Evergreen legends The Hollies are back on tour

The Hollies at Buxton Opera House.
The Hollies at Buxton Opera House.
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For more than 50 years The Hollies have been recording and touring pretty much non-stop and it appears that they and the fans wouldn’t want that to change.

As one of the major groups of the Sixties, the band was almost ever-present in the charts with hits like Just One Look, Jennifer Eccles, I Can’t Let Go and I’m Alive’ (which hit the top of the charts in 1965.

Their final hit of the decade – their twentieth top thirty hit – was what has since become their anthem, the emotive He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother, which although it only reached number three in the charts on its original release, hit the number one spot when re-released in 1988.

The hits continued up until 1994, with their albums being critically acclaimed.

For much of this time, the core trio of vocalist Allan Clarke, drummer Bobby Elliott and guitarist Tony Hicks kept the band rolling on.

In 1999 Clarke retired and was replaced by The Move’s Carl Wayne, but in 2004 Carl passed away.

The band today consists of Bobby and Tony with bassist Ray Stiles (ex-Mud, joined in 1988), keyboardist Ian Parker (joined 1990), second guitarist Steve Lauri and lead singer Peter Howarth, who both joined in 2004.

The band’s Northern roots are still intact as both Bobby and Tony hail from the Nelson/Colne area of Lancashire whilst Howarth hails from Blackpool, coincidentally where founder member Graham Nash was born.

The ever-youthful Tony Hicks, who like Bobby Elliott, is now in his seventies, remembers how he joined the band.

“At the time, the line-up was Allan Clarke, Graham Nash, Eric Haydock, Don Rathbone and Vic Steele. Vic didn’t want to turn professional and they approached me.”

But Tony was already in a band. “I was comfortable playing with Bob in a band called The Dolphins, and I was an apprentice electrician,” he said.

The band asked Tony to go and see them play. “I got on the Ribble bus to Manchester and went to see them.”

And how did he feel when he was asked to join?

“I was surprised really.”

As is the same with any young musician, Tony had his heroes, as he explains.

“I think most of the great guitarists: James Burton; Scotty Moore, who played with Elvis and had no gimmicks; and to be honest Hank Marvin.”

“And there was a brilliant session musician called ‘Big’ Jim Sullivan, who has played on loads of records.”

With guitar in hand, Tony was at The Hollies’ first recording session. “We went to Abbey Road for a couple of hours and recorded The Coasters’ Just Like Me which was our first hit in May 1963,” he said.

From then on, the band could do no wrong.

Along with Clarke and Nash, Tony invented the three-part harmonies that became a trademark of the group, and also co-wrote many of the songs.

He was also joined by old friends in Bobby Elliott and Bernie Calvert, who both started out in The Dolphins before becoming Hollies.

Line-up changes naturally took place, but Tony and Bobby still remain in the band.

“It’s not bad is it, to be in the same band for over 50 years?” he grins.

Of all The Hollies’ tracks, Tony picks out three that stand out for him.

“I think my favourites are the same as the audience’s really,”

“The Air That I Breathe is a real show-stopper and has a decent bit of guitar work.” he states in a big blast of understatement.

“Then of course He Ain’t Heavy is a big favourite, and also Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress, which was a number one in America and because of the lack of vocal harmonies is very unlike The Hollies.”

To have remained firm favourites for all this time is rare, and The Hollies can still sell out tours that feature a full show, and not have to resort to appearing on package tours. I ask Tony what the secret is.

“I think it’s because we have managed to keep the hits coming, and when we do a live show we live up to what is expected of us.”

With a hint of pride in his voice, he continued: “People don’t go away disappointed and they keep coming back year after year. We do change a few of the arrangements from time to time to move it on and keep things fresh.”

In a change to the routine, the band hasn’t visited the Antipodes this winter. “We’d been there three years running so we’re giving it a break, but we’ll be back there next year. We get bigger responses today than we ever have, it’s great.”

After such a great career, I ask if there is anything that Tony would still like to do. “No, I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing. To be honest, we’ve done it all. We’ve played everywhere, done everything and even been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

“We and the audience are content with what we do. They want the nostalgia and I understand that.”

He added: . “If I go to see a band live, I want to hear the songs I know.”

And speaking of which, what can we expect to hear on the 2016 tour which rolls into Buxton Opera House on Friday, September 30, and Salford’s Lowry Theatre on October 1?

“Well, absolutely all of the hits and a few new things. We play a new song by Bob and Peter called Priceless and Peter does his acoustic bit.

“Also, we’re allowing our lighting man to go to town; we spend a lot more on sound and lighting than most bands.”

“It will be a great night of music,” he concluded.