964, ‘We’re Through’, was their most subtle and intriguing offering to date. “I liked that – it was the very first single that we wrote,” Graham says. “We wrote it in Weymouth.” Included on this set is the group’s first shot at the song, taped nine days before the ‘official’ version. “It was a bossa nova originally,” Bobby says, “and then we went back and did it again. We thought there was more potential in the song, we were selling it a little bit short. I was always keen to experiment with different rhythms. As a drummer, you could get a bit bored; you know, next song, same again! But you could distract from the song by trying too many tricks.” Allan notes that ‘We’re Through’ was “very different to everything else around at the time. It wasn’t as big a hit as the earlier singles, but we thought we were on the right track.”
‘We’re Through’ sold slightly fewer copies than ‘Here I Go Again’, so the next single was another borrowed tune, ‘Yes I Will’. It was co-written by Gerry Goffin, who with his usual composing partner, Carole King, penned one of the Hollies’ best, and least well-known, mid-60s tracks, ‘Honey And Wine’. “That was wonderful,” Eric says. “That should have been a single.” Allan agrees: “We certainly thought it was going to be a single. But in those days we used to release EPs, and it ended up on one of those.”
After taping ‘Honey And Wine’ in April 1965, the Hollies made their long-awaited debut visit to their dreamland, America, the source of all their favourite music. “You can imagine what it was like,” Eric says today. “All we’d ever seen of America was in the movies. I don’t think we’d even had a hamburger before!” “We played three weeks at the Paramount Theater on Broadway in New York,” Allan recalls. “Actually, it might have only been one week, but it felt like three. Soupy Sales, the kids’ comedian, was on top of the bill, while Little Richard was also on the show with Jimi Hendrix in his band, and King Curtis was there. We did two songs in each show, five times a day.”
Eric takes up the story: “Little Richard kept over-running his spot, so he was sacked from the show. I remember Jimi Hendrix coming to us, desperate for someone to buy his Strat, so that he could afford to bus ticket home. We turned him down – but if only we’d known how much that guitar would be worth now!” During their rare moments of leisure, the band explored New York’s night life, as Allan explains: “One night we went down to this club owned by the theatre manager, and there were some belly dancers performing. The whole occasion stayed in our minds, and eventually inspired the ‘Stop Stop Stop’ single.”
Inspired by their surroundings, Allan, Graham and Tony wrote a clutch of songs while they were in New York, and booked a session at Bell Studios to record some demos. ‘Listen Here To Me’ and ‘Bring Back Your Love To Me’ have remained unheard in public until now; but the third song cut in New York became a Hollies classic. “We wrote ‘So Lonely’ for the Righteous Brothers,” Allan explains. “That would have been nice, wouldn’t it?” “If you listen to Allan’s vocal,” Graham adds, “you can hear the Righteous Brothers sound that we were going for.”
No sooner were the group home from the States than they were required to cut a new single at Abbey Road: ‘I’m Alive’. Clint Ballard’s song had been turned down by several artists, and then recorded by another group in their management stable, the Toggery Five. But Ron Richards reckoned it was perfect for the Hollies, so the Toggery Five were asked to pass the song over. Ron was right: ‘I’m Alive’ became the group’s first UK No. 1 in June 1965.
Terry Sylvester of the Liverpool band the Escorts met the group for the first time the week that ‘I’m Alive’ reached the top. “We were in Germany for a month at a club called the Hit House.,” he explains. “They had guest stars at the weekend, and one of them was the Hollies. I remember thinking at the time it was a bit strange, cos they were actually No. 1 in the charts back home. What were they doing in Munich?!”
Although most of their singles were still being penned by outside writers – like the follow-up to ‘I’m Alive’, Graham Gouldman’s irresistible ‘Look Through Any Window’ - the group’s rigorous recording schedule did allow them time to work on material of their own. “A lot of our songs were done on the road, literally in the back of a car,” Tony explains. “I remember we had a little reel-to-reel tape recorder, a portable Telefunken, and if we had an idea, we’d put it down on that.” Graham adds: “There was no formula to the way we wrote songs, because we had too much going on in our lives at that time. We were too busy getting in the van and driving and making the music. We didn’t have any set routine: somebody would come up with a cool phrase, or ‘listen to this melody’, or, ‘what about writing a song about that?’, and that’s how we’d start.”
Despite releasing four or five singles a year in the mid-60s, plus EPs and a couple of LPs, the group still ended up with material in the can. ‘She Gives Me Everything I Want’ and ‘You In My Arms’ remained hidden until 1993, despite no obvious artistic failings. Other songs were heard only by their hardcore fan base, like their superb 1965 B-side ‘I’ve Got A Way Of My Own’, or ‘Oriental Sadness’ from the Would You Believe LP, which featured some early sonic experimentation by Tony Hicks. The band could even afford to give away one of their most commercial songs, ‘Have You Ever Loved Somebody’, to the Searchers, before finally including it on their Evolution LP.
Many pop stars fell by the wayside during the 60s, ground down by the relentless stress of constant touring and recording commitments. The Hollies seem to have taken it in their stride. “When you’re young, the pressure doesn’t get to you as much,” Bobby says today. “So we might do a radio broadcast in the morning, then a TV show like Ready Steady Go! in the early evening, and a gig that night, but it was still fun. We had so much energy. I think there’s more pressure when you’re older and wiser, because you know what can go wrong.”
As the band soon discovered, problems could be caused by events that seemed, on the face of it, like a blessing. “George Martin gave Ron Richards an acetate of the Beatles singing ‘If I Needed Someone’,” Bobby remembers, “and suggested that we record it, because it would be a guaranteed hit. Eric and I weren’t all that much in love with the song, but the rest of the lads were keen.” Eric concurs with Bobby’s verdict: “We should never have done it. It wasn’t necessary, because Allan, Graham and Tony were writing good tunes of their own.” Sadly for the Hollies, the song’s composer was quoted in the UK music papers as being unimpressed by their rendition. Years later, George revealed that he’d never actually criticised the band, and that an errant press officer was to blame. “It didn’t do George any favours,” Allan smiles, “because when the record stopped selling he stopped getting royalties!”
‘If I Needed Someone’ stalled at No. 20, ending a run of seven successive Top 10 hits. Tony Hicks was deputed to find a pick-me-up: “I used to go round the publishing companies if we didn’t have a song. When it came time to be in the studio, it was the best song available that we recorded; it didn’t matter who had written it. Anyway, I came back from Dick James Music with a demo of ‘I Can’t Let Go’, and on the same day I picked up ‘California Dreaming’ before anyone had heard of the Mamas & Papas.”
‘I Can’t Let Go’ was cut in January 1966. Punchy and unstoppably commercial, it took the band back to No. 2. Many listeners were astounded by Graham’s soaring harmony at the end of the chorus – Paul McCartney assumed it must be a trumpet – while Eric’s six-string bass was heard to fine effect on the intro. As the record neared the top of the UK charts, the band found themselves behind the Iron Curtain, on a pioneering tour of Poland. “We got into our hotel in Warsaw,” Graham recalls, “turned on the local radio, and ‘I Can't Let Go’ came out! It was an amazing thing. So we unpacked our bags, looked out the windows, and there was all this shooting, a battle going on outside. I thought, ‘Holy shit, what the fuck is going on here?’. It turned out that they were shooting a movie called The Night Of The Generals with Peter O’Toole!”
Back at Abbey Road, the Hollies worked on their fourth album, Would You Believe. A rift had been growing between Eric Haydock and the rest of the band over various aspects of their career, and after the sessions were over, so was his time with the Hollies. Eric immediately formed his own band, Haydock’s Rockhouse, who were signed by Parlophone.
Jack Bruce – then still a few weeks away from forming Cream with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker – was called in to deputise on bass for one of the Hollies’ most unusual sessions. They’d been requested to provide the theme tune for a comedy movie entitled After The Fox, with a guest vocalist: the film’s star, Peter Sellers. “Burt Bacharach wrote the song,” Graham recalls, “and we went to his apartment in London, sat round the piano and worked out the arrangement, and the harmonies. I had a great love of the Goons, so working with Peter was a gas.” Bobby adds: “Burt was a real perfectionist: if you did a wonderful take, he wanted it done again. Both Ron Richards and George Martin were in the production booth, Ron for us and George for Peter Sellers. Ron would turn our vocals up and George would put them back down again!”
A week later, while the band recorded their next B-side, ‘Don’t Run And Hide’, their manager was securing a stand-in bassist. Three years after the demise of the Dolphins, Bernie Calvert re-entered the Hollies’ story. Nobody was more surprised than he was: “In May 1966, I was about to write off for a job interview with the shipping line, P&O. Then the phone rang, and it was their manager. He said, ‘The boys have a Scandinavian tour coming up, and Eric is poorly.’ That’s what I was told. ‘They’ve asked me to see if you’ll help them out.’ I said, ‘When will you need me?’ He said, ‘Tomorrow’!”
