Sunday 16 March 2014

Classic Album: 'THE SHADOWS' debut LP


There aren’t many classic landmark 
pre-Beatles British Rock ‘n’ Roll albums. 
Billy Fury’s ‘The Sound Of Fury’ is one. 
The other was released in September 1961 – 

 Newcastle. You think The Animals… or maybe Sting or Bryan Ferry. But long before them, Brian ‘Hank B Marvin’ Rankin and Bruce Welch (aka Bruce Cripps) descended from their native Newcastle to play a National Skiffle Group competition in London. They didn’t win, they came third, but when the rest of their Railroaders quintet split for home, the duo stayed. With an astute eye for opportunity they hooked up with Pete Chester, drummer son of popular comedian Charlie whose celebrity-connections opened up career-doors that years of gigging would never have done. The group got to appear on Jack Good’s BBC-TV show ‘6.5 Special’, and even got to make a record, as the Five Chesternuts – “Jean Dorothy” c/w “Teenage Love”, produced independently at the Phillips studio and then leased to Columbia.

It’s 1958, British Rock ‘n’ Roll was in its infancy. As Bruce would relate decades later, they’d not come into the Rock industry, for that did not yet exist. They came into showbiz. Yet despite such mitigation, the record is not very good. There are tap-tap-tapping bongo’s and squeaky harmonica, a repetitive lyric that goes ‘Jean Dorothy, you know I love you’ – little more, in close harmony with built-in Buddy Holly hiccup, and a ‘la-la-la’ break. Flip the record over and it’s scarcely much better, a solo voice for the verse, with harmonies joining for the chorus. Teenage love is a wonderful thing they insist to jaunty acoustic strum, ‘when will I find mine?’ ‘Teenage’ is the vital catchall word, the new consumer demographic. Say it enough times and it’ll connect with the target audience – that ‘pretty girl in skintight jeans’... won’t it? Actually no. For this ‘couple of turtle-doves’ there was to be no happy ending.

 With the group in temporary abeyance Hank and Bruce worked the famous Soho ‘2i’s coffee bar, incidents much later mocked-up fairly accurately when the Shadows play “Bongo Blues” in a sequence in the ‘Expresso Bongo’ (1959) movie. But first, the ‘2i’s visibility got them touring on the same bill as surly young Rocker Cliff Richard – his dramatic stage-gestures choreographed by Jack Good, and they were quick to spot his potential, and astutely up-switch by infiltrating his backing group, the Drifters. Drawing in Jet Harris (with the Most Brothers on the same tour), and schoolboy drummer Tony Meehan.

Cliff had already accidentally created Britain’s first Rock ‘n’ Roll classic single. Intended as a ‘B’-side for the whistling sweet-Pop cover of Bobby Helms’ “Schoolboy Crush”, “Move It” – a song thrown together by Ian Samwell on the top deck of a bus, was recorded with distorted sound-levels. Not that it mattered. No-one would pay any attention. But Jack Good, by then graduating to the independent ABC-TV network, was sharp enough to recognise its potential. He made “Move It” the headline track for his new Saturday evening ‘Oh Boy!’ TV-show, and as a direct result it shot to no.2 in the chart, 25 October 1958. Despite a pretty strong follow-up in “High Class Baby”, each subsequent single charted a couple of slots lower than the previous one, and it seemed as though his star was already waning.

Issued in December 1958, the third Cliff Richard single, and the first to feature the full Hank, Bruce, Jet and Tony line-up of the Drifters was “Livin’ Lovin’ Doll” c/w “Steady With You”, which reached no higher than no.20 on the ‘New Musical Express’ chart on 14 February 1959, way beneath Elvis at no.1 with “I Got Stung”. Things would get better.


From the start it was clear that the Drifters intended to be an act in their own right. Their first group single – “Feelin’ Fine” c/w “Don’t Be A Fool With Love” came as early as January 1959. A marked development on their Chesternuts venture, it still has some way to go. In Ian Samwell’s ‘A’-side song he’d ‘stolen a little kiss’ and was about to ask her for a date. He’s in love and that’s why he’s feeling fine. There’s a full-throated yell before the instrumental break, and the fast-harmonies are tight. Still derivative, but getting there. The Pete Chester-penned flip is more choppy, with stepped vocal breaks and a lyrical warning that love only knocks once.

