Hollies Live In Guildford

Hollies live in Guildford 7th October 2017

Sold out. Again. More than a thousand Hollies fans filing into the G-Live venue, the younger aficionados never having seen a band line-up different from this – the most stable Hollies grouping ever, established in 2004!

After the fanfare, the Hollies plug in and go straight into “King Midas in Reverse”. Fifty years on, my goosebumps still work as if this was September 1967 – when this song was the dry run for the Hollies’ psychedelic album statement Butterfly. But before you can utter ‘butterfly’, the agile sextet are already launching into “I Can’t Let Go”. You can only do that if you got many hits, and hits to spare. No wonder their latest live double is called We Got the Tunes!

The everlasting summer smashes “Sorry Suzanne” and “Jennifer Eccles” showcase four basic ingredients of the Hollies’ magic touch: Peter Howarth’s astute lead vocals, the sophisticated harmony work of Steve, Ray and Tony’s, Bob’s classy engine-room and Mr. Hicks’ inventive and still underrated guitar chops. It is the leading axe man who assures us that his band will deliver all of their chart smashes in the course of the evening – and the crowd love the idea.

“On A Carousel” – the original once filmed by a ‘World In Action’ Granada TV crew while it was assembled at Abbey Road Studios – gets a re-vamped live arrangement which is near enough to the single to evoke our memories, but ever so fresh as it suits a working, happy band. Peter announces a new front man: Singing bass player Ray Stiles occupies the central mic for a fine delivery of a romantic highlight, “Gasoline Alley Bred”, one of the band’s most sophisticated singles in terms of the message and its rhythmic and harmonic structure.

Peter Howarth re-appears from his post as backing singer – memories of his time on Cliff and Who world tours. He’s got his acoustic strapped on and, classically trained as well as a pro of dynamics, tenderly leads into a solo introduction of “Listen To Me”. In the course of his rendition, Steve and Tony and Ray stroll back on, while drummer Bobby Elliott and keyboard wizard Ian Parker take their positions and play their impressive parts. How do you top this kind of staging? Via “Weakness”, the fine ballad off the Hollies newer CD Staying Power.

Time for some up-tempo change of tack: Bobby was 24 years old when he recorded the chart smash “We’re Through” – the way he grooves and rolls and para-diddles through this dance friendly tune, he’s locked in exactly that age bracket – a sure winner with lead & harmonies in full flow and even Parky taking part in the vocal delivery, his miner’s lamp flashing madly! It’s always healthy for a band to look into the future: Howarth & Elliott are still writing songs together. One of their recent and surely finest is “Priceless”, based on a beautiful poem by Bobby, which receives a moving rendition by Peter, applauded by a mesmerized audience. For the dramatic love lament “I Can’t Tell the Bottom From the Top”, Howarth again performs accompanied only by guitar and keyboards, before the band join proceedings again.

“Just One Look” provides a beautiful sound & vision picture when guitarists Steve Lauri and Tony Hicks join Peter on his mic, pure harmony in song and underlying message. Very soon though, Bobby Elliott makes his prime presence felt during “Stay” – whenever Bob hits his cymbals from underneath, his fans know he’s in his element, and it happens non-stop! “Look Through Any Window” is another wistful tune – it sends the audience into the intermission.

What better way to start the second set than with the group version of “Here I Go Again”? Peter had beautifully rearranged it as a singer/songwriter folk tune, but now it’s great to have the original back. And the hits keep on coming: The Hollies scored with the Supremes’ evergreen “Stop! In The Name Of Love” during the 1980s, the catchy tune now leading into “Yes I Will” and “Bus Stop”, classics from the Sixties, before Parky announces a very special song “that was number one on Top of the Pops in 1965” – “I’m Alive”: The audience is now wailing in Hollies country: these hits will never cease to amaze and alight!

More exotic sounds are to follow when Tony Hicks introduces a beautiful instrument that “looks and plays like a guitar, but plays like a sitar”. Hollies admirer Phil Collins would call it Moroccan Roll, but it’s really the introduction to “The Baby”, a Chip Taylor song where the Hollies were rewarded for their spirited experiment with another Top 20 listing. Bobby then steps forward for a rare appearance at the stage front: His book of personal and Hollies memoirs is at the editor for appraisal, and the author cites an anecdote on tour in Adelaide, Australia with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band in order to introduce Peter’s performance of The Boss’s “4th July Asbury Park” as “Sandy”, with the band again strolling in during his rendition.

After the catchy crowd-pleaser “Carrie Anne”, Howarth picks up writer Elliott’s storytelling by taking the auditorium to a New York night-club in the Sixties, where one of the Hollies got carried away in appreciating the features of a female belly dancer. “Want to know who it was? Peter asks. “Read Bobby’s book!” Want to know how it was? Listen to “Stop Stop Stop”, which told the story all along, and performed with panache by a forever young group here – making clear that both Steve Lauri and Tony Hicks are tremendous guitar players!

Ballad time, and Peter takes out his harmonica for the trademark intro to “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”. All of his vocal range and all of the band’s harmony expertise are needed for its full impact, and they all succeed with flying colours. Which is the most significant of the timeless, giant ballads this band has made famous? Howarth settles for “The Air That I Breathe” as “the greatest Hollies ballad ever” which takes as much drama and dynamite to perform adequately. Here, it’s Tony’s famous lead guitar intro, Parky’s deft orchestration and last but not least Bobby’s inimitable way with effective, stunning tom tom use that cuts to the chase so convincingly.

After the tears – the party mood. The Hollies have always relished “Long Cool Woman” as their final, rocking toe-tapper. But it takes Peter Howarth to turn it into a full-blown audience participation vehicle. Singing along, they watch in disbelief how Messrs Lauri & Parker are engaged in a mid-song comic kerfuffle, where percussion instruments are used- misused and finally thrown backstage. Beautiful! At the same time, call & response duties are handled by the Guildford crowd as if they did that every night.

You can feel that the Hollies themselves actually love to do that every night. They will soon be on the road to Southampton, and after a single day off will fly to Norway for more concerts on their mission of having the tunes – and sharing the tunes!                           

Uli Twelker