Bernie was lucky: his charge-hand in the factory was the father of a dedicated Hollies fan, so in return for the promise of a signed photo for his girl, he allowed him to have three weeks’ leave. “I met the boys in London the next day,” Bernie continues, “and we recorded a BBC. We went from there to a hotel and rehearsed ‘Bus Stop’. The following day, we went into Abbey Road at 2.00 that afternoon and finished it by 4.30 - one of our quickest recordings. Who was at the session watching us perform? Only the Everly Brothers. Talk about daunting!”
The tour over, Bernie returned to the factory, and watched as ‘Bus Stop’ climbed into the Top 3. More importantly, it broke the band into the US Top 10 for the first time. “I was really fed up,” he says. “Then their manager rang again, and offered me the job full-time. I couldn’t believe it. And that was it! I was on the road!”
One of the early stops was a return trip to Scandinavia, where the band showed off their latest R&B cover – the Four Tops’ ‘Reach Out, I’ll Be There’. “It was the hit of the day,” Bobby recalls, and it was just a case of creating that excitement on stage.” “What a fantastic song,” adds Allan. “It was just fun doing it — stretching my arms out as we sang ‘reach out’, and all the girls going apeshit for it!”
Also performed in Scandinavia was the new Hollies single. “I got the basis for a song called ‘Suspicious Look In Your Eyes’ and also for ‘Stop Stop Stop’,” Tony recalls. “It turned out that the intro for ‘Suspicious Look In Your Eyes’ fitted perfectly into ‘Stop Stop Stop’, so I swapped them over and played it on a six-string banjo with slapback echo. We finished off the lyrics in a taxi on the way to Top Of The Pops” – inspired by the belly dancer they’d seen in New York two years earlier. America repaid the compliment by giving the band a second consecutive Top 10 smash.
‘Stop Stop Stop’ emerged from the sessions for the Hollies’ fifth UK LP, For Certain Because. “The band, and Graham in particular, were starting to experiment more,” says Bernie. “The world was your oyster in the studio. All the engineers at Abbey Road were wide open to trying anything and everything.” Some of the innovations were subtle, like the phased piano that opened ‘Pay You Back With Interest’; others more obvious, like the shift in songwriting style of ‘Crusader’, or when Bobby was given the stiff task of accompanying an orchestra and passed with flying colours.
A more unusual test awaited the Hollies’ vocalists a few weeks later, when they were selected to represent Britain at the prestigious San Remo Song Festival in Italy. “That was an important gig,” Graham recalls, “especially in the 60s. There were lots of music publishers and songwriting people crammed into this beautiful little town.” The problem was the song they were requested to perform: a dramatic ballad entitled ‘Non Prego Per Me’.
“I’ll never forget that!” Allan says. “We’d been taught it phonetically so we could record it. Then when we arrived in San Remo, we were told that we had to sing it live, so I had to actually learn it, remember an Italian song from start to finish, when I didn’t know what I was singing about. Thank God, I got through it. But wasn’t there another Italian single?” ‘Non Prego Per Me’ appeared only in Italy, to the group’s relief, as did another 45 recorded for a film soundtrack, ‘We’re Alive’. “I’m not particularly proud of that,” Allan confesses, “it was very cabaret-ish. The film was a flop, anyway!”
A more orthodox product of the band’s January 1967 sessions was their next single, the pulsating ‘On A Carousel’. “I remember we toured with the Small Faces,” Bernie recalls proudly. “Ronnie ‘Plonk’ Lane was their bass player, and he couldn’t stop raving the bass line in ‘Carousel’. That was very flattering.” A major hit around the world, and the Hollies’ fourth Top 5 smash in a row at home, ‘On A Carousel’ suggested that it was business as normal for the band.
Behind closed doors, though, the group were going through a dramatic shift of direction – led by Graham Nash. “We were living different lifestyles in many ways,” he reflects. “The other guys were good drinkers, and I was not really a pub guy.” During the band’s recent American tour, he had glimpsed the possibility of an alternative way of life. “We were meeting all the people from the West Coast,” says Allan. “Mama Cass Elliot was a big influence on Graham at that time, and I think he heard America calling him.”
Graham had already met Mama Cass during her first UK visit in 1966. “He’d stayed up late with her in Oxford, had a few drinks, and got harmonising with her,” Eric Haydock explains. “Then she went back to the States and said to all these people like David Crosby, ‘You have to check this guy from England out, he’s a fantastic harmony singer.”
Music wasn’t Graham’s only point of contact with Cass. “The first acid trip I ever took was with Cass, in Chicago,” he recalls. “I remember it specifically, because about an hour after we’d dropped, when we were just peaking, I had room service send up some strawberries and cream, and they looked like little beating hearts on the plate. Then our road manager Rod Shields called and said that we were due at a radio station within a half-hour, to talk to all the teenyboppers. You can imagine: that was good news behind acid!”
His consciousness expanded, his spiritual horizons opened, Graham began to reconsider his entire life: “When you take a lot of acid, you start to realise just how insignificant you really are. And how insignificant the earth itself is. You get quite humble behind that drug.” His journey into his own psyche inspired a number of ‘nature’ songs over the next few months, including ‘Signs That Will Never Change’, ‘Maker’ and ‘Everything Is Sunshine’.
Next under the spotlight was his marriage: “My first really personal song was ‘Stop Right There’. I wrote that the morning we came back from our trip to America. It was about my relationship with my first wife.” As Graham admits, the lyric now sounds as if it might have been aimed at his band as well: “It’s all multi-faceted. Things can be about a million things. My world was rapidly changing.” ‘Stop Right There’ became one of the highlights of the Evolution LP. “You could see the gulf starting to widen,” Bernie reflects. “All these phrases were bandied around back then, about being in tune or on the right wavelength, and Graham’s music was heavily influenced by what he was into personally.”
Graham had always been a leading personality in the group, but now observers noticed that his dominance became near-total. “Graham was a powerful guy and what he wanted, he got,” Allan recalls of this period. “I followed him: I was like a little sheep. I never seemed to have any ideas of my own until he left.” But Graham’s memories are slightly different: “It didn’t seem that way to me. Me and Allan were always together, it seemed. But in a relationship, one person’s more pushy and forward than another, and that was just the way it was with me and Allan. Holy shit, we’ve been friends since we were five, and we still are!”
A more immediate problem for the band arose when Bobby Elliott collapsed during the taping of a German TV show. “I had a burst appendix,” he recalls. “I remember listening to ‘Strawberry Fields’ with Graham and Allan, and then blacking out. When I woke up I was in hospital, and I was there for two weeks. I remember Rod Shields, our roadie, bringing me a present while I was in this German hospital – an Airfix kit of a Lancaster bomber. I had to hide it from the staff! In the end, they couldn’t operate for three months, because the whole area had swollen up so much. I could have kicked the bucket!” Various session men covered his absence during the Evolution sessions, including Jimi Hendrix drummer Mitch Mitchell, who played on the Graham Gouldman-penned out-take, ‘Schoolgirl’.
Bobby wasn’t fit to return to the studio until May, as the group cut their next hit single. “I started writing ‘Carrie Anne’ in a hotel in Stavanger, Norway, around the time of the Byrds’ ‘Mr Tambourine Man’,” Tony Hicks recalls. “I had the tune, and was singing ‘Hey mister man’! We wrote the verses up at Elstree studios while we were doing a TV show, and Allan chipped in with the middle eight. ‘Carrie Anne’ was the nearest girl’s name we could find to ‘Mister man’.” As usual, the single flew into the Top 10 all over the world.
On June 1st 1967, the Beatles released their Sgt. Pepper album. “After that came out,” Allan says, “everyone wanted to have orchestras, backwards tapes, the kitchen sink. Everybody followed what the Beatles were doing.” The Hollies had always listened close to what the Beatles released – “How could you help being influenced?”, Graham says – and in August they began work on their own ‘summer of love’ album, Butterfly.
Early in the sessions, they recorded a single that was altogether more complex than anything they’d released before: ‘King Midas In Reverse’. “That was my song,” Graham says simply, though Allan notes: “I remember sitting down with Graham to work on ‘King Midas’, but not to the extent that he did. It was his idea with my ideas inside it. Graham was the one who said, ‘Let’s have an orchestra and get Johnny Scott in to write the score’. But Ron Richards said that it was not going to be a hit.”
By Hollies’ standards, Ron was right: ‘King Midas’ stalled at No. 18 in the UK and No. 51 in the States. “After the single came out,” Bobby remembers, “Graham ran into Mickie Most, who said that the music business was like a dartboard – each band has their own segment, and should stay inside it. That had a great effect on Graham.” Allan adds: “We were all disappointed when it didn’t get into the Top 10, Graham more so than anybody else.”
The comparative failure of his brainchild undercut Graham’s enthusiasm for the band, as did the fact that he was now composing songs separately from his writing partners. “Those were my songs,” he says, “that they hardly put anything to, and yet they were still taking credit for them. It began to irritate me after a while.” And his work was so different from what the Hollies had recorded in the past that other members of the band began to feel disturbed. “There were a couple of songs on Butterfly, ‘Maker’ for example, that I didn’t like,” Allan reveals.
