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The Hollies Hit 50

by David Soulsby, author of the novel Somewhere in the Distance


Eagerly flicking through the racks at the local record store, my gaze is attracted by the five fresh-faced young men smiling out from the bright, colourful album cover. Their eyes are   focused fully on the camera, confident in what they’re doing, not in an arrogant way, but simply letting everyone know that they’ll be doing the best they can to make a name for themselves in a tough, highly competitive music business. They’re saying ‘Listen to us, you won't be disappointed’. And you aren’t.

Two Chuck Berry classics, a Little Richard showstopper, a Ray Charles standard, a Conway Twitty crowd-pleaser and a raucous dance number by The Contours are among the tracks performed on this, their debut album. But it’s the song that gives the album its title that defines their enthusiastic and stylish way with a tune: Stay, the short but oh-so-sweet Maurice Williams’ anthem. It’s a hit for the group — and The Hollies, with their Everly Brothers-influenced harmonies, are on the stairway to fame.

It’s hard to believe that Stay With The Hollies was released in March 1964, some 48 years ago. It’s stood the test of time and sounds as fresh and energetic today as it did then. The album was launched just as The Beatles had made their all-conquering first visit to America that paved the way for the great British Invasion across the Atlantic. So, while the Fab Four were putting Liverpool on the map, The Hollies were attracting similar recognition for Manchester, as were Herman’s Hermits and Freddie and the Dreamers.

Fifty years after their formation The Hollies are still touring, playing to full houses, the popularity of their many Sixties hits still alive. I saw them recently and they were splendid. Two of the Sixties stalwarts, lead guitarist Tony Hicks and drummer Bobby Elliott, are still going strong. They were hailed as rock ‘n’ roll legends during the show, and I wouldn’t argue with that.

As the Stay album hits the shops, the big news on television and newspapers is the marriage of screen goddess Elizabeth Taylor to Richard Burton, the tough, hell-raising Welsh leading man. It’s a union made in heaven, we’re told, and the world wallows in the glow. The beautiful couple are treated like royalty, and the glamour and glitz of the whole affair is impossible to escape.

As a contrast, the other headlines that attract our attention surround the trial of Jack Ruby, the killer of President John Kennedy’s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. We in Britain had an avid interest in the proceedings. We hung on every dramatic detail and revelation, still, like America, stunned by the Dallas event that had rocked the world just a few months earlier. So it‘s against this background that The Hollies come to the attention of British music fans. We’re looking for something new and they fit the bill perfectly. We felt that we had put The Beatles on the road to super stardom and now we wanted to give others the chance to shine, and the five Manchester lads prove to be well worthy of the attention. And later on they too make their mark in America. 

When I visited Manchester in the late Sixties on a writing assignment, the northern city’s once-thriving music scene was a pale shadow of its heyday, having been hard hit by the closure of many of its live venues, a myriad of small clubs where scores of bands and musicians belted out rock ‘n’ roll and blues week-in week-out, serving their musical apprenticeship.

The city, which was much maligned by outsiders who portrayed it as a dull place where it always rained and the sun shone rarely, was undergoing changes, as were The Hollies. The city was reinventing itself as a leading conference centre, investing large sums of money in new hotels and improved amenities and infrastructure. The Hollies were reconstructing too. They’d done their experimental album and leader Graham Nash was looking to progress from there, but the group’s other members had other ideas, wanting to release an album of Bob Dylan songs.  Nash was having none of it, quitting the group, not because he didn’t like Dylan, far from it. It just thought it was a retrograde step, rather than looking to the future. So he went off to team up with David Crosby and Stephen Stills and even bigger stardom in the Seventies.

David Soulsby lives in Romford, Essex,David Soulsby England, and is now retired after 46 years as a journalist. During his career, he worked on local and national newspapers and magazines, and in the Sixties met many of his musical heroes, including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Sonny Boy Williamson, James Brown and Mel Torme. He’s now freelancing as a writer and proof-reader, working from home. He’s the author of Somewhere In The Distance, a novel about four friends growing up in the Sixties.




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