THE HOLLIES: CHATTING WITH ALLAN CLARKE

This article is written by MIKE RAGOGNA at THE HUFFINGTON POST

MIKE RAGOGNA: ALLAN CLARKE of THE HOLLIES…How the heck are you?

ALLAN CLARKE: So well. How are you, Mike?

MR: Terrific, sir. OK. Let’s talk about the new DVD LOOK THROUGH ANY WINDOW that captures THE HOLLIES from 1963 through 1975. How did this project come together?

AC: Well, a guy named DAVID PECK rang me up one day – he runs a firm called REELIN’ IN THE YEARS that has put out a lot of really great DVDs about some great people. He asked me if he could do a DVD about THE HOLLIES. I thought it was about time that something be done like that because nothing had ever been done about THE HOLLIES. It took him a couple of years to get the stuff together and some of the stuff that came to light even I had forgotten about. Most of the things that are on the DVD are full length performances and then there are interviews with myself, GRAHAM NASH, TONY HICKS and BOBBY ELLIOTT. It really spans that time between 1963 and 1975 because that covers most of our hits.

MR: On the DVD, you discuss JERRY LEE LEWIS and how you were inspired by his energy and that energy was in THE HOLLIES’ recording of I CAN’T LET GO.

AC: I don’t know how far back you go in your knowledge of music. I go way, way back, but when I was young, my favourite artists were JERRY LEE LEWIS, LITTLE RICHARD, BUDDY HOLLY and EDDIE COCHRAN. Those songs, at that particular time, had this feel that whenever you heard them, you had to get up and dance. And of course that’s what we did. It’s like whenever you heard the song GREAT BALLS OF FIRE the excitement sort of crept into the body and you had to get up and dance. I CAN’T LET GO gave me that same sort of feel. It got me the first time I heard the original song. I’m just glad that we were able to remake it and have a hit.

MR: There are many on camera interviews on the DVD. Can you share the one about CARRIE ANNE with us?

AC: Well, once we were doing THE TOM JONES SHOW in England and as I was walking down the corridor, I heard GRAHAM and TONY singing this song that sounded great and I thought I’d better get in there and see what was happening because I needed some of that song. (laughs) I think that TONY was pretty much doing it on TAMBOURINE MAN to rouse up CARRIE ANNE…and I got the middle eight on it, so I was really pleased.

MR: The way that you guys recorded your group vocals is shown on the DVD and it was very interesting to watch. There’s footage of the three of you around a microphone because, apparently, you wanted to be able to look at each other’s lips. Is that how it worked?

AC: There just happened to be a film crew in the recording studio that day and they asked if it was OK for them to come and get some footage of us recording stuff and we agreed. So none of that was really planned. We just happened to be doing what we always did earlier in our career; the three of us would be around one mic and we would pre record the bass track in a basic form and then put the vocals down, then do double harmonies. Then GRAHAM would usually add a treble harmony on top of all of that. We tried to be really careful not to overdo things. That just happened to be the way that we always recorded our harmonies. It was very raw.

When we first got to ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS and realized we would be working with four tracks, we thought that was really great, because when we went down to EMI to try and get a deal, we went in and played our whole menu that we did on the road in an afternoon and it turned out to be our first album. So you really didn’t have too much time to mess around.

MR: While we’re on the subject of EMI, what is the story of how THE HOLLIES got signed to the label?

AC: Let’s face it. If it hadn’t been for THE BEATLES I don’t think any of us would be where we are today. When they actually broke through on the charts with LOVE ME DO, all of the record companies in London were sending their A&R men up to Manchester and Liverpool to try and get as many groups as they could because they knew that there was going to be an explosion of Northern Sound and we were one of the lucky ones to pass our audition. I think we were one of the best after THE BEATLES. I think we only became signed because of them…but in the eyes of the public, we were THE BEATLES of Manchester. That’s what happened; a lot of groups got into recording because of THE BEATLES.

MR: On the DVD, we’re treated to footage of ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS with gents running around in white coats.

AC: Yes, that’s right – the engineers. (laughs) In the early days in England, all of the radio personalities were very posh and it was the same for all of the technicians in that studio. I don’t know why, but that’s how it was. It was really very strange.

