Riding The Carousel: A Biography Of The Hollies – Malcolm C. Searles
(Dojotone / Troubador Publishing)
The Hollies: Manchesters original punks? Serious rock band or frivolous pop group? Oliver Gray reviews the ‘first full-scale biography of the hitmakers’ he has followed since teenage.
The claim made in this impressive book that The Hollies could be seen to have been Manchester’s original punks is not as preposterous as it sounds. In 1964, they were ploughing their own furrow, young rebels with a unique sound, confident image and straightforward, unfussy musical chops. In view of the many thousands of words dedicated to the histories of pop contemporaries of the Hollies (not to mention much more youthful Manchester successors such as Buzzcocks), it’s amazing that this is the first full-scale biography of the hitmakers.
One reason might be the lack of controversy and sensation in the career of the Mancunians (who incidentally prefer to see themselves as from Nelson and Salford). They famously preferred quaffing pints of ale rather than the more exotic intake that Graham Nash moved on to.
Nash’s own autobiography Wild Tales only covers the band’s career until his departure in 1969, while Bobby Elliott’s recently-published memoir ends with Holliedaze in 1981. Thus, Malcolm Searle’s lengthy, scholarly and comprehensive volume fills a large gap in rock documentation. In its painstaking detail (but with no input from any significant members of the band), the book is reminiscent of the works of Clinton Heylin. It’s a treasure trove of unexpected nuggets of information. Allan Clarke met Stephen Stills before Nash did, for example; Springsteen came to see the band at the Bottom Line in New York, and Tom Petty roadied for them in Gainesville. And oh, to have been at the Ardwick Hippodrome on 24 November 1958, when Ricky and Dane Young (Allan Clarke and Graham Nash) took part in the Star Search talent contest. Other hopefuls on the bill included Freddy Garrity, Billy Fury and Johnny and the Moondogs, who left before the end in order to catch the last bus home to Liverpool. Those were the Beatles.
When Eric Haydock went on strike at the height of the band’s success, citing financial irregularities, he was replaced, in succession, by Klaus Voorman, Jack Bruce and John Paul Jones. More business info would have been interesting, but details remain hidden to this day behind Non Disclosure Agreements. Suffice to say, they were certainly ripped off, but not to the same disgraceful extent as the likes of the Small Faces. Regarding the varying lead singers, the comings and goings of Allan Clarke reveal a fine vocalist who fluctuated between lack of confidence and over-ambition. Mikael Rickfors comes across as a good egg and the problems with him seem to have been largely cultural. The brief but tragic tenure of Carl Wayne hints at a potential long-term solution that was cruelly cut short.
Searles boldly addresses the taboo subject of Bobby Elliott’s hats and wigs, although more attention could have been given to the miracle that is Tony Hicks’ legendary hairstyle (sorry, that’s just a personal fixation). There’s little insight into the private lives of any of the members, as they keep their personal cards very close to their chests, but it seems that Tony Hicks, beside being a solid businessman, can be ruthless if need be (for example in calling Terry Sylvester’s bluff when he threatened to leave).
Analysis of the band’s musical twists and turns is astute (serendipity and pure chance helped them out on several vital occasions) but there is little of the endless dissection of album tracks that can make music bios so tedious. The book is also, refreshingly, largely free of misprints and other niggles that often mar works of this kind. In its publication, there’s a strong sense of an injustice finally being righted, with long-overdue credit given to the long-standing current line-up, which puts on great shows to this day. It’s by no means a hagiography, though; the author tells it how it is and can be quite justifiably acerbic in his judgements on some of the band’s blander periods and the “serious rock band or frivolous pop group” dilemma which so often held them back.
Review by Oliver Gray for LTW