Nevertheless the Drifters get to feature on his debut LP ‘Cliff’ in April 1959. Recorded ‘live’ in the studio in a single extended take, it allowed space for three group tracks, a first outing for “Jet Black” – with novelty stepped-voices pronouncing the title, plus a frantic Everly Brothers harmony-style arrangement of “Be-Bop-A-Lula”. The third track, the instrumental “Driftin’” – broken by ‘1-2’, shouts and whoops and, on the LP alone, a ‘yeah mon’ in mock-Caribbean accent, was also redone as the ‘B’-side of their July second single. The subsequent studio version of Jet Harris’ moody bass-heavy “Jet Black” (July 1959) is easily their most powerful statement to date, and a clear indication of the direction their future success would take. But it didn’t chart, and they returned to vocals for their third single.

Within months they’d added a further track – the instrumental “Chinchilla”, to the soundtrack EP of Cliff’s game-changing movie debut ‘Serious Charge’. Although, with trilling piano in the mix it’s not yet what we’d think of as their ‘sound’. With the finances of the domestic film-industry balanced on a knife-edge, getting a Pop star a minor role in a movie was a calculated subterfuge to broaden its box-office appeal towards commercial viability. Starring Anthony Quayle as a beleaguered Holy Joe vicar ‘A Man Of Peace, Pushed To The Limit!’, other names – Andrew Ray and even Wilfred Brambell, take care of the acting. Cliff and the Drifters are virtually non-speaking juvenile delinquents who do three numbers in a coffee-bar scene. One of the songs is Lionel Bart’s “Living Doll”. The song that would reverse Cliff’s decline, and become his career-defining hit. The reason Marty Wilde had originally rejected the song becomes clearer when you listen to the original soundtrack version, which follows the songwriter demo where it’s done as a jumpy Tommy Steele-style Rocker. In the studio it was radically redesigned, slowed down. When it was pastiched decades later by the Young Ones – who also took it to no.1 (in March 1986), they were perceptive enough to recognise that, with the strummed acoustic guitar and the echoed vocal clarity, it was Hank’s pealing mid-point electric guitar solo that stands out as a vital element of its success.

Once established, forming the same kind of tight mutually-supportive gang-structure that the Beatles would use, the Shadows became an integral visual and musical element of Cliff’s image and continuing success – outdistancing every other Rock ‘n’ Roll pretender on the scene. Their vocal harmonies as well as twinkling guitars are very much part of the appealing “Don’t Be Mad At Me”. And their TV performance of “Willie And The Hand Jive” starts out with Cliff central, flanked by Hank and Bruce with their backs to the camera, then turning to add the ‘bow-oom, a du-du’ chorus. But more than that, they also set about feeding their singer original ‘B’-sides, album tracks and even hit songs too (clear through to “The Day I Met Marie” in August 1967). They later joked about Cliff’s unshakably single-minded career-focus, yet they were opportunistically slanting their lyrics with an eye to the American market – writing ‘gee whiz, it’s you’ for the ‘Me And My Shadows’ (October 1960) album, spun-off as a no.4 single (in March 1961). And it was the American tour in support of “Living Doll” that brought them into litigation with Ben E King’s Drifters of “Save The Last Dance For Me” fame, adding the final ingredient, when Jet Harris suggested an alternate name to imply their status as Cliff’s ‘shadows’.

When, much later in the mid-sixties, they issued a few vocal singles they were accused of Beat Group bandwagon-jumping (and later still they did a stint as a Crosby, Stills & Nash-style vocal trio Marvin, Welch & Farrar!). But they’d always aspired to do the singing bits too. Their first single as the Shadows, “Saturday Dance” c/w “Lonesome Fella” (1959) was Pop-catchy harmony-vocals. ‘Jump into my hot-rod car’ invites the top-side penned by Hank with Pete Chester, Bruce contributing novelty deep-voice breaks. The flip adds doo-wop backing vocals, reminiscent of the Dell Vikings’ “Come Go With Me”, to Jet’s melancholy lead voice. It was only when these early singles failed to chart, and during a tour with aspiring Popster Jerry Lordan, who plays them his composition “Apache” on a ukulele backstage, that they seriously took the instrumental route. Producer Norrie Paramor wasn’t convinced. He preferred “Quartermasters Stores” – you can’t go wrong jazzing up a knock-about familiar tune. But he was proved wrong when “Apache” nudged Cliff Richard & The Shadows’ “Please Don’t Tease” from no.1 and took the slot (20 August 1960) where it stayed for six weeks, setting the bar for the British Rock guitar for a decade.