“ ‘Maker’ was one of the songs that I wrote when I was in Marrakesh,” Graham remembers, “along with ‘Marrakesh Express’ and ‘Postcard’. ‘Maker’ was inspired by a full moon rising out of the Mediterranean sea between Africa and Gibraltar.” Wrapped in a dense layer of sitar, ‘Maker’ sounded more like ‘Mind Gardens’, the Byrds song penned by his new friend David Crosby of the Byrds, than anything in the Hollies’ catalogue.
Not that Graham was alone in extending the group’s music into new dimensions. “ ‘Elevated Observations’ was my idea, based on my interest in astral projection,” Allan reveals, and the finished track was every bit as psychedelic as anything from Nash’s head that summer. But Allan admits: “The Butterfly album was very strange, because it was a strange period of time. I think Tony and Bobby quite enjoyed doing that, and I enjoyed it in my own little way, but I was unhappy about the situation with Graham.”
Meanwhile, the press talked up another possible divide, between the ‘progressive’ Nash and the ‘conservative’ Tony Hicks. “I always got on very well with Graham,” Tony says, “though we did represent two different sides to the group. Around the time of ‘King Midas’, I thought that we were going in the wrong direction, so there were a few disagreements about that, but nothing drastic.” The arguments certainly weren’t bitter enough to disturb Graham, who says: “I don’t remember banging heads too much with Tony, just normal band stuff. Tony is a very interesting man. I love his intellect, I love the way he thinks, he’s opportunistic and he’s cheeky and he’s risky; he’s a good lad. I like him a lot.”
“The whole world was on the flower-power bandwagon,” Bernie recalls, and the Hollies were no exception: “Graham was wandering around in a frock, and we all had kaftans.” “We all did it,” Allan agrees. “We all went down the clubs in our dresses with garlands of flowers round our neck, and grew moustaches and long hair.” Ron Richards’ memory is that “Graham was more into it than the others. He used to dress like an Arab in this long white gown. It was a strange time: we always used to go to the pub between afternoon and evening sessions, and I’ll always remember Graham in the pub in his white gown, asking the barman for a pint of milk!”
But was the world ready for the psychedelic Hollies? In retrospect, Allan thinks not: “We knew by the lack of success of ‘King Midas’ that people didn’t want that sort of thing from the Hollies. So we decided to write something that couldn’t fail. It turned out to be one of our biggest sellers. Graham was appalled, but to me ‘Jennifer Eccles’ represented stability. I wanted to be in the business for a long time, and I thought we should give the people what they wanted.”
It was a confusing period for the group. Alongside the blatantly commercial ‘Jennifer Eccles’, they were also writing gems like Graham and Allan’s ‘Wings’ – inspired, both men agree, by Neil Young’s song ‘Expecting To Fly’. “That was one of my favourite records at that time,” Graham recalls. “I had a small portable record-player that I’d take around with me on tour, and I would play that Buffalo Springfield record.” Yet this masterpiece remained unissued until a year after Graham had left the group, only emerging on a budget-priced charity LP.
“It tells its own story”, says Graham of the fact that despite recording regularly throughout 1968, the Hollies failed to release an album of original material that year. Lost along the way was his song ‘Relax’, described by Tony as “psychedelic Bing Crosby”. “It was never finished,” Graham says dismissively. “It was just a demo.” ‘Like Every Time Before’, recorded two years earlier by the Everly Brothers, was exhumed, but only issued in Germany. ‘Man Of No Expression’ was a Terry Reid song, “and I just added a few things to it,” Graham says. “He was very generous and wanted me to take part of the writing credit, though I didn’t feel that I deserved it.”
No song in the Hollies’ history, however, has aroused more controversy and argument than Graham’s ‘Marrakesh Express’. Eric Haydock claims that Graham was playing with the bare bones of the tune back in 1966; two years later, on 2nd April 1968, the group cut a backing track for the song. “It sucked,” Graham says. “There was no life in it.” Bobby adds: “Graham has said that we thought ‘Marrakesh Express’ wasn’t good enough. I think Ron did say that, so I imagine Graham was a bit upset by that.” “Prior to that,” Bernie explains, “if it hadn’t worked, Ron would have said, ‘OK boys, that sort of feel isn’t working, but it’s a good song, and we’ll try it another way’. It wouldn’t have been the first time we’d done that. But I don’t remember tackling it more than once.”
Besides their hit singles, the Hollies’ repertoire included ‘Stewball’, ‘Very Last Day’, ‘Puff The Magic Dragon’ – and ‘A Taste Of Honey’, which they recorded once in 1966, and again in a big band arrangement at one of Graham’s final sessions with the band, in August 1968. “It used to be a crowd-pleaser,” Graham admits when reminded of the session. “It was our opening number in cabaret,” Allan recalls. “But don’t forget, the Beatles also did it. It was a great song.”
In the studio, ‘A Taste Of Honey’ featured a flamboyant Mike Vickers arrangement. So too did Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, cut during the same sessions. The Hollies were all admirers of Dylan’s work, none more so than Graham Nash; at a South London stage show recorded by EMI three months earlier, they’d performed Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’. Graham agreed to record the big band ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ – “I hated it”, he says succinctly today – but baulked at Allan and Tony’s proposal that they should record an entire album of Dylan tunes. “I’m sure that the Dylan album was the reason why Graham wanted to leave,” Allan concludes. “But in his mind he’d started to leave before that, when he met Crosby and Stills.”
Indeed, Graham had begun to travel regularly to California, to sing with ex-Byrd David Crosby and Buffalo Springfield leader Stephen Stills. “I wrote ‘Teach Your Children’, ‘Lady Of The Island’ and ‘Right Between The Eyes’ on the same night in 1968,” Graham remembers. “I felt really isolated. We were in a motel in Leeds, we were doing a week at this cabaret club, and I was really feeling alone. I was estranged from my friends, yet here I was with them; meanwhile, I’d sung with David and Stephen and knew what that sounded like. It was decisions, decisions: what to do with my life? In the end I decided to follow my heart, like I’ve always done. It’s always stood me in good stead.”
Bernie recalls the day when Graham’s decision was announced: “There was a meeting, in our manager Robin Britten’s office. Graham said, ‘I’m leaving’. I was really upset, because I had a lot of respect for him. I didn’t want him to go, but I knew it was inevitable. I knew we could carry on, but it was strange, and sad.”
“I was very happy with the Hollies,” Graham says today. “We were a good band, we could play, we could sing, we could write, we had fans, we had hits. It was all good. It was only when a couple of things like the Bob Dylan episode came up that I started to question it. So I decided to leave the band, and my family, and my country, and move to California.”
At his final session, the Hollies cut the unashamedly chart-friendly ‘Listen To Me’. “It went into the Top 10,” Bobby remembers, “and Top Of The Pops wanted us, but Graham was over in the States and couldn’t get back in time. If we’d done that, it would have been Top 3.” At the last minute, Graham asked Allan to come with him to the States; “Did I want him to sing with me and David and Stephen? I don’t know quite what I had in mind”, he admits today. “I had a family,” Allan says, “and I couldn’t suddenly give up everything to go to the States. I felt let down personally, because I’d known him for so long.” Bobby confirms: “Allan took the split the hardest. It really hurt him. He felt let down, because they’d been singing together since they were kids.”
Graham’s final concert with the Hollies was a charity show at the London Palladium in early December. The week before, the news of his departure was announced to the public. “Everyone knew him as the leader of the group,” Allan notes, “and we thought that we mightn’t make it without him. But after he went, I was able to front the group, do interviews, talk about myself rather than what Graham wanted. It was a great relief in some ways.”
With the benefit of hindsight, Graham has nothing but affection for the band: “I enjoyed my time with the Hollies. In a way it’s like a lover. When the affair is over, you know it’s time to move on, and you try to push that out of your memory and move into a different situation. But in the last few years I’ve been appreciating the fact that the Hollies were a really great band. They opened my mind to a world of possibilities that existed beyond my miserable little existence in England; and opened up a world for me that I will be forever grateful to them for.”
Throughout this traumatic period, the Hollies did their best to maintain life as normal. In November 1968, Allan, Tony, Bobby and Bernie began work on The Hollies Sing Dylan, cutting backing tracks and guide vocals. Now the search was on for a replacement for Graham. “We tried a lot of people,” Bobby recalls, “but it worked best with Terry Sylvester. We’d met him when the Escorts were on the same bill as us in Munich. In some ways, he had a stronger voice than Graham’s, and certainly the harmonies were no worse with him than before.” Allan is even more complimentary: “I thought that it sounded better with Terry. It was sweeter and more together, whereas before, with Graham being the dominant person, he always wanted to do more of the lead vocals.”
