The Hollies Biography

Formed in Manchester, England, in 1962 by childhood friends Allan Clarke (Harold Allan Clarke, 5 April 1942, Salford, Lancashire, England; vocals), and Graham Nash (b. 2 February 1942, Blackpool, Lancashire, England; vocals/guitar). They had already been singing together locally for a number of years as a semi-professional duo under a number of names such as the Two Teens, the Levins, the Guytones, the Fourtones, and Ricky And Dane Young. They teamed up with Eric Haydock (b. 3 February 1942, Burnley, Lancashire, England; bass) to form the Deltas, and with the addition of Don Rathbone (drums) and the replacement of guitarist Vic Steele (b. Vic Farrell) by local guitar hero Tony Hicks (b. 16 December 1945, Nelson, Lancashire, England) from Ricky Shaw And The Dolphins, they became the Hollies. Almost immediately they were signed to the same label as the Beatles, the prestigious Parlophone Records. Their first two singles were covers of the Coasters’ ‘(Ain’t That) Just Like Me’ and ‘Searchin’’. Both made the UK Top 30 in summer 1963 and the band set about recording their first album.

At the same time Rathbone left to become their road manager and was replaced by Bobby Elliott (b. 8 December 1942, Burnley, Lancashire, England; ex-Ricky Shaw And The Dolphins, Shane Fenton And The Fentones). The band’s excellent live performances throughout Britain had already seasoned them for what was to become one of the longest beat group success stories in popular music. Their first two albums contained the bulk of their live act and both albums became long-time residents in the UK charts. Meanwhile, they were enjoying a train of singles hits that continued from 1963-74, and their popularity almost rivalled that of the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Infectious, well-produced hits such as Doris Troy’s ‘Just One Look’, ‘Here I Go Again’ and the sublime ‘Yes I Will’ all contained their trademark soaring harmonies. The voices of Clarke, Hicks and Nash combined to make one of the most distinctive sounds to be heard in popular music.

As their career progressed the aforementioned trio developed into a strong songwriting team, and wrote most of their own b-sides (initially under the pseudonyms of Chester-Mann and ‘L. Ransford’). On their superb third collection, Hollies in 1965, their talents blossomed notably with ‘Too Many People’, an early song about over-population. Their first UK number 1 came in 1965 with ‘I’m Alive’ and was followed within weeks by Graham Gouldman’s uplifting yet simple take ‘Look Through Any Window’. By Christmas 1965 the band experienced their first lapse when their recording of George Harrison’s ‘If I Needed Someone’ just scraped the UK Top 20 and brought with it some bad press. Both the Hollies and John Lennon took swipes at each other, venting frustration at the comparative failure of a Beatles song. Early in 1966, the band enjoyed a UK number 2 hit with ‘I Can’t Let Go’, which topped the New Musical Express chart jointly with the Walker Brothers’ ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’. ‘I Can’t Let Go’, co-written by Chip Taylor and originally recorded by Evie Sands, had already appeared on the previous year’s Hollies and was one of their finest recordings, combining soaring harmonies with some exceptionally strong, driving guitar work.

The enigmatic and troublesome Eric Haydock was sacked in April 1966 and was replaced by Hicks former colleague in the Dolphins, Bernie Calvert (b. 16 September 1942, Nelson, Lancashire, England). The Hollies success continued unabated with Graham Gouldman’s ‘Bus Stop’, the exotic ‘Stop Stop Stop’, and the poppier ‘On A Carousel’ and ‘Carrie-Anne’, all UK Top 5 hits, but also (at last) major Top 10 hits in the US Billboard chart. The Hollies were quick to join the ‘flower power’ bandwagon, as a more progressive feel had already pervaded their recent album, For Certain Because... , but with Evolution, their beads and kaftans were everywhere. That same year (1967) the release of the excellent Butterfly showed signs of discontent. Inexplicably, the album failed to make the charts in either the UK or the US. It marked two distinct types of songs from the previously united team of Nash/Clarke/Hicks. On one hand there was a Clarke-influenced song, ‘Charley And Fred’, and on the other an obvious Nash composition like ‘Butterfly’. Nash took a more ambitious route. His style was perfectly highlighted with the exemplary ‘King Midas In Reverse’, an imaginative song complete with brass and strings. It was, by Hollies standards, a surprising failure (UK number 18).

