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St David’s Hall, Cardiff, Wed 19 Oct

How groovy! I was finally going to experience the fab Hollies – live! Not arriving in the 1950s hindered my ability to fully participate in the British Invasion, and that was a real drag. Since I couldn’t switch bodies with my older sister, I’ve had to make do with seeing The Kinks, The Who, Eric Burdon and others the second time around.

Because the Hollies toured my neck of the woods so infrequently, then not at all, I had to wait for this introduction until I finally moved over the pond. What bad timing then that a meeting I was in ran over, and I wound up missing some of their best songs (I Cant Let Go, Sorry Suzanne and On A Carousel) at the start. Drat!

Unless you’ve been in suspended animation like Austin Powers, you know that Graham Nash has long departed the band and that lead singer Allan Clarke retired awhile back. No, they don’t sound exactly the same, but that shouldn’t keep you from seeing them live. This isn’t a tribute band, and the angelic, divine three-part (and more) harmonies are there.

Heart-and-soul original members (now don’t split hairs, you purists) lead guitarist/singer Tony Hicks and drummer extraordinaire Bobby Elliott are keeping things going (50 years plus!) to the pleasure of their many devoted fans. And with over 30 singles on the UK charts (much more worldwide counting all vinyl) during their long history, they’ve never broken up and have toured every year since they began.

Peter Howarth isn’t a Clarke clone, but then no one’s going to have those distinctive, glorious, soaring vocals. Howarth does an admirable job and has a lovely, strong voice that was showcased especially well alone on a new song, Priceless, as well as solo on the first half of I Cant Tell The Bottom From The Top, with the band rejoining later. He showed he’s an excellent acoustic guitarist, playing on those songs and others like Springsteen’s Sandy.

I want to know what vitamins Hicks and Elliott are downing in the morning because they’re ageless when it comes to musical prowess. They were bang on, playing as if no time had passed at all. Elliott’s always been one of rock’s premier drummers (he even beat out Keith Moon at an audition) and Hicks is up there with other pre-eminent axemen such as George Harrison. Gorgeous harmonizing all around, as expected, features on Here I Go Again, the Beatlesque Yes I Will, and Im Alive.

Hicks doesn’t go in for sleep-inducing, 10-minute-plus guitar solos. He’s not a show-off and seems to know this is a group effort. He gets in and gets the job done. He is a guitar god, though (there, I’ve said it). Highlights include his change up with a rockier sound of the Graham Gouldman-penned Look Through Any Window and the marvellously exotic The Baby done on electric sitar. He’s got a great vibe going with superb guitarist Steve Lauri, trading licks,too.

What a thrill to hear Hicks acoustically on that other Gouldman masterpiece, Bus Stop (how many legions of girls wanted to find love under an umbrella like that)? Sigh. This was a slightly jazzy version, and Ray Stiles did some fantastic, understated bass work. I was transported back to 45rpm and AM radio heaven when Hicks strummed the first few chords of the lustful paean to that intoxicating belly dancer who made such an impression on the boys during their first trip to America – Stop Stop Stop. Catch me while I faint, someone! The intro was more Deliverance-country than the original version, but he’s still got those awfully nimble, fast fingers. Keyboardist and mohawk-topped John Lydon lookalike (!) Ian Parker brought out his accordion to make this shine even more. The Air That I Breathe – Hicks again made that guitar siii-iiing.Impeccable on everything.

Howarth did a great job on He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother, too, again, with wondrous vocals from everyone and more choice keyboards from Parker. They encored with the boot-stomper that got everyone on their feet, Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress. The only wobbles – to me at least – were those high notes that didn’t quite get hit on Carrie Anne (everyone still loved it, though) and the MOR Weakness, which reminds me of why I started listening to Bowie and funk in the 70s instead of the Starland Vocal Band. The Hollies are too good to stray into schmaltzy territory. It’s fine to experiment, but please don’t go overboard, especially with the synthesizers. I hear they switch up every tour and sometimes add a Hicks-written and/or solo sung tune and a less well-known, original gem. More of that, less covers (as well-done as they are) I say.

All in all, I had a fantastic time, and will definitely see them again. Exiting the show behind me was a beautiful lady who was escorted by her son. She told me she’d just celebrated her 90th birthday and enjoyed the show! I should have asked her what vitamins she was taking. Rock on Lois and rock on Hollies!


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