Bert Weedon’s contribution to Rock history was his guitar-tutor ‘Play In A Day’. When I saw him perform as part of a ‘Seaside Special’ variety show in Scarborough, with some sleight of hand he announced ‘this is a tune I recorded, which got to no.1’, to polite applause. Well yes, he did record “Apache”, and it did get to no.1. But not for him!

The theory was that girls drooled over the dishy fan-mag photo-spreads of Cliff, as the boy’s studied Hank’s fingering on the fret of his red Fender Stratocaster, while practicing the Shadows stylish lock-step choreography. But the Shadows didn’t have the scene entirely to themselves. There were others, fondly recalled in such magazines of ‘Beat Instrumental’ – the Ventures, String-a-longs, Spotnicks, Joe Meek’s Fabulous Flee-Rekkers, and later, the Dakotas. But with each new single – “Man Of Mystery” (no.5, November 1960), “FBI” (no.6, February 1961), “Frightened City” (no.3, May 1961), “Kon-Tiki” (no.1, September 1961) and “The Savage” (no.10, November 1961), the dramatic rhythm-led Shadows tightness put them streets ahead. Everyone aspired to the Shadows polished side-step presentation and clean tremolo guitar style – clear up until Jimi Hendrix altered the rules by deliberately utilising feedback and distortion. Even John Lennon refused to appear on-stage wearing his glasses in case it was thought he was aping Hank!


My cousin Martin played bass along to Shadows records in his bedroom in Bridlington. It was his copy of ‘The Shadows’ debut album (September 1961) that I first heard. As the sleeve photo shows, it is also the only original album that features the ‘classic’ line-up of Hank, Bruce, Jet and Tony. Jet Harris is leaning nonchalantly on the neck of his bass, reading something that might be a fan-letter. Hank, in trademark horn-rim specs glances across at it from the right. Bruce sits in a chair, he’s the only group-member who seems aware of the camera, smiling a lopsided grin into the lens. Tony sits preoccupied on a cushion on the floor, beside his snare-drum, arm resting on his knees. The photo is one of a sequence taken at the photo-shoot, others have cropped up elsewhere, including one on the cover of ‘The Shadows: Just About As Good As It Gets’, a CD compilation issued in 2011. Look closer, they’re casually dressed in patterned sweaters, Tony wears white sneakers. Unlikely musical revolutionaries.

Turn the sleeve over and there’s an insert black-and-white photo of the group backing Cliff in dramatic pose, to accompany Cliff’s liner notes. Placed on either side of the text are two more photos, Hank and Jet on the left, Bruce and Tony on the right. At the foot of the text, dividing the track-listing is a photo of the group with producer Norrie Paramor. And on the album grooves they persist with vocal cuts too. Jet appealingly sings lead harmony-voice on “All My Sorrows”, lyrically adapting the traditional “All My Trials” long before it became part of the Bob Dylan-era folkie repertoire… and before Elvis did it as a segment of his Mickey Newbury-penned “American Trilogy”. The Shads were there first. Well – almost, they’d originally found and adapted the song, minus its social-political references, from a version by the Kingston Trio, applying what Hank termed the Railroaders’ Skiffle-approach of using acoustic Folk or Work songs. Next, Hank sings lead on their version of the Crickets’ “Baby My Heart”. With no lyric-sheet to hand he simply sings the same verse twice. Then Bruce croons a cheesy “That’s My Desire” on side two, an oldie they’d picked up from a Dion & The Belmonts song-publishers import.

