In December 1959, Hank Marvin (lead guitar), Bruce Welch (rhythm), Jet Harris (bass), and Tony Meehan (drums), released their first single under the name of The Shadows, a track called Saturday Dance.

Previously as The Drifters (Hank and Bruce, members since October 1958, later to be joined by Jet and Tony), and from October 1959 as The Shadows, they toured and recorded extensively with Cliff Richard, enjoying phenomenal success, which included two No.1 singles and two Top 5 albums within a space of eight months. They also released two singles on their own account, in February and July 1959 respectively. The first was a vocal, Feelin’ Fine. The second comprised the two numbers Jet Black and Driftin’: these were studio versions of two instrumental tracks they had performed on Cliff’s eponymous live album, both tracks having been included, in Bruce Welch’s words, “to give Cliff’s voice a rest”, suffering as he was at the time from a throat infection.

The release of Saturday Dance and its flipside saw a return to vocals but the record stalled just outside the Top Thirty of the day. Had it been more successful, the future direction of the group might well have been very different. As Hank and Bruce have frequently stated, they were very much influenced in that formative period by the harmonies of The Everly Brothers in particular, and, had the right material presented itself, they might have continued in that vein.

As it was, things turned out otherwise, and the group went on to occupy a unique position in the evolution of popular music from the late 1950s and during the 1960s. At the start of the decade, instrumentals of various kinds were making strong inroads on the charts, and when Jerry Lordan offered the group Apache, the ready-made combination of three guitars and drums came up with what is indisputably one of the finest and most influential instrumental classics of all time. In the fifth week of release it reached No.1, famously deposing Cliff and The Shadows’ Please Don’t Tease; in the face of competition of the highest quality, it stayed there for a further four weeks. Further striking Top Ten hits followed in rapid succession: Man Of Mystery, FBI, The Frightened City, Kon-Tiki (yet another No. 1 single), The Savage, then the terrifically successful Lordan-penned Wonderful Land in February 1962. In chart terms, it was the highest-performing single by a fair margin, netting no less than eight weeks at the top, with a Top Ten life of fourteen weeks all told. This superlative composition, together with its successor, Guitar Tango, was notable for the orchestral accompaniment provided by Norrie Paramor. While some critics questioned the propriety of these added touches, the group were selling records in enormous quantities, and their fan-base both at home and abroad swelled dramatically.

To add to their high profile, the UK EP charts of the early 60s were positively dominated by The Shadows. Two notable examples from 1961 were “The Shadows” and “The Shadows To The Fore”, which between them enjoyed a spell of 48 weeks at the top, and 145 weeks in the Top Ten. That same year, their brilliant debut album, “The Shadows”, had a five-week stay at the top, and in the course of 1961/62 appeared in the Top Ten listings no less than 51 times!

This brings us to the question: how is the immense popularity of these and other Shadows releases of the time to be explained? In the end perhaps it comes down to style, as Roger Taylor of Queen once remarked. Many of the numbers may have sounded mean, one or two were even frantic, but they were at the same time elegant, refined, stylish in fact. There were none of the raucous party-noises that characterised so many contemporary American instrumentals and a host of British imitations. The group (unlike many of their contemporaries) were equally at home with mellower material too, often embellished with tasteful accompaniment from The Norrie Paramor Orchestra. On top of that, the individual members all contributed tellingly to the whole, with distinctive lead guitar, ground-breaking rhythm guitar, potent bass guitar, and superb drums and percussion.

Popular music is littered with examples of groups declining, or even going under, through changes in personnel. Disconcerting as such changes must have been initially for The Shadows, as they were for their fans, the group could draw on the best talent available for replacements. In the course of 1961/62, Jet Harris’ role was assumed by Brian “Licorice” Locking, and Tony Meehan’s by Brian Bennett … and the hits continued to come, notably the perennial favourites Dance On!, Foot Tapper and Atlantis, together with the adventurous EPs “The Boys” and “Los Shadows” in 1962/63, and a second chart-topping album in 1962. At the same time, the group were cultivating a decidedly “clean-cut” image. To call them all-round family entertainers would be an exaggeration, yet there is no doubt that they appealed to a wide audience, especially in the immensely popular films “The Young Ones” and “Summer Holiday”, in pantomime, and in the wide-ranging choice of material in their many radio spots and television appearances.

On a broader level, we should not forget the contribution Hank, Bruce, Brian and the others made to a long string of Cliff Richard releases in the first half of the 60s. These pop classics, Please Don’t Tease, The Young Ones, Summer Holiday and a multitude of others, are classics as much for the accompaniment as for the vocal delivery. (Not for nothing has “Me And My Shadows” been termed “one of the greatest British pop albums”.) If anything, the group’s command of various musical styles was even more in evidence in their partnership with Cliff.