The new member came not from Manchester or Nelson, like the rest of the band, but from Liverpool. “I formed the Escorts when I was 14, with a couple of pals,” Terry explains. “We used to practise in the front room to Cliff Richard songs. Our first appearance at the Cavern was on New Year’s Eve 1962, and we appeared with the Beatles the last time they played there, which was 3rd August 1963.” Part of the second wave of Merseybeat bands signed up during 1963, the Escorts scraped one minor hit single with the charming ‘The One To Cry’, but lacked the support of a Brian Epstein to catapult them into the big time. In 1966, Terry left to join a rival Mersey band, the Swinging Blue Jeans, whose UK hitmaking days were behind them, but who still had a healthy gigging schedule across Europe. The Hollies, however, were something else: “It was a dream come true”, Terry says today.
“Robin Britten, the Hollies’ manager, was a wonderful man,” he continues. “I went down to Robin’s office in Bryanston Mews West, because he wanted to check me out. The next time, Tony and Allan were there. Tony had his acoustic guitar, and we ran through songs like ‘Carrie Anne’. It sounded great.” “Graham was a very hard act to follow, vocally and personality-wise,” Bernie says. “Terry came in and did an outstanding job. He became a really good mate and he still is.” The man whom Terry replaced was equally impressed. “I thought Terry did a wonderful job,” Graham says. “He’s a good musician.”
Terry’s first job with the Hollies was to help them record a new single. “They had a No. 1 the very next record after I left,” Graham laughs. “It pissed me off!” ‘Sorry Suzanne’ wasn’t actually quite that successful – it peaked at No. 3 – but it marked a obvious return to the band’s hit sound, circa 1966. “All I wanted was to get on Top Of The Pops, and have a hit record,” Terry says. “You could feel that the rest of the lads did too, they just wanted to get right back into the Top 5, and of course ‘Sorry Suzanne’ did that for all of us.”
Reassured that the departure of Graham Nash hadn’t torpedoed their career, the band resumed work on the controversial Dylan album. “They whipped the original vocals off, and we all sang together,” Terry recalls. Bernie adds: “The Bob Dylan album charted very high [No. 3]. That was pretty good going when you’ve just taken on a new singer to replace Graham Nash. Around the same time, we did an hour-long BBC-TV special, and that was magic. When the show was aired, Robin invited us all to the Isle of Wight, he had a lovely big house in Bembridge, and we had a thoroughly good house party. We were all so relieved that we’d managed to achieve that kind of success without Graham.”
The songwriting trio of Clarke, Hicks & Nash had been under strain for the last couple of years, but Terry Sylvester’s arrival sparked a creative rebirth for the band. Terry demonstrated his melodic skills with a tune to which Allan put a new set of lyrics, and the result was ‘Gloria Swansong’ – medleyed in the studio with Allan’s own song, ‘Marigold’.
“Allan was a great lyricist,” Terry says today. “He used to read a lot, and that was his bag.” Allan was happy to have musical help with the composing chores: : “I’m not the world’s greatest guitarist, so if there’s a chord I need to find, I need somebody to find it for me. I’m good at getting the lyrics done, but when I get into tunes, I have to have somebody there, and that’s why I wrote with Tony and Terry. We got into the idea of the three of us writing songs together, anyway, because it made it that much easier.” Tony adds: “We used to get together at Robin Britten’s office if there was an album due. We’d start at 11 in the morning, be finished by 4, and we’d probably have knocked out a couple of songs.” “ I think I brought a bit of fresh air to the group,” Terry concludes. “I was really excited to be there, and there’s nothing like enthusiasm. The result was the Hollies Sing Hollies album.”
Issued at the end of 1969, Hollies Sing Hollies was intended, as Allan says, “to show what different kind of stuff we could write. It was full of good songs, but it was a terrible cover. It looked as if we were wearing a tablecloth.” At the end of the sessions, Terry was at Allan’s house one day when Graham Nash turned up, keen to hear what they’d been doing since he left. “He basically said, ‘If we’d have been doing stuff like that, I wouldn’t have left’,” Terry says. “I don’t know if he really meant that, but he was saying how good the songs were, and maybe he got a little bit over-excited!”
Despite the quantity of strong material that the band were producing, Tony Hicks kept up his tradition of touring London’s music publishers in search of an unstoppable hit song. In the early summer of 1969, he found exactly what he was looking for. “Cyril Shane used to specialise in bringing demos back from Italy and Spain,” he explains, “then he’d play them to me and whisper the English translation in my ear. It could drive you mad! I’d had enough of that after half an hour, so I told Cyril I was off. He said, ‘There’s one more songs you ought to hear, but it’s a big ballad, which mightn’t be up your street’. It was ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’, which was the only song I’d heard that day with an English lyric! I thought it was great, and took it back to play for Ron Richards. He said he thought it would be a gamble, but that it was worth a shot.”
“Ron could really spot a song,” Bobby says, “and when we first laid the track down for ‘Heavy’, he immediately said, ‘I can hear a choir on this and an orchestra’.” Johnny Scott did the honours; Elton John, still moonlighting as a session musician at this point under his real name of Reg Dwight, played piano; Allan added one of his most impassioned vocals, and a poignant harmonica solo; and the result was one of the biggest records of the band’s career. “ ‘He Ain’t Heavy’ opened doors that had previously been closed to us,” Terry recollects. “ ‘Jennifer Eccles’ and ‘Carrie Anne’ were great tunes, but ‘Heavy’ had a lot more meaning. We started to get invited onto bigger and better TV shows. I remember one in Germany, where the Berlin Philharmonic backed us up!”
No sooner was ‘Heavy’ in the charts and Hollies Sing Hollies in the shops than the band went straight into another album project. Confessions Of The Mind marked the emergence of Tony Hicks as a distinctive songwriting voice. “I really enjoyed the music Crosby, Stills & Nash had made,” he says. “So I started to put lyrics together inspired by that. There was nothing much else happening in my life at the point, and I hit a run of good tunes. One of the best was the album’s (virtual) title track, ‘Confessions Of A Mind’, an extended song suite comprising several melodic elements. “I don’t want to put myself in the Pete Townshend league,” Tony says, “but a lot of people were starting to do that sort of extended, operatic thing, so I just had a go at it. It wasn’t quite Tommy, but it was my version of that.”
Tony’s most enduring contribution to the album was ‘Too Young To Be Married’, which was issued as a single in Australasia and proved to be one of the band’s biggest hits there. “The last time we were in New Zealand, in our early days with Carl Wayne,” he notes, “we did some big outdoor gigs. It was a beautiful summer’s evening, and there were 25 or 30 thousand people there. For the chorus of that song, we actually stopped playing it, and the entire audience carried on and sang it, which had never happened before. That is probably one of the lasting memories of my career.”
Back in Britain, ‘Gasoline Alley Bred’ was the single of the moment. “I got to sing a bit of lead on that,” Terry remembers. “My mum was delighted that she could see my face full-screen on Top Of The Pops instead of sharing the screen with Allan!” It was followed by a rousing rocker, ‘Hey Willy’ – which, Allan confirms, was definitely not a reference to Graham’s lifelong nickname. Having taken something of a back seat during the making of Confessions Of A Mind, Allan re-emerged as a dominant force during the sessions for Distant Light in summer 1971. “I started writing with people like Roger Cook,” Allan says, “which I found a great help. One day I played him this guitar riff – and a song just fell into place in about ten minutes.” The result was ‘Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)’, a raw, Creedence-tinged rocker completely unlike the band’s recent hits.
“When we recorded ‘Long Cool Woman’, there were no harmonies,” Allan recalls. “Then, when Ron Richards heard it, he tried to make me redo the vocals, complaining that he couldn’t hear what I was singing. But I said, ‘Leave it, it’s only an album track’!” Tony adds: “Thank God he saw it that way, because if he had in fact seen it as more than that, it would have been a completely different recording. But instead it was just left absolutely plain and simple.”
Engineer John Punter in the control room helped to create the echoey, almost rockabilly feel, while Allan made a rare appearance on guitar, with Tony adding shadowy harmonies to the song’s trademark lick. Yet no sooner had the Distant Light sessions finished than the Hollies suffered a devastating blow: Allan announced that he was leaving the band.
“I saw how well Graham Nash was doing in the States,” he explains “and I thought, ‘I’d like a bit of that’. So I approached the rest of the boys with the idea that I should do a solo album. Their reaction, quite rightly, was that if I wanted to do a solo album, I should leave the group. I didn’t want to leave; I had no idea if I would be successful. But I decided to take the chance.”
“I was much less confident that we’d be able to continue than I had been after Graham left,” Bernie confides. Terry remembers meeting Carl Wayne, who’d recently exited the Move, to discuss the idea of his taking Allan’s place. But the eventual choice was more surprising: a Swedish singer called Mikael Rickfors, who’d supported the Hollies with his band Bamboo on a Scandinavian tour several years earlier. “Tony thought he was good,” Bobby says, “but it didn’t really work out for us. Mikael was a talented lad: he played great bass and lead guitar and had a strong voice. But he wasn’t a frontman in the way Allan was. And not surprisingly he had problems with his English pronunciation.” Terry adds that “Mikael had a fabulous, Scott Walker-type voice. But it was a totally different direction.”