 But first, opening side one, “Shadoogie” is a determined opening statement of intent. About as perfect a representation of the Shadows ‘sound’ as anyone could have hoped for. It was adapted by all four group members using “Guitar Boogie” – an Arthur Smith instrumental from 1948, as template. In fact they’d been performing the original as part of their stage routine up until a month prior to the first album sessions, and captured it live for a BBC Light Programme ‘Saturday Club’ broadcast – as the Drifters, as early as 1959. It had also been done as a chart hit by Bert Weedon as “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” – reaching no.10 on 6 June 1959. But for the album they reconfigure the track dramatically until it has all the sharp up-tempo signature flourishes of their best singles.

 “Blue Star” is more reflective, indicating that they can take other’s material, and reweave it into their own. “Nivram” – another group original, it’s giveaway title spelling ‘Marvin’ backwards, moves around an effortlessly memorable melody-line, with Bruce and Hank – on a Gretsch, playing close dual guitar, with strong walking bass mid-section and a slick hook that was made to soundtrack the animated opening credit sequence of a hip caper movie, or a TV secret agent series. “See You In My Drums” is a Tony Meehan showcase, its percussive solos looking forward to the precise fills on “Diamonds” or “Scarlet O’Hara”, defined by guitar quotes. Closing side one, “Stand Up And Say That” – also written by Hank, borrows the Floyd Cramer Steinway piano style, as an ingredient to add variety.

Flip the album over and “Gonzales” – with Hank on Fender Stratocaster and Bruce playing acoustic, has something of the free-spirited Western-movie ‘theme’ harking back to “Shane” and “Giant” from ‘The Shadows’ EP of January 1960. An extended-play quartet of titles that precedes, and predicts “Apache” by six months. “Find Me A Golden Street” with Hank’s chiming narrative lead figure, never became part of the Shadows live set. Restricted to just thirty-minutes on stage, they already had hits aplenty. The only place you find it is here, track two side two on the album. “Theme From A Filleted Place”, with its neat twin guitar hook, shows early evidence of Hank’s fondness for title-puns – preceding “Genie With The Light Brown Lamp” and “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Arthur”. “My Resistance Is Low” is another oldie with a long pedigree, from the Hoagy Carmichael sequence in Howard Hughes 1952 film ‘The Las Vegas Story’ and subsequently done by Georgie Fame and Elvis Costello. The Shadows wisely eschew vocals, and interpret it as an up-tempo 1:58-minute instrumental. The penultimate “Sleepwalk” was lifted from Santo and Johnny’s 1959 hit, abbreviated to 2:48-minutes for the tight album edit. A longer 3:11-minute version on the limited-edition ‘Live At The Colosseum’ EP (which also features “Guitar Boogie”), recorded in Johannesburg 23 May 1961 during a South African tour, is allowed to stretch out more effectively. The four tracks from the EP are now included on the ‘As Good As It Gets’ anthology to compare and contrast the two takes. Closing the album, “Big Boy” is a fast guitar work-out, with choppy rhythms and muted shouts of encouragement barely audible in the mix, slowing into the final fade-out groove.

If the album has a sanitised sound, with no hint of distortion allowed to interfere with its sonic clarity, that’s what they were aiming for. It was recorded in business-like sessions at Abbey Road studios. Setting up the equipment, then playing and singing it virtually as a live performance. Producer Norrie Paramor expected the group to come in with a fully worked-out set of arrangements, allowing no space for time-wasting improvisation or experiment. They’d already learned and rehearsed each piece, so the actual recording process was pretty much a formality, with the producer controlling only the sound-balance and mix. ‘We’d go in knowing what we were going to do’ explained Hank later. Although the Shadows debut LP must have been viewed as a lucrative prospect, it was only teen-Pop, and hence not worthy of the studio-time lavished on ‘serious’ music. Yet within weeks of release it was no.1 in the newly-inaugurated ‘Record Retailer’ chart, and stayed on the listings for a full fifty-seven weeks. Now, decades later, it stands as a landmark album in the evolution of British Rock.


Tony Barrow, writing the liner-notes for their first LP ‘Please Please Me’ (1963), makes a point of drawing attention to Disc Jockey Brian Matthew describing the Beatles ‘as visually and musically the most exciting and accomplished group to emerge since the Shadows.’ Barrows goes on to say how Muriel Young had begun to introduce the guests on Radio Luxembourg’s ‘Friday Spectacular’ and gets no further than ‘John… Paul’ before they were recognised. ‘I cannot think of more than one other group – British or American – which could be so readily identified and welcomed by the announcement of two Christian names.’ The other names he’s thinking of are obviously ‘Hank… Bruce.’