The Beatles turned the pop world upside down, from early 1963 on, and many of the established acts went under. The Shadows however continued to thrive, issuing a further string of well-received instrumental singles together with two albums in 1964/65 (“Dance With The Shadows”/ “The Sound Of The Shadows”) which contained a high proportion of “standards” invested with their own particular magic, Chattanooga Choo-Choo, In The Mood, Zambesi, Brazil and Deep Purple among others; by then Brian Locking’s replacement, John Rostill, was making his own distinctive contribution to the group’s sound.

The Beatles’ rise to superstardom was made all the more meteoric by the many fine songs penned by two of their number in particular. Shadow-members too, especially Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch, produced numerous compositions, both for themselves and for Cliff. One can only marvel at their quantity and their quality given the group’s frantic schedule. As Hank said in 1963: “Working with The Shadows is one long mad rush”.

The second half of the 1960s too brought successes, which included the release of three strong albums of fresh material. But we must jump forward to the following decade to examine the next major development.

In 1970 the vocal trio Marvin Welch & Farrar was formed: Australian John Farrar’s distinctive falsetto was to make a unique contribution to a group that attracted widespread critical acclaim for its soaring harmonies and outstanding songwriting. However, demand for The Shadows proved overwhelming, and the group re-formed, coming up with the release that their long-term fans had been waiting for. An instrumental album “Rockin’ With Curly Leads”, nearly all of it made up of original compositions and showcasing the talents of Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch, John Farrar and Brian Bennett, entered the shops in November 1973. It is regarded by many as one of the best, if not the best, collection produced by the group. One music paper of the day remarked condescendingly that The Shadows were now definitely an album band. This pronouncement was soon shown to be wide of the mark. In 1975 they represented Britain in Stockholm at the Eurovision Song Contest, and the eventual runner-up, Let Me Be The One, took them back into the Top Twenty singles listings after an eight-year absence; less often mentioned, but certainly worth attention, is the 1975 spin-off album “Specs Appeal”, which, in addition to offering some highly polished instrumentals, also made available the other five songs put forward for the UK Eurovision entry.

As a bonus for fans of John Farrar – who during 1976 had relocated to the USA in his capacity as Olivia Newton-John’s record producer - a number of tracks recorded with his participation were made available on the 1977 album “Tasty”, an album regarded by many informed critics as one of the best from The Shadows.

1977 was a year that saw a flurry of aggressively promoted hit collections assaulting the music charts in rapid succession. One of the most successful, and one of the most cleverly marketed, was “The Shadows 20 Golden Greats”, a chart-topping album that sold well in excess of one million UK copies in that year alone. An ingeniously titled national tour, “20 Golden Dates”, saw the group hit the road again, to great acclaim. The climate was now favourable for further chart successes. The singles Don’t Cry For Me Argentina in 1978, Theme From The Deer Hunter in 1979, and Riders In The Sky in 1980 were all big sellers. This last year witnessed perhaps the most astonishing chart achievement of a group whose first Number One had come way back in 1960: at the beginning of March the album “String Of Hits” climbed to the top of the charts.

The Shadows moved to Polydor in 1980. From this point keyboards/synths, used sporadically since John Farrar’s contribution to the “Curly Leads” album, were featured much more extensively, in keeping with the times. Cliff Hall became one of the “regulars”, both on record and on stage, while bass guitar duties were put into the immensely talented hands of Alan Jones and, latterly, Mark Griffiths.

Although some superlative group compositions were issued, much of the ensuing decade was devoted to instrumental interpretations of, in the main, vocal material sourced from the charts of the day. Longstanding Shadows fans have argued, and will no doubt continue to argue, about this aspect of their output, but the fact remains that, on any unbiased assessment, these covers were of very high quality, and the group sold albums in quantity, with no less than seven penetrating the Top Twenty: in other words, they were most certainly still a musical force to be reckoned with, and actually broadened their fan-base over this period, a remarkable achievement in itself.

The Shadows last appeared on stage together back in December 1990. Thereafter they effectively ceased to function as a group. Yet over the following decade and beyond there has been real continuity, in the sense that Shadows fans could still hear the classics performed live at source so to speak, both by Hank Marvin and his band in their many appearances on tour, and at the spectacular Shadowmania events staged by Bruce Welch; in the process a number of other prominent ex-Shadows namely Jet, Tony and Licorice were given the opportunity to perform.

Hank Marvin’s superb “Final Tour” intensified speculation, and fuelled expectations, at various group-related venues, on the Internet, on radio and television, and in the press: what of The Shadows, would they, could they, ever get together again? To observers everywhere, with their still vivid memories of the extensive stage-appearances and widespread acclaim, it seemed natural, and surely only right, that they should re-form. And so it has turned out: it is no exaggeration to say that reaction to the news that the UK’s first and most durable supergroup would mount a final tour of their own has been ecstatic.

MC, December 2003

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