While Allan began to assemble songs for his solo debut, chaos ensued in the Hollies’ career. EMI sat on Distant Light for several months, presumably in the hope that Allan would swiftly return. Meanwhile, the group announced that they were leaving EMI for Polydor. Their first release with Mikael was a stirring piece of white soul, ‘The Baby’, but EMI countered by issuing ‘Long Cool Woman’. Both singles charted in Britain at the same time, effectively cancelling each other out. “ ‘The Baby’ was a good record, and Rickfors’ voice was spot on for it,” Tony says today, “but the public know what they’re looking at, and they said, ‘This is not the Hollies, this is someone else’.”
In the US, ‘Long Cool Woman’ took off and headed towards the top of the charts. “It was one of the biggest things we’d ever had in the States,” Tony says. Its writer and sole singer, Allan Clarke, sensed the perfect jumpstart for his solo career; but the band’s US label had other plans. “I rang Epic and asked them when they wanted me to go out on tour to promote the single. They turned me down, and it turned out that the Hollies had got a US tour on the strength of that hit. I was bitter about that, because I wanted to be on the road doing that song.”
“There we were at No. 1 in the States, with a new lead singer,” Bobby remembers. “It was so unfortunate.” Terry Sylvester handled ‘Long Cool Woman’ on TV and on stage; “I haven’t got Allan's voice,” he admits, “but at least I’m from the North of England, so it didn’t sound too bad!” It was hardly an ideal situation, though, as Tony admits: “We were still the Hollies, so we had the right to tour, but obviously we would have loved to have had Allan. The hit record forced us on stage a little bit sooner than we would have done. I don’t think we had any real plans to tour with Mikael until we got ourselves established.”
To muddy the waters further, Epic issued a second Distant Light single, which reached the US Top 30. ‘Long Dark Road’ was written by Tony and his friend (and 60s pop star) Kenny Lynch. “That was an interesting lyric,” Tony recalls, “quite innocent from our point of view. But I remember our girlfriends hearing the lyric, ‘It’s over, all over’, raising their eyebrows, and wondering where the inspiration had come from!”
Having toured to promote a record on which none of them sang, the Hollies retired to the studio to forge a new identity. “That was an interesting period for all of us, and I think we made some good records,” Tony says, though Bobby dismisses the Mikael Rickfors years as “a bland period for the Hollies”. Terry takes the middle ground: “I thought our first album with Mikael, Romany, was lovely, but it’s not really the Hollies, is it? I think we even considered changing our name! We were obviously slightly confused.” The album included a cover of Judee Sill’s beautiful ‘Jesus Was A Crossmaker’, the original of which had been produced by Graham Nash.
The official follow-up to ‘The Baby’, ‘Magic Woman Touch’, was a smash hit in Holland but not elsewhere. Another Rickfors vocal, on Terry Silvester’s song ‘I Had A Dream’, appeared only as a US B-side. “We used to take turns on B-sides,” Terry explains, “as a little reward. Then it was pot luck, whether you were on the B-side of a hit or a flop!” Meanwhile, the second LP of the Rickfors era, Out On The Road, appeared in Germany, but in the UK and US Polydor held back the release, having caught wind of another change of direction.
“Our stage shows weren’t bombing out,” Bernie Calvert remembers, “but they weren’t going that well, because the American public wanted to hear Allan Clarke singing ‘Long Cool Woman’. The musical content of the show was very good, but it just wasn’t the Hollies.” Meanwhile, the commercial response to Allan’s fine solo work had been lukewarm. “I was in the wilderness,” he admits, “and they weren’t doing well without me. They came to me and asked me to do them a favour and rejoin. I was in two minds, because I still wanted to do solo work. The agreement we made was that I could do what I liked outside the group, but I’d come back.”
“We’d done our bit with Mikael,” says Terry, “and we were obviously frustrated about the whole thing. Looking back, I’m sure the record company and our management were pretty frustrated too. I don’t know which came first; we heard that Allan wanted to come back, but I also know that we wanted him back. I was absolutely ecstatic.” Allan sums up the general feeling: “It was a great relief to all concerned.”
With the line-up that had produced ‘He Ain’t Heavy’ and ‘Long Cool Woman’ reunited, work began on the music that would announce the peace pact to the world. “Allan came up with this great song,” says Bernie of the comeback single, ‘The Day That Curly Billy Shot Down Crazy Sam McGee’. “I think it’s one of the best rock’n’roll songs ever.” “That was one of those easy songs to write,” Allan recalls. “I thought, why not write a follow-up to ‘Long Cool Woman’, because ‘Curly Billy’ had the same sort of riff in it.” Bobby concurs: “That was Allan’s ‘welcome back’ track. We thought it was a good idea to carry on where we’d left off.”
In 1973, producer Ron Richards’ secretary pointed out the potential of a song on a Phil Everly album, called ‘The Air That I Breathe’. “Phil had issued it as a single,” Allan explains, “but it didn’t sell. I told the group that we had to do it, and they agreed.”
“ ‘The Air That I Breathe’ came together very quickly,” Bernie remembers. “We recorded it in the afternoon, and it was done in next to no time. It was a lovely song.” Equally impressive was Tony Hicks’ passionate lead guitar, which attracted compliments from none other than Eric Clapton. “ ‘The Air That I Breathe’ is a great Hollies record,” says Graham Nash today. “It’s a really well-constructed pop song.” The public agreed, and the result was the band’s biggest UK hit since 1966.
The single pulled the tie-in album, titled simply The Hollies, into the charts all over the world. But its success had a less welcome result, as Allan notes: “It’s as if ‘The Air That I Breathe’ was the ultimate record. Everything afterwards was five per cent below that. It was a big problem.”
Although the Hollies continued to rack up hit singles across Europe, ‘The Air That I Breathe’ did mark the end of their long series of chart smashes in both Britain and America. All of the band remember the next five or six years as a period of frustration, when some of their finest work was being under-exposed and scarcely promoted at all. “I call them the oblivion years,” says Allan ruefully. “We were trying everything and getting nowhere. People didn’t know how good we were, to be quite honest.”
Yet in purely musical terms, as this set demonstrates, this was another golden age. “There was a fresh impetus when Allan came back,” Tony recalls. “He and Terry Sylvester used to come to my house in St. John’s Wood, close to the Abbey Road studios, and we wrote all the songs for those albums.” It was a prolific era – both Allan and Terry issued solo LPs during this period, alongside the group’s one album per year – and it produced such superb albums as Another Night, cut in spring and late summer 1974. “That is my favourite Hollies album,” Terry says today. “If ‘Sandy’ had been a hit record, the Hollies would have been as big as the Bee Gees were in the same period. We were disappointed: we thought we’d done really well with Another Night.”
Meanwhile, the mood of the times was also changing. “Everyone went into glam-rock and disco-type stuff,” says Allan, “and we got into that as well! Wearing the spandex, the three-inch-heeled shoes. You had to change with the times, if you wanted to stay in the business.”
Evidence of the shift in public taste can be heard on the 1975 album Write On, notably on the title track and ‘Star’. But the LP also included one of the band’s most delicate and poignant ballads, ‘Love Is The Thing’. “I think the Write On album is really good,” Bernie says. “That stuff is almost hidden from view, people don’t know it exists. It almost makes me cry, when I say to people, never mind the singles, have you listened to the albums? Because there’s some magic stuff on there.”
Bobby agrees: “I think we were all a bit disheartened because commercially there weren’t any hit albums or hit singles. We probably spent quite a bit of money on doing those albums, a lot of them were expensively orchestrated. We were frustrated, because we were in there trying really hard, and you’d play the stuff back and you knew that it was good, and give it to Polydor and – well, nothing, it just seemed to go in a drawer.”
One casualty of this frustration was the group’s relationship with their loyal producer, Ron Richards. Ever since he had invited the Hollies down to London in 1963, Ron had handled all of their studio sessions. But after Write On failed to spark a commercial revival, the band began work on their next project without him by their side.
“I think it might have been a little bit of frustration about material and where we were going,” Bernie explains. “Ron was always an outstanding song man, but things can start to get tired, and possibly they thought Ron needed a rest.” “Ron was great,” Allan says. “I’m sorry we had to part. I may have been one of the reasons, in fact. But there came a time when we didn’t seem to be able to do anything together. I was sorry to see him go, because it seemed that when he left, we stopped having hits.”
After talking to a couple of possible candidates – Tony remembers tentative discussions with US producer John Boylan – the group elected to produce themselves. “Maybe we needed that time and space to have a different opinion on the situation,” Tony reflects. “So we put those albums together — and happily so, actually. I remember doing some of those at Basing Street studio. I think we were quite capable of doing it: there were never any problems or strains about getting the best out of the songs that were available.”