The following year during the proposals to make Hollies Sing Dylan, Nash announced his departure for Crosby, Stills And Nash. Nash had for some time been growing apart from his colleagues in the group and was immersing himself in the culture, lifestyle and music of the American west-coast. His replacement was Terry Sylvester (b. 8 January 1947, Liverpool, England) of the Escorts. Clarke was devastated by the departure of his friend of more than 20 years but decided to carry on. After the credible Hollies Sing Hollies and seven further hits, including the UK Top 5 hits ‘Sorry Suzanne’ and the hugely successful ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’, Clarke decided to leave for a solo career. The band soldiered on with the strange induction of Mikael Rickfors (b. 4 December 1948, Sweden), who sang on Romany and Out On The Road, the latter only being released in Germany. In the USA the million-selling ‘Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)’ narrowly missed the top spot in 1972, ironic also because Allan Clarke was the vocalist on this older number taken from the successful album Distant Light.

Clarke returned in late 1973 after an abortive solo career which included two average albums, My Real Name Is ’Arold and Headroom. The return was celebrated with the worldwide hit, ‘The Air That I Breathe’, composed by Albert Hammond. Over the next five years the Hollies pursued the supper-club and cabaret circuit as their chart appearances began to dwindle. Although their albums were well produced they were largely unexciting and sold poorly. Clarke left the band in late 1977 to have another stab at a solo career, but rejoined once again in August 1978 to help record Five Three One-Double Seven O Four. In 1981, Sylvester and Calvert left the band, and Alan Coates (b. 26 June 1953, London, England) was drafted in on guitar. Sensing major problems ahead, EMI Records suggested they put together a Stars On 45 -type segued single. The ensuing ‘Holliedaze’ was a UK Top 30 hit, and Graham Nash was flown over for the television promotion. Clarke, Nash, Hicks and Elliott reunited for 1983’s What Goes Around, which included a minor US hit with the Supremes’ ‘Stop! In The Name Of Love’. The album was justifiably slammed by the critics, and only made the US charts because of Nash’s association.

Following this, the Hollies went back to the oldies path with new members Denis Haines (keyboards) and Steve Stroud (bass). In 1985, Stroud was replaced by Ray Stiles (b. 20 November 1946, Guildford, Surrey, England; ex-Mud). In 1988, the use of ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ in a television commercial for Miller Lite lager prompted its reissue as a single. The song promptly shot to the top of the UK charts, although a reissue of ‘The Air That I Breathe’ was less successful. Ian Parker (b. 26 November 1953, Irvine, Ayrshire, England; keyboards) was recruited in 1990, and featured in the stable 90s line-up alongside Clarke, Elliott, Coates, Stiles, and the ever youthful Hicks. In 1993, the Hollies were given an Ivor Novello award in honour of their contribution to British music. Three years later Nash rejoined his old colleagues to help record a cover version of Buddy Holly’s ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’ for a tribute album. In March 2000, it was announced that Carl Wayne (b. Colin David Tooley, 18 August 1943, Birmingham, England, d. 31 August 2004, England; ex-Move) would be replacing Allan Clarke as lead singer, who had decided to retire. Wayne stayed with the Hollies until his death from cancer in August 2004.

The seven albums recorded by the Hollies with Graham Nash between 1964 and 1967 represent some truly magnificent quality pop music. They remain cruelly underrated although their longevity is assured; their expertly crafted, uplifting harmonic songs represent some of the greatest music to emerge from the 60s pop scene.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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