As Bruce once related, the Shadows came into showbiz, because the Rock industry did not yet exist. If, a short five years later, by the time the Beatles emerged, there was the semblance of a burgeoning Rock industry there for them, that was at least in part due to what the Shadows had achieved during the interim period. Yet with some irony, what happened in 1963 was seen as the new youth upsurge toppling the establishment stars, even though both groups were very much within the same age-range. Taken collectively – Beatles and Shadows, Jet Harris was the oldest (born 6 July 1939), but Ringo Starr was second oldest (7 July 1940). Youngest was Tony Meehan (2 March 1943), with George Harrison second youngest (25 February 1943). Between the two extremes there was John Lennon (9 October 1940), Hank Marvin (28 October 1941), Bruce Welch (2 November 1941), and Paul McCartney (18 June 1942). It’s not that they were older, it’s just that the Shadows started out younger.

Briefly, during the early months of 1963, they established a kind of unique unbroken record when first Cliff & The Shadows were no.1 with “The Next Time” c/w “Bachelor Boy”, to be replaced by the Shadows “Dance On”, to be replaced in turn by Jet Harris & Tony Meehan’s duo hit “Diamonds”. By then, things were already changing beneath them. Within months the deluge of Merseybeat groups would reconfigure Pop forever. The Shadows, of course, not only survived, but went on to have many more years of hits and tours. But those details belong to another feature. For now, we’ll relocate the stylus to the play-in groove side one track one of ‘The Shadows’ debut LP…

‘THE SHADOWS’ (September 1961, Columbia SX1374 mono, SCX3414 stereo) produced by Norrie Paramor.
Side one (1) “Shadoogie” by Hank, Bruce, Jet and Tony, (2) “Blue Star” originally written by Victor Young as theme-tune for 1955 TV series ‘Medic’, given lyrics by Edward Heyman, a UK no.2 hit for Cyril Stapleton & His Orchestra with Julie Dawn vocals in September 1955, (3) “Nivram” – spells ‘Marvin’ in reverse, by Hank, Bruce and Jet, (4) “Baby My Heart” by Sonny Curtis – friend of Buddy Holly, who he replaced as Crickets lead singer following Buddy’s death, with Hank Marvin vocal, (5) “See You In My Drums” by Tony Meehan, (6) “All My Sorrows” by Dave Guard, Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds, lead vocal by Jet Harris, (7) “Stand Up And Say That” by Hank Marvin.
Side two (1) “Gonzales” by ‘McGlynn’ which is a Hank and Bruce alias, (2) “Find Me A Golden Street” by Norman Petty – producer and songwriter for Buddy Holly, (3) “Theme From A Filleted Place” by Hank, Bruce and Jet, (4) “That’s My Desire” by Helmy Krease and Carroll Loveday, with Bruce Welch lead vocal, (5) “My Resistance Is Low” by Hoagy Carmichael, (6) “Sleepwalk” by Ann, Santo and Johnny Farina with Don Wolf, a US no.1 for Santo & Johnny in September 1959, (7) “Big Boy” by Hank and Bruce

‘AS GOOD AS IT GETS: THE ORIGINAL RECORDINGS 1958-1961’ by THE SHADOWS (2013, Smith & Co SCCD 2480) This valuable 2CD set collects everything the Shadows did across those first years, from the earliest material, the Chesternuts, the Drifters, the full first album, and both sides of their first six hit singles, including all four tracks from a rare live South Africa-only EP plus a BBC session from the Light Programme

‘THE SHADOWS PLUS OUT OF THE SHADOWS’ (2014, Hoodoo Records) the full remastered fourteen tracks from ‘The Shadows’ debut LP, plus the full thirteen tracks from their second LP ‘Out Of The Shadows’ – with Brian Bennett replacing Tony Meehan. With bonus tracks “Apache”, “Dance On” and a ‘Live at the Colosseum version of “F.B.I.”


Chris Charlesworth said...

I had this album but it's long gone to the great vinyl graveyard. The first group I was in played Nivram, with me on lead guitar, but I didn't realise it was Marvin backwards until I met Bruce Welch many years later and he told me. Doh!

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