MR: And there were the tea boys, many of whom became popular engineers or producers later on.

AC: Tea makers like TIM RICE used to go out and get tea for us in the early days.

MR: Wow. At what point did you start working with RON RICHARDS?

AC: RON came up to see us at THE CAVERN where we were performing one night and he just gave us a once over because he was supposed to be the guy that was going to take us into the studio and record us. He liked us straight off. GEORGE MARTIN got THE BEATLES and he got us. He was a great man. He had a great ear for songs and it was more or less down to him picking the songs that we recorded. We always knew that we had one song in the can when RON would tell us to “Come on up and have a listen.” Then we knew that we didn’t have to do any more to the song.

MR: Great. And ALAN PARSONS worked on HOLLIES recordings.

AC: He was actually an engineer at ABBEY ROAD before he went out on his own. He had such a great career with THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT. I did a single called BREAKDOWN on one of his albums myself and I really enjoyed it. He was just a brilliant engineer. I really enjoyed it.

MR: I remember it. Great track. By the way, THE HOLLIES’ ANOTHER NIGHT with SANDY, I’M DOWN and that hypnotic title track – is one of my favourite albums, which was beautifully engineered by ALAN and I think it’s an early sonic blueprint of what he did with THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT on ARISTA, obviously not arrangement wise. Allan, it seems that THE HOLLIES’ success also can be attributed to the team that surrounded you.

AC: You’re right. It was very much a combination of not only the group but the people behind the group. What we used to do when we knew we were going to have to get an album together was meet with everyone for about three weeks prior to recording and start getting ideas together. We got into a rhythm of being able to write songs that we thought would be great for the albums. And you’re right…I did love the ANOTHER NIGHT album and I wish it would have been a bigger hit than it was because we really thought that that one was going to help us break through again in America and that we’d be touring here. It didn’t really work out that way, but we enjoyed making the album and I think that a lot of that was because of RON RICHARDS and the ideas that he had for the songs that we wrote.

MR: Very nice. Now you recorded outside of THE HOLLIES as a solo artist. In fact, weren’t you one of the ones that caught on early to the music of a BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN?

AC: I could say that. I won’t, however, take any credit for BRUCE’S music and ability because he proved that all on his own. The story behind that is that there was a publisher who got some of his stuff before he broke and I remember this publisher playing his songs and thinking that they were great and wanting to record all of the songs, which I did. I even recorded a version of BORN TO RUN. But BRUCE got his out before me…and that’s history. (laughs) No, I’m a great admirer of his. Always loved his stuff and always will.

MR: Getting back to THE HOLLIES, can you tell us the story behind how you guys came up with that name?

AC: That was a long time ago now, but I think it had to do with BUDDY HOLLY, of course. It was also Christmastime so that influenced it as well. Ultimately, it was out of panic because as we were going to go on stage to play, the MC asked what he should call us and we just told him to call us THE HOLLIES and it stuck.

MR: Are there any cool stories that we might not know about you guys before you became a big group?

AC: Many people don’t know this, but GRAHAM and I played on the first ROLLING STONES single NOT FADE AWAY. We were just walking past a recording studio where THE STONES were recording and they asked us to come in because they needed some help. It was myself, GRAHAM and GENE PITNEY. I think GENE was clinking a two penny piece against a brandy bottle and I was playing maracas. But we were on the single. (laughs)

MR: Awesome. How did THE HOLLIES assemble originally?

AC: I met GRAHAM as a five year old 64 years ago and we’ve been friends ever since. We got together and always sang together right up until our dads bought us guitars and we started playing skiffle. Then skiffle turned into rock & roll and we started doing THE EVERLY BROTHERS and BUDDY HOLLY stuff. After that, we got a band together and were in so many different kinds of bands that eventually it got to THE HOLLIES and we turned professional. But all of that was over the span of about 15 or 16 years.

MR: Nice. Then you had BERNIE come on for the song BUS STOP. Can you tell us how that came about?

