Interview: The Hollies

The Hollies live, 2011
The Hollies live, 2011
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More than 50 years in the business and going strong, The Hollies return to the North West this spring. MARTIN HUTCHINSON caught up with founder member Bobby Elliott and asked the secret of their enduring success

Longevity in the music business is a rare commodity – few pop bands last more than five years; some last by splitting up and then reforming (sometimes more than once).

‘We don’t get too clever... and we’d get lynched if we didn’t do the hits!’

But this year one band celebrates more than 50 years of music making, and in all that time they never split up, and two of the band who were there at the start remain in place.

Who else but, The Hollies, who are undertaking a UK tour to celebrate their massive catalogue of hits.

Getting together around Christmas time 1962, they enjoyed an amazing run of chart success.

No less than 30 hits, including such classics as The Air That I Breathe, I’m Alive (their first number one), We’re Through and The Woman I Love, make up their highly impressive repertoire.

Their most famous, the 1969 number two He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother, became their second chart topper when re-released in 1988.

As well as hit singles, the band produced a number of highly acclaimed albums including their renditions of Bob Dylan songs and an album of Buddy Holly covers (it has been suggested the name of the band came from the high regard founder members Allan Clarke and Graham Nash had for Holly).

By autumn 1963 Clarke and Nash had been joined by Tony Hicks on guitars, Eric Haydock on bass and Bobby Elliott on drums.

Hicks and Elliott still steer the ship today, superbly complemented by bassist Ray Stiles (ex-Mud), a member since 1988; Ian Parker on keyboards, who joined in 1990, and Peter Howarth on vocals and Steve Lauri on guitar, who both joined in 2004.

Much of The Hollies’ success came from the Clarke, Hicks, Nash partnership, who not only wrote many of the hits, but supplied the band’s trademark three-part harmony (now it’s Hicks, Howarth and Lauri).

Bobby Elliott is confident the band can continue to ply their musical trade, long after the 50th year.

“Everything is good in Hollieland at the moment,” he tells me.

“We are getting revved up and are really looking forward to it.”

The band has a very hectic touring schedule which takes them all over the world.

“We’re popular on the continent and ‘Down Under’, but we aren’t going to Australia this year. We’ve been there two years on the trot and we tend to only go every couple of years.”

“The last time we were there, we met up with Bruce Springsteen in Perth, who was there with Nils Lofgren, and ended up chatting with Nils about hip replacements.”

Bob laughs at the memory.

“Actually, he told me he’d had some new ceramic hips fitted made by a company called Smith & Nephew.

He said I wouldn’t have heard of them, but I had to tell him that Smith and Nephew owned practically all the mills in Brierfield just down the road from where I lived.”

The show itself promises to be a hit-fest, as Bobby explains.

“We’d get lynched if we didn’t do the hits, but what’s gratifying is that we’re now getting requests to perform some of the newer songs from the recent ‘Staying Power’ and ‘Then, Now, Always’ albums.”

“We don’t want to get too clever, you don’t change a winning formula,” he continues.

The Hollies toured the UK in autumn, but Bob says this is regarded as a new tour.

“Yes, we’re considering this as a brand new tour, we might just change a couple of things from last time, but not too much.”

“The autumn dates went well, there were no problems apart from having to cancel the Bromley show because of a fire; but we’re going back to Bromley at the end of March.”

The band aren’t planning to make many changes to the set-list as the drummer – now 73 - tells me.

“We have added Dolphin Days from the Then, Now, Always album as it’s like a potted history of the band and tells of me and Tony going down to Manchester joining the rest of the lads.”

Bobby and the band are obviously looking forward to the UK tour.

“Absolutely! We love playing in Britain – always have.”

Unlike many bands that became famous in the 60s, The Hollies always remained popular, and Bobby thinks he knows the reason.

“We’ve been blessed with the quality of the songs, plus we had so many hits we can go on stage and do two and a half hours.”

The band has always been known for their exemplary musicianship, and Bobby is the first to sing the praises of his band-mates.

“It’s a joy working with them, they are great musicians – and along with our loyal team of technicians, are terrific company.

“We have fun on the road. Fun is the drug – and 50 years on, it’s the reason Tony and I love being The Hollies.”

“We’re lucky in that we tour a lot and don’t need much in the way of rehearsals,” says Bobby.

“We expect everybody to know what they’re doing, and of course they do.”

And there’s another treat in store for Hollies fans as Bobby tells me.

The Hollies at 50; a three-cd retrospective of the band has recently been released.

Bobby, who always has a hand in archive releases is proud of it.

“It’s a look back at some of the band’s history.” He says.

“And we have recorded a new track especially for the collection, called Skylarks.”

Music aficionados can see some Hollies memorabilia at a Pop Exhibition at the Grammy Museum and Beatles’ Story in Liverpool.

“I’ve donated a snare drum, stage clothing and a life-size cut-out to the exhibition.” Says Bob.

“And also a postcard I sent home when I was touring America.”

Bobby is also the bands’ archivist and he is putting this to good use.

“That’s right, I’m in the middle of a book about my life story and The Hollies – growing up in the north and suchlike.”

“I’m going through all the memorabilia – the place is like a tip.” He grins.

But the tour is the main focus and the band is committed to putting on a good show.

“It’s terrific working with these guys, both band and crew, we’re all as daft as ever.”

He concludes, “There’s a lot of laughter and high spirits in the team and we hope it is reflected in the audiences.”

The Hollies are bringing their unsurpassed repertoire of timeless music to The Grand Theatre, Blackpool on Sunday April 12.

Tickets are available from the Box Office on 01253 290190 and all the usual agencies.