The Hollies were now in their mid-30s, and becoming increasingly aware of the age gap between them and the teenage pop audience. “We went on the TV show Supersonic to perform ‘Daddy Don’t Mind’,” Bernie remembers, “and there was this huge cheer and all this screaming, because the place was full of young kids. And I thought, ‘Oh, great, we’re not doing too bad after all’. But what had happened was that the Bay City Rollers had got onto another stage opposite us! Then it came home to me like a ton of bricks: maybe we are getting a bit long in the tooth!”
By popular consent, the absolute nadir of the Hollies’ mid-70s career was their 1977 disco single, ‘Wiggle That Wotsit’ “I cringe when you mention that,” says Bernie, while Allan curtly describes it as “abysmal”. But although Allan has few fond memories of the album from which that song came, Russian Roulette, it did include one excellent effort in the same vein, ‘Draggin’ My Heels’. “I like that,” says Bernie. “We weren’t trying to emulate the Bee Gees, but there was bound to be some sort of influence there, even if it was only a slight one. That kind of thing was selling, and ‘Heels’ was a nice thing to do in that vein.” Tony recalls that it was a popular part of their stage show: “We extended the instrumental part, and it worked very well. So there was a track that the majority of the audience perhaps weren’t aware of, but because of that infectious rhythm, they took to it.”
In general, however, the band’s concerts didn’t deviate too far from their array of hit singles. “We gave up many years ago trying to educate the audience with album tracks and all that bullshit,” Tony explains. “It was difficult for us, because if we went much beyond songs that stood up for themselves and could be appreciated on first hearing, you’d feel it straight away and probably drop it. Maybe we should have persevered a little bit more, but that’s just the way it went.”
Not that the Hollies concert bandwagon was a travelling oldies show. Despite its title, the Hollies Live Hits album, issued in March 1977, featured the pick of their recent album material alongside vibrant revivals of 60s classics such as ‘I Can’t Let Go’ and ‘Bus Stop’. It had been recorded more than a year earlier, during a triumphant five-night run at Christchurch Town Hall in New Zealand. “The only 16-track recording machine they had in New Zealand was up in either Wellington or Auckland,” Bobby recalls, “so they had to ship it down.” Bernie adds: “It was a nice experience, that; every night was kind of an adventure. The crowd were brilliant, the shows were really good, and I think the live album stands up pretty well.”
Terry Sylvester recalls sharing the band’s hotel with some unlikely guests: the team behind the children’s TV puppet Basil Brush, plus the American comedy and basketball troupe, the Harlem Globetrotters. “I remember being in the bar watching Allan alongside them,” he says, “and he was about half their size! It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.”
Sadly missing from the Hollies Live Hits album was the stunning finale, an acappella rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’. “We had a phantom whistler on one of the shows,” Terry explains, “and he did it all the way through ‘Amazing Grace’. He ruined the best version of the song, so we left it off.” Even without it, the album received a rapturous critical response. “There was a review in something like the Financial Times,” Terry recalls, “which said that it was the best live album of the 60s and 70s period. It’s incredible! And there were hardly any overdubs, it’s all raw as hell. Everything’s a little bit quicker than it would be in the studio, but that’s stage shows!”
Away from the stage, morale drooped during the 1977 sessions for A Crazy Steal. “I was discontented with what was happening from 1975 onwards, for several years,” Allan reveals. “There were lots of internal things wrong, though nothing that the public saw, because there was always work there, and we were still touring and recording.” Yet A Crazy Steal included several classic Hollies originals, such as the Bruce Springsteen-inspired ‘Burn Out’, the elegant ‘Writing On The Wall’, and arguably the band’s least deserved flop of all time, Clarke, Hicks & Sylvester’s ‘Hello To Romance’. “That is a brilliant song, so well crafted,” Terry says today. “Anybody with any sense of music or romance must appreciate that, surely. If one of the boy bands of today covered it, it would be a guaranteed hit single.”
Also on the album was ‘(Love Is The Sweetest) Amnesty’, previously recorded by ex-Byrd Chris Hillman, but given its definitive treatment by the Hollies, complete with a devastating acappella opening. “I think I remember Brian May of Queen coming in to listen to it,” Tony says “It has a little of that vocal sound that they were using around the same time.”
Under the circumstances, ‘Amnesty’ was perhaps not the ideal theme song for that period. At the start of a German tour, Allan Clarke walked away from the band for the second time. “We were left in limbo,” says Terry Sylvester. “We had a meeting, and I said, OK, I’ll sing lead and harmony. I’ve got a German TV show of me singing ‘Harlequin’, with Tony, Bobby, Bernie and Paul Bliss on piano. We put a sign in the front of the theatres, saying Allan Clarke will not be appearing with the Hollies tonight, and I think that in the whole three weeks, maybe nine people decided they wanted their money back. We did a rip-roaring show.”
Fearing that the circumstances of the early 70s might be repeating themselves, the band made tentative steps towards replacing Allan with an old friend: former Procol Harum singer Gary Brooker, who had played organ on their hit ‘Long Dark Road’ back in 1971. “We considered that,” Tony remembers, “but I think Gary had moved on, and was probably not ready to go back on the road. I remember visiting him around that time, and he took me to quite a flourishing public house nearby, which he either owned outright or part-owned. I think he was quite happy to be doing that and the odd gig here and there, as opposed to being a professional touring musician.”
“He seemed very comfortable, smoking a big pipe, and wearing an old jumper, so I think it was just the wrong time,” Terry agrees. “But he did come in and sing ‘Harlequin’ with us.” “I thought it was an outstanding record,” says Bernie, “with Gary doing the vocals.” Within a few weeks, however, Allan had rejoined the band, and first Terry and then Allan himself overdubbed vocals onto the track. The only evidence of Gary Brooker’s presence was his impassioned wailing over the closing bars.
Besides Allan Clarke, the late 1978 sessions also reunited the Hollies with Ron Richards, for an album entitled Five Three One Double Seven O Four. The title only made sense when viewed upside down on a pocket calculator! “It was good to have Ron back for the Five Three One album,” Bernie remembers, and the sessions were eased by a bumper choice of material, which led this LP to become known as ‘the ballads album’. It was so strong that there was no room for the excellent ‘Sanctuary’, which was relegated to the vaults for another decade. Highlights included ‘Something To Live For’, ‘When I’m Yours’ and ‘It’s In Every One Of Us’ – a hit single, but for Cliff Richard, not the Hollies, in 1985. But the song has survived in acappella form during recent Hollies shows.
The stage also proved to be the perfect arena for ‘Soldier’s Song’, the band’s first release of the 1980s. A dramatic orchestral epic, it teamed the Hollies with writer/producer Mike Batt. “Mike was a perfectionist,” says Tony. “I’ve nothing but praise for the things we did with him. He’s a great character to be in the studio with. He knows exactly what he wants from you, and that makes it very easy.” “ We used to go out for a few drinks with him, Tony and I,” Bobby adds, “we used to enjoy his company. But the down side about working with Batty was that the three guys would get the Hollies harmonies sorted out, and he’d say, ‘That’s not correct, you should be doing like this. He’d try and work everything out on paper. Then they’d sing it, and it wouldn’t sound as good as our usual sound. He was trying to do it too clinically. So we ended up doing it our way.” Also cut during the same sessions were ‘If The Lights Go Out’ (“we all thought that deserved to be a single”, says Bernie) and ‘Can’t Lie No More’, released here for the first time.
That summer, the band threw themselves into a project which proved to be both extremely enjoyable and, almost inevitably it seems, commercial unfulfilling. “We decided to record a bunch of Buddy Holly songs the way that we thought people would want to hear the Hollies perform them,” Allan explains. “It was Tony and Allan’s idea, I think,” Bernie recalls, “as they were both keen Holly fans. Retrospectively, we knew how well the Dylan tribute album had gone, and we knew we could do a lot of good things with the songs.”
Terry Sylvester shares the fond memories: “We loved that, they were great sessions. We were bringing in old friends to play different parts: I got an old mate from Liverpool, Howie Casey, in to play sax. Pete Wingfield was in there too on keyboards, we used him a lot back then.” Wingfield was to the fore on ‘What To Do’, selected by Bobby Elliott as “one of my favourite Hollies songs. Pete did some really nice electric piano stuff on there, and you can just sit back and relax and listen to Clarkey’s voice.” The album maintained an unhappy tradition, selling well across the European mainland but making little impression at home. “I’ll never understand why,” Allan laments, “as people often tell me they thought it was a great album. Maybe the public put it down as just another piece of Fifties revivalism.”
The Hollies had tried everything: sophisticated pop like ‘Hello To Romance’ and ‘Something To Live For’; a collaboration with a proven hitmaker, in Mike Batt; a nostalgic return to the music on which they’d cut their teeth; and despite consistently hitting their artistic targets, they were still no closer to an elusive commercial renaissance. Searching around for a solution, Allan Clarke decided to contact some old friends. Paul McCartney was his first choice, but he was deep into the sessions for his Tug Of War album. Next in line was Shadows guitarist Bruce Welch, the man behind many Cliff Richard and Olivia Newton-John hits. But this collaboration between two British pop institutions had unexpectedly dramatic results.