AC: Well, ERIC HAYDOCK left the group and we needed somebody to replace him really quickly because we were in the midst of recording and doing live shows. As it turns out, BERNIE was around and he had worked with TONY HICKS and BOBBY ELLIOT in a previous group called THE DOLPHINS. He fit in right away. He was a very heavy and laid back bass player and that’s what we needed. He was quite different from ERIC.

MR: Yeah. That song became quite a classic in the US. Why do you think that is?

AC: It’s just one of those classic songs that lasts forever. It was written by a guy named GRAHAM GOULDMAN, who brought it to GRAHAM NASH when we were looking for new songs. The two songs that we took from him were that one and LOOK THROUGH ANY WINDOW, which wound up being a big hit here in the States.

MR: Let’s talk about some of your other hit songs, like your anthem HE AIN’T HEAVY, HE’S MY BROTHER. Can you tell us the story behind that one?

AC: Well, TONY HICKS used to go around to publisher’s offices trying to pick up songs to play for RON. One day, he came upon the song on a publisher’s desk and asked the publisher what the song was like and he said, “You won’t like this one. It’s a ballad.” But TONY listened to it anyway and he really liked it. So he came back and played it for us in the studio and we said that it was slow, but it was great. The lyrics were fantastic and it actually meant something, so we knew we had to give it a try. It was very slow in taking off, but when it did, it was so big.

MR: I would say it’s one of the great pop records of all time.

AC: Fancy being the guy that sang that. (laughs)

MR: (laughs) Can you tell us about LONG COOL WOMAN IN A BLACK DRESS?

AC: ROGER COOK was a great friend of mine and we used to write a lot of songs together. That particular song we weren’t really taking very seriously. We used to meet at the studio and have a bottle of brandy and mess around with tunes and such. About 15 minutes after we started writing this song, it was over, done and written and I thought, “Wow, that was quick.”

So I brought it back to the studio and played it for the guys and the guys thought it was a great album track. They told me to play the guitar and sing, which I did…and again, the whole song was recorded in less than 30 minutes. I did one take of vocals and guitar and the guys said we should leave it like that because it didn’t need any more. It was one of those songs that had those HOLLIES harmonies and it went on the album. The next thing I knew, I had someone ringing me from the States saying that they wanted to publish the song because it was racing up the charts. We didn’t even dream that that song would be as big as it was. It was just one of those songs that came out of the ether and it’s a classic.

MR: I think for many guitar players, it’s still mandatory to learn your guitar hook.

AC: Everyone tries. (laughs) We were being inducted to the ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME a couple of years back and one of the posh guitar players that was playing there as well came up to me and asked me how I played that guitar lick because he couldn’t figure it out. And after I showed it to them, they were amazed at how easy it was and they were making it so difficult.

MR: That’s great. It’s also great that you guys were inducted into the ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME. How do you feel about your career and that of THE HOLLIES?

AC: Speaking for myself, I think that I am just one of the luckiest guys in the world to be able to have done what I did and enjoy it. I got paid for something which I love to do and had some great success. But, as I tried to tell my grandchildren who are now playing guitars and such, you have to be in the right place at the right time for these things to happen.

THE HOLLIES were and what followed after that was a combination of people getting together to make great music and the audiences actually going out and buying it and putting us where we were. It’s not just us five guys. There are a lot of other people that had to be in the mix. I’m glad because everyone seems to know THE HOLLIES and they know us for the music. I mean, I walk down the street now and people haven’t a clue who I am, which is nice. But when I’m in America and they play LONG COOL WOMAN in the store, I can’t help but enjoy how much everyone enjoys the music.

What a great thing to have achieved.

MR: And we can’t forget to discuss another song everyone loves, THE AIR THAT I BREATHE, from another terrific album, the self titled THE HOLLIES.

AC: Right. That one was originally recorded by PHIL EVERLY and RON RICHARDS’assistant played it for me because she thought it was a great song and that THE HOLLIES should do it. I loved the song, so I took it to RON again and we wound up putting it down and having another great hit. That’s one of the only songs where you can hear the first note and know exactly what song it is.

MR: That’s right. We also know STOP STOP STOP because of that banjo part.

