For The Shadows, fronted by Hank B. Marvin, the chart-entry of Apache in July 1960 marked the beginning of an illustrious career as the UK’s first supergroup.
The distinctive sound and style of their lead guitarist were already familiar to the record-buying public from his virtuoso playing on a whole string of Cliff Richard releases in single, EP and LP format, most notably from the three Number One singles Living Doll, Travellin’ Light and Please Don’t Tease. Equally significant in terms of critical acclaim and influence was the release in October 1960 of "Me And My Shadows", which was justly termed "one of the greatest British pop albums". And British it certainly was, as most of the songs were penned in-house, by Marvin, Welch and close associates. The band was in red-hot form throughout; in particular, Hank’s Fender Stratocaster provided a dazzling accompaniment that was to excite the admiration of numerous other lead guitarists in groups imitating The Shadows. "Shadowmania" spread like wildfire to nearly every major continent, and it has never gone away.
When The Beatles burst on to the scene in full force in the opening months of 1963, the face of popular music was altered for good. Many of the so-called "established" artists went under very rapidly. Not so The Shadows, who continued to be in great demand both in their own right and in partnership with Cliff. Their fanbase was by now so broad that their singles still made the charts: unfashionable as instrumental music was becoming, a vocal A-side did not appear until 1965.
In 1968, for the eighth year running, The Shadows were voted top instrumental group by the New Musical Express. However, at the end of the year they officially disbanded. There had already been signs that Hank Marvin would embark on a solo career: his touching vocal "London’s Not Too Far" had served as an A-side to a Shadows’ B-side in January of that year.
There were three Marvin singles (one a B-side) in 1969 (including the beautifully crafted Sacha, a chart-topper in his future home, Australia, and a firm favourite today with many fans the world over): but the most significant release of the year was unquestionably the eponymous LP Hank Marvin (which made the Top Twenty). The critic who asserted that the album was "not far removed from The Shadows" cannot have been listening very attentively, if at all.
This brilliant set of instrumentals possessed a denser, more richly textured sound, enlived by a dynamic, supercharged orchestral accompaniment.
If Hank had accepted Roy Wood’s invitation in 1970 to join The Move, a radically new group which was to achieve widespread critical acclaim for its superb vocal harmonies would surely never have seen the light of day. As it was, John Farrar was drafted in from Australia to complete the trio Marvin Welch & Farrar. Yet another aspect of Hank’s talent was conspicuous here: the quality of the songwriting was nothing short of superb. This was not so surprising, given that his own compositions and co-compositions had played a decisive part in the success of both The Shadows and Cliff. (For The Shadows alone Hank was to have a hand in no fewer than 118 compositions all told, 22 of them vocals.)
In October 1974 The Shadows were invited to represent Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest. The eventual runner-up on 22 March 1975, Let Me Be The One, re-introduced the group to the singles charts after an eight-year absence.
But an even greater revival awaited them with the release of the LP "20 Golden Greats" in February 1977. Aided by an ingenious and sustained marketing campaign, it hit Number One, stayed there for six weeks, and sold over one million copies that year alone. Hot on the heels of this runaway success the group mounted a national tour, cleverly labelled "20 Golden Dates", to a rapturous reception. Hank himself must have looked back on 1977 with particular satisfaction. In August he was presented with a CBS Arbiter Award for services to the music industry, while in November he issued the album "The Hank Marvin Guitar Syndicate" in which he fronted a formidable array of session guitarists, among them Kevin Peek, Vic Flick and Alan Parker: here was a new and exciting "guitar orchestra" for the 70s. "I was very pleased with that album", Hank reflected. "It was aimed really at guitar players or people who are interested in guitar music."
The Shadows had three Top Twenty singles in 1978, 1979 and 1980. The first of these illustrates the bond between group and fans. On tour audience reaction to Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, an instrumental version of Julie Covington’s Number One hit from the Tim Rice / Andrew Lloyd Webber musical "Evita", was ecstatic, with many crying out "record it!". The Shadows did so and the single enjoyed a couple of weeks in the charts at number 5.
A different circumstance prompted the release of Theme From The Deer Hunter in 1979. The film of that name, which was to walk off with five Oscars, was filling cinemas nationwide. For The Shadows the reward was another hit single, this one clocking in the charts at number 9.
The group struck it lucky again in 1980 with Riders In The Sky, a stage-favourite which once again owed its release to the expression of audience opinion elicited a while before: in contrast to the album version, the single had a pronounced disco flavour, imparting a distinctly modern feel to The Ramrods’ instro hit from twenty years back.
"String Of Hits", which hit the top spot in March 1980, proved to be The Shadows’ last original album for EMI, who lost them to Polydor. Taken together, the EMI "String Of Hits" and the first album for the new label in 1980, "Change Of Address", spelled out a very clear message. The Shadows were definitely moving into a new decade with a line-up augmented by keyboards / synthesisers. Indeed their first Polydor single, released a month before the album, turned out to be a storming version of keyboard wizard Jean-Michel Jarre’s Equinoxe (Part V).
We need to return to the early 80s to pick up the story of Hank’s solo recording activities. In 1982 he issued an almost exclusively vocal album, "Words And Music", which included the hit single "Don’t Talk! - with a further set, "All Alone With Friends", following on the year after that. Although the former penetrated the lower reaches of the charts, these sophisticated productions seemed on the whole to pass Shadows fans by, until interest was rekindled by the 1998 CD comprising both albums, the aptly titled "Another Side Of Hank Marvin".
Also in the 80s, there were memorable guest-spots on recordings by, among others, Leo Sayer, Shakin’ Stevens, and Jean-Michel Jarre; in 1986 a new version of Living Doll for Comic Relief by Cliff Richard and comedy team The Young Ones, featuring Hank on guitar, hit Number One.
With the dissolution of The Shadows at the beginning of the 1990s, the time was ripe for change. For Hank, a new band, which took in his son Ben and Brian Bennett’s son Warren. Concert tours followed and a succession of highly regarded albums under the Marvin banner, in which he struck out in new, adventurous directions: "Into The Light" (1992), "Heartbeat" (1993), blending covers with fresh compositions; the "Hank Plays" series (Cliff / Holly / Live, 1995-1997); the tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice (1997); "Marvin At The Movies" (2000); and the latest, for 2002, the acoustic-based set "Guitar Player". Along the way, he has joined forces with guitar luminaries Brian May, Duane Eddy and Mark Knopfler, while in 1996 he and The Shads were honoured with a tribute album, "Twang!", with contributions from, among others, Ritchie Blackmore and Peter Green.
The influence exerted by Hank, whether in or out of The Shadows, on other guitarists such as Jeff Beck, George Harrison and Jimmy Page, finds a counterpart today in the activities of many "Shadows related" groups, and still more in the various Shadows Guitar and "UB Hank" Clubs, where Fenders are put through their paces by a host of players who are united in their admiration for him and the band.
A number of books and a profusion of articles, sheet music and songbooks have been devoted to them; there are thriving and informative fanzines; the comprehensive Websites documenting their career and their music put many others on major artists to shame; collectors can benefit from a top-notch UK-based music service to satisfy their hunger for the constant stream of compact discs and other merchandise; fans are provided with regular venues to enable them to air their views on any and every aspect of their activities. In short, the impact of Hank Marvin and The Shadows on instrumental music has been immense, and it shows no sign of letting up.
How to sum up the guitar genius of Hank Marvin? Let us give the final word to another guitar hero (though, like Hank himself, he is much more than that). Eric Clapton said it all: "Unbeatable!"
MC, December 2001
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