“Bruce Welch found a song, and we went into the studio,” Bernie remembers. “Bruce was a completely different animal to work with as far as making records; everything had to be metronomic, precise to the n’th degree. The following day, we turned up at the studios, to be met by Bruce, who said he was pulling the session because he wasn’t happy with what we’d done. We all went home with our tails between our legs.”
The sessions were rescheduled for a month later, but shortly beforehand, Bernie Calvert was informed that his services were not required by the band’s new producer. “I thought, why? Why are they sidelining me at this point?,” he recalls. “I got a train home, and started thinking, ‘Well, I’m 40 quite soon, and maybe I should think about jumping off while the going’s good’. The next thing I knew, Terry phoned me up, said that he was very unhappy about the way Bruce Welch was working, and it had led to some heated argument and friction within the group.
“Terry dropped this on me and said, ‘I’m gonna leave’. And I said, ‘To be honest, Terry, I’ve been thinking about that as well’. I told Tony, who said, ‘Go away and have a little holiday and think about it’. I did think about it, and decided to jump off.”
Terry’s recollection is that the final argument was triggered by a vote within the band to sever ties with their longtime manager, Robin Britten. “Robin was not only a great manager but also a really good friend,” he says today, “so I was really unhappy about that – plus I didn’t think we were capable of managing ourselves. But there were other factors as well. Allan had said that he didn’t want to tour anymore, and all we were doing were these sessions, which I thought were all wrong. All these things combined, and I decided to leave.”
“Tony and Terry shook hands on it,” Bobby recalls, “and then a couple of days later, Bernie was gone. So there we were. It was a shock to me, because I didn’t think it was going to happen; Tony told me the following day.” Allan’s recollection is succinct: “They were unhappy, and you can’t work with people who are unhappy.”
That unhappiness hasn’t clouded either Terry or Bernie’s memory of their time in the band. “The Hollies meant everything to me,” Bernie reflects today. “They were a dream come true, after a fairytale beginning. I had a wonderful opportunity to express my musical talents and skills, and I did some things that I’m very, very proud of, especially records like ‘Air’ and ‘Heavy’.”
Terry’s recollections are equally fond: “When I joined the Hollies, I fulfilled my lifetime’s ambition. The fact that I still hear the stuff we did then on the radio, and people are still buying the CDs, it’s just an absolute thrill.” He has particular affection for the talents of his longtime vocal partner: “Allan has the greatest pop voice in the history of music. I stood next to him for the best part of twelve years, and his voice was fabulous.”
Now reduced to a trio, the Hollies were joined at Abbey Road by ‘Music’ hitmaker John Miles. He brought with him a classic piece of radio-friendly AOR, ‘Carrie’, which in a kinder world would have been a smash hit. “I think ‘Carrie’ is a great song,” says Allan, “and it would have been a great single. But we needed someone in a position of power to say that.” Like many of the band’s studio gems, ‘Carrie’ was consigned to the archives.
Inspiration then came from a bizarre source. It was the season of ‘Stars On 45’, medleys which set remakes of vintage 50s and 60s hits to a disco backbeat. Faced with the possibility that someone else might get to their back catalogue first, the Hollies decided to launch their own revival. “Tony and I went into Abbey Road to do ‘Holliedaze’,” Bobby recalls, “which was put together from our original recordings. I added a bass drum and claps on the Linn drums to provide a disco feel. When the single made the charts, Top Of The Pops rang up and said they wanted us to appear, but they wanted Graham Nash to perform with us.”
“Tony called and asked me as a favour if I’d go and do it with them, because I’d been in the band when we did the very first Top Of The Pops back in the 60s,” Graham Nash says. “We never thought Graham would come,” Bobby recalls, “but Tony phoned him in Hawaii, and he said he’d travel over to England if we’d send him a couple of tickets over. Eric Haydock came down as well, and we had a great day – it was lots of fun.” “We were a million miles apart by that time,” Eric explains. “Graham was this superstar in Crosby. Stills & Nash, and I’d queued up at the cinema to see him in Woodstock! Suddenly, there we were together on Top Of The Pops.”
Graham picks up the story: “After that, I said, ‘What the hell are you guys up to?’ They said, ‘Well, we’re in the studio’. So I said, ‘Let’s hear what you’re doing!’ We had dinner, we went over to Abbey Road and they played me a bunch of stuff. It sounded good, and I said, ‘Hey, shit, let’s start, let’s go’.” “Graham hadn’t been back to Abbey Road for years,” Tony adds, “and he wanted to see what it felt like to be there again. Then he said he fancied recording with us again, so I promised I’d put some songs together.”
The basic backing tracks were recorded in London during March and May 1982. Then, as Allan recalls, “I went over to the States, met up with Graham, and we went round the record companies together, eventually getting a deal with WEA. Then we had to finish the album.” The chosen venue was Graham’s Rudy Records complex in Los Angeles, where Clarke, Hicks and Nash added their first vocal harmonies in almost 14 years. “It just felt great adding the vocals,” Tony says. “All these people kept dropping in to the sessions – Joe Osborn, Joe Lala, Nils Lofgren, Stephen Stills. I would have loved to have had Stills on the album, but Graham told me, ‘Don’t even thing about it. Once he starts getting involved in the album, we’ll never get him out of here!’ It has great memories for me, that whole period.”
Nearly 18 months after the Top Of The Pops appearance, the What Goes Around album was finished. Paul Bliss’s rearrangement of the Supremes’ ‘Stop! In The Name Of Love’ was chosen as the debut single, and it hit the US Top 30 – prompting a flood of requests for a reunion tour. “We did some great gigs on the East Coast,” Tony explains, “and it was great to be back with Graham on stage. We performed a mix of songs. We did the old hits, plus some of Graham’s material, like ‘Teach Your Children’ and ‘Wasted On The Way’. It was wonderful. I’d do it anytime.”
Allan was equally enamoured of the experience: “We had massive press coverage and PR – it was great. It ended too soon for me. Graham said: ‘That’s it. Maybe we’ll do it again sometime. But not at the moment, because I want to make some real money!” “There’s actually a live broadcast that we did on a radio station in Cleveland, that came out as a record here,” Graham says. “It’s really fabulous. Touring was a little strange, yeah, but, you know, it was good being back with Allan and Tony and Bobby. I like them, they’re nice people.”
Back in the UK, the Hollies resumed their 22-year-old relationship with EMI in 1984, recording three worthwhile singles over the next two years. “ ‘Reunion Of The Heart’ was good,” Tony reflects, “and so was ‘Too Many Hearts Get Broken’, but maybe not modern enough to bring us back into the charts. I still enjoyed those two in particular, and ‘Laughter Turns To Tears’ — that’s a great song.”
“EMI were very positive about ‘Too Many Hearts’,” says Allan, “and we worked hard on it. I thought it was going to do it for us, get us back in the charts. But it didn’t. It’s a bit of a knockback to your ego; you’ve done something really good, and it gets turned down by the public. It disheartens you, and I think that I was a bit disheartened right through the 80s, and the 90s, because of not being able to get through with some great songs that we were doing.”
An exception to the rule was ‘Stand By Me’, a German TV theme featuring vocal overdubs over a pre-prepared backing track – which, as Allan admits, “wasn’t ideal. But they did a wonderful PR job on it, and the single was a fair-sized hit in the German charts.” The band didn’t have to look far for a follow-up. “At soundchecks,” Allan explains, “our harmony singer and guitarist Alan Coates would always sing ‘Shine Silently’. I asked him who wrote it, and he told me it was Nils Lofgren. So I suggested we should record it.”
Within a matter of weeks, the Hollies were back on Top Of The Pops – but not with ‘Shine Silently’. ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ had been picked as the soundtrack for a Miller Lite beer commercial. A new audience who had been too young to experience the single first time around were eager to buy the record, so EMI obliged with a reissue. A month later, it was No. 1 in the UK charts, coinciding perfectly with the band’s latest sell-out tour. It wasn’t the only piece of serendipity: on the same afternoon that it reached the top, a second son was born to the bass player on that record, Bernie Calvert.
The British tour had already sold out before the single hit No. 1. “It was a bonus for us, and a very welcome one, but we were going along fine without it,” Tony says. ‘He Ain’t Heavy’ naturally drew the heaviest response on stage, but the band were also winning standing ovations for a new addition to their repertoire. “We were rehearsing for a tour,” Allan says, “and Tony started playing the intro to Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’, which always sent shivers up my spine. So we started doing it, and it went down a storm. Then it ended up being recorded live. I’m not ashamed of that version at all.”