AC: Yeah. The first time we came to America, we played at this theatre in New York and we were on with SOUPY SALES…remember him? (laughs) LITTLE RICHARD was also on the bill and JIMI HENDRIX, who played for LITTLE RICHARD at the time…and tons of others. One of those nights, we went out to a club owned by the guy who was producing these shows called THE ROUND TABLE and there was a Turkish belly dancer in there doing her bit. That’s where we got the idea for the song STOP STOP STOP. The lyrics were swimming round in our heads. Some of it we even wrote in a taxi. The idea of it was to get this Turkish theme by using the banjo and it worked very, very well.

MR: There was a period for THE HOLLIES when there was an absence of a certain ALLAN CLARKE. What happened?

AC: Well, when I was writing the songs of ROGER COOK before LONG COOL WOMAN was a hit, I was playing with the idea of doing some solo stuff and I had all of this material that I needed to do. I approached the guys and said that I had some stuff that we weren’t recording so I wanted to record it myself. I think that what they thought was that if I had any success of my own, I would leave the group like RYAN did and they weren’t really willing to put up with that, you know?

So I was told it was either stay with the group or leave the group and record on your own. I decided to leave and went into the studio and started doing my own stuff. The guys found another guy to replace me and I thought he had a great voice. They had about three hits with him. He reminded me a lot of SCOTT WALKER. But unfortunately for THE HOLLIES, he didn’t quite have the presence on stage that I had. After about three years, they all came back to me and asked me if I would like to come back to the group and I accepted because I never wanted to leave in the first place.

MR: THE HOLLIES’ seventies albums were terrific for the era. And have we spoken about that masterpiece from RUSSIAN ROULETTE – WIGGLE & WOTSIT – yet?

AC: That was a terrible song! (laughs) I don’t like to say that I had anything to do with the writing of that song, honestly. (laughs) It was a fun song. We were experimenting with different sounds and different ways of writing songs. That’s what those albums were more or less about. I thought the album A CRAZY STEAL was beautiful. We thought that we had a chance of getting hits with the newer songs we were making because they were different and more in the American way, but it wasn’t meant to be. The songs are still there though and they still sound great.

MR: Allan, with all of the success and experience that you’ve gained over your life and extensive career, is there any advice you would give to a new artist?

AC: (laughs) I suppose it would be the same advice that I am giving to my 18 year old grandson,who is a brilliant guitar player and songwriter. I tell him that the reason it all happened as it did is because I was in the right place at the right time and I was doing it for fun. It just happened to turn into a career without me doing anything to promote it at all. It doesn’t happen like that for everyone. What you’ve got to do is keep your feet on the floor and do the best that you can in anything that you do. Don’t make the music the most important thing and think you’re going to be number one; you have to just enjoy your music and I hope that it can happen for people the way that it happened for me.

MR: Now that THE HOLLIES have all been reunited for the release of this DVD, do you think there’s any chance of you doing anything else together?

AC: No, I don’t think so. I’m working on this project with GRAHAM and the other guys are working away in England somewhere. I left the group 10 years ago and one of the reasons I left was because I wasn’t able to hit the high notes any more. I figured I would rather be known for what was than as someone who tried to struggle on for too long. My wife was also diagnosed with cancer in 1999 and we decided that it was time I put my guitar away. We thought we’d just spend the rest of our lives hoping the cancer would go away, which it did and she’s doing beautifully.

MR: Beautiful, Allan. I’m happy for you both. Thank you so much for spending this time with us. We could talk about so much more.

AC: I could talk for the rest of the day about things that happened in our careers…the reason why GRAHAM left, how we met and stayed friends, because, as I said, we’ve been friends for 64 years and will be for many more. I will actually be seeing him later this year because we are being given BUDDY HOLLY guitars by an organization called THE BUDDY HOLLY GUITAR ORGANIZATION that has made 25 copies of his favourite guitars. GRAHAM and I both get one.

MR: I hope you both enjoy them for many years to come. Thank you again for your time and conversation. It was an honour.

AC: Thank you Mike for having me. The honour was all mine.

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