After the inevitable reissue of ‘The Air That I Breathe’ to follow the success of ‘Heavy’, it was time for new material. ‘Baby Come Back’ reached the German Top 50, while Britain was treated to a new song by Allan Clarke and Gary Benson. “ ‘Find Me A Family’ wasn’t originally written as a single,” Allan explains. “I wrote that with different lyrics, but then I was approached by the ITV, who were doing this TV programme called Find Me A Family, which was to help get children adopted. They wanted the Hollies to record a song for it, so I went to Gary and we changed the lyrics. The ITV loved it, and so did EMI.” “We were never convinced it was right as a single,” says Tony. “The song was good, but because of the subject it was a bit of a downer, so we weren’t surprised that it wasn’t a bigger hit.”
Over the next few years, the band – now featuring Allan, Tony, Bobby plus a settled second-line of Alan Coates, keyboardist Denis Haines and bassist Ray Stiles – concentrated on their stage work. “We were just happy to go touring around,” Bobby explains. “If a song popped up, we recorded it.” One such was Nik Kershaw’s ultra-commercial ‘The Woman I Love’, issued as a 30th anniversary single in 1993. It was a perfect return to the Hollies hit sound of the 60s, but it left Allan feeling slightly uncomfortable: “I must be honest, I felt a bit silly singing that. I wasn’t sure that the lyrics were suitable for a guy of 50! We did some good TV on that, and it sold pretty well, but it wasn’t as big a hit as we’d hoped.”
Disillusioned by the increasingly ephemeral nature of the record business, the Hollies devoted the rest of the decade to touring. “We were doing some great tours, and I could have carried on doing that, virtually up until I dropped,” Allan says. “ But as the years went by, I was finding it very difficult to sing the songs as well as I used to be able to, and I thought to myself, ‘Well, there’s gotta be a day when you’re not going to be able to reach those notes, so why don’t you stop now’.” An emergency medical crisis in the family – fortunately a story with a happy ending – forced Allan’s hand, and left the other Hollies short of a vocalist in mid-tour.
“John Miles was our saviour,” Bobby says. “At very short notice, he agreed to help us out. I got to the venue at three in the afternoon and all the lads were in the dressing room, having a cup of tea. I said, ‘Where’s Milesy? Have you started rehearsing with him yet?’ They said, ‘It’s all done!’. He already knew it all, every lyric; he was brilliant. We did four shows with him, and that convinced us that we could carry on without Allan. But John is Tina Turner’s musical director, so he was out the frame for a full-time job, and so we got Charlie in — Carl Wayne – who has rejuvenated the band.”
A veteran of the Birmingham beat boom, whose recording career stretched back to 1964, Carl Wayne had been the lead singer with the Move on such classic 60s hits as ‘Flowers In The Rain’. Since going solo at the end of the 60s, he had worked consistently without ever achieving the profile he deserved – ensuring that he retained a real hunger to succeed. “Carl’s been a revelation,” Tony says. “He works 110% every night, and he always makes sure that when the audience leave, they feel a darn sight happier than when they went in. Carl doesn’t try to sound like Allan, and we didn’t want him to. He’s brought his own personality along and we all blend with each other.”
The first recorded evidence of the latest Hollies line-up is ‘How Do I Survive’, cut at Abbey Road studios in early 2003. Besides Bobby Elliott, Tony Hicks and Carl Wayne, it features the rest of the band who, at the time of writing, have just completed a highly successful UK tour: Alan Coates, Ray Stiles and keyboardist Ian Parker.
Of the other main participants in this story, Allan Clarke is now enjoying well-earned retirement with his family, spending much of the year in the States and still writing songs for fun. Graham Nash continues to record and perform as a solo artist and with Crosby, Stills, Nash and (sometimes) Young. Terry Sylvester lives in Canada, and performs both solo and with his old pal and ex-Bread guitarist, James Griffin. Bernie Calvert writes and records music with friends in the North of England. Eric Haydock tours with his own band. And Mikael Rickfors is still a popular performer and recording artist in his native Sweden.
“We’ve been very lucky,” Bobby Elliott concludes on behalf of the entire group. “We’ve lived through some great times, not just in the music business but personally as well. Maybe at the time you don’t always appreciate what’s happening, but now, when you look back on it, and you start to tell people a few stories about what it was like, you realise what a privilege it was to experience all that.” Forty years after the Hollies scored their first hit singles, they remain a British pop legend – and, as this box set proves, a rich reservoir of remarkable music.
with thanks to Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks, Bobby Elliott, Graham Nash, Terry Sylvester, Bernie Calvert, Eric Haydock and Ron Richards
RON RICHARDS (separate page/box)
“In his heyday, there was nobody to touch Ron as a producer” (Bobby Elliott)
“Ron was great. He taught us a hell of a lot” (Allan Clarke)
“We learned so much from Ron. He was great for us. I have nothing but great respect for him” (Graham Nash)
“Ron was a brilliant producer; he had the best ear for a commercial song ever” (Bernie Calvert)
“Ron had a very commercial ear, great patience and had the knack of pulling the best performance out of people” (Tony Hicks)
The architect of the Hollies’ sound, and producer of all their recordings between 1963 and 1975, was Ron Richards – one of the unsung heroes of British pop music over the last 50 years.
Ron joined Parlophone Records in 1957, shortly after George Martin had taken over as the label’s head of A&R (Artists & Repertoire). “It was EMI’s least successful label at that time,” Ron recalls. “Originally I worked as a plugger for artists like Jim Dale, Eve Boswell and Jimmy Shand.”
In that role, Ron often played hosts to visiting songwriters at EMI’s base behind Oxford Circus in London’s West End. “One day a guy called Jerry Lordan came in and played me a demo,” he says, “and I really liked his voice. So I asked George if I could make a record with him.” The result was ‘Who Could Be Bluer?’ – Ron Richards’ first hit as a producer.
In June 1962, Ron supervised the first EMI audition by a young Liverpool band called the Beatles. “I didn’t think much of their drummer, Pete Best,” he remembers, “so I recommended to George that he would need to use a session drummer with them. And that’s what happened when they came back to record ‘Love Me Do’.” Ron also found ‘How Do You Do It’, the first hit by the Beatles’ Merseybeat rivals, Gerry & the Pacemakers, and worked on many sessions with the group.
But it was the Hollies with whom he enjoyed his longest run of success. “When I started working with them, the producer had complete control,” he explains. “I chose the songs, and had carte blanche about the way they were recorded. There was nobody at Parlophone to query my decisions: I simply gave the finished records to the sales team, and they were released.”
Although many artists who recorded in Britain during the 60s have since complained about the UK’s ‘primitive’ studio facilities, Ron disagrees: “When the Beatles and the other beat groups were riding high, I remember playing host to a delegation who’d come over from Capitol Records in the States, and wanted to know how we made our records sound so good! Their artists were complaining that British records were better than American ones were.”
During Ron’s time with the Hollies, EMI’s studio facilities were gradually improved from 2-track to 4-track, 8-track and finally 16-track machines. Originally, he recorded the band in mono, and even when he began to prepare stereo mixes of their records in 1964, they were definitely second on the list of priorities. “Stereo was for albums aimed at the adult audience,” he explains. “Most kids listened to their records in mono, and the radio was in mono as well, so that’s where most of my attention went in the 60s.”
Perhaps Ron’s biggest innovation in the 60s, however, came not in the studio but in the office. “I went to America with Gerry & the Pacemakers to record them in California,” he remembers, “and got talking to some of the American producers at Capitol. I discovered that they got royalties on their records, whereas we at EMI just got a straight salary, no matter how successful we were.”
At a time when the records made by Ron and George Martin were selling in their millions around the world, the injustice was obvious. George Martin protested to his superiors, but was offered only the most minimal of royalty payments. So Ron organised a mini-revolution: “I thought, ‘Bugger that, we should leave EMI and set up on our own’. I said I was leaving, and asked George Martin and another EMI producer, John Burgess, to come with me. I was really sweating while they made up their minds, but eventually they said yes, and we formed our own company.”
AIR London was the result – not just a producers’ collective but, soon afterwards, a state-of-the-art recording studio. It was the birthplace of the modern recording industry in Britain.
Now enjoying his retirement outside London, Ron remembers that “The Hollies were always very disciplined in the studio. They were great to work with. They might mess about and have a laugh, but as soon as the red light went on, they concentrated their job, and did it very well.”
WRITING CREDITS (box alongside track listing??)
The Hollies began recording their own songs with the B-side of their first single in 1963. But in 1964/65, they were persuaded to adopt pseudonyms for the writing credits on their records. “They told us that they couldn’t fit all our names onto the label of the record,” says Allan Clarke, “and we believed them!” Their first disguise was ‘Chester/Mann’ (reverse the names and the mystery is solved); the second was the mysterious ‘L. Ransford’. “That was my grandfather’s Christian name,” Graham Nash explains, “and I always thought it was really unusual.”
In 1966 and 1967, all their self-composed songs were credited jointly to ‘Clarke/Hicks/Nash’, regardless of who had actually written them. After 1968, the credits finally reflected the names of the actually songwriters for each tune.