I was going to post about a Certain Irish Guitarist, but I had another idea pinged at me and I can sense a Matt Damon/Jimmy Kimmel type theme beginning…
Awhile back, a friend at work linked me to an advert for junk food nastiness which features thousands of mini-Hank Marvin clones in the schoolyards of Britain, who are naturally transformed back into their own selves once they are fed the junk food. "Hank Marvin" is, of course, rhyming slang for 'starving'.
I was just taken aback that fifty years after the Shads' greatest successes, someone thought filling our screens with Fiesta Red Stratocasters and Those Specs was a good idea. It was a good idea.
My relationship towards The Shadows is complex. if there is a single sound to truly define my early years – that is, my childhood before I picked the records myself – then it's the Shadows. Not Buddy or Elvis, the Shadows. They were crucial and often on the record player, but my dad loves The Shadows.
I liked the Shadows. I couldn't understand why they didn't have a singer and became introduced to the notion of 'the guitar instrumental', a form my dad loved so much that I once hunted down three singles by a group called Nero & The Gladiators for his Christmas present because he loved "Trek To Rome", the B-side to their "In The Hall Of the Mountain King"
My dad is, at heart, such a rock geek. The man loves B-sides and has a great memory for the stuff he used to dig. He even saw Screaming Lord Sutch play Shoreditch Town Hall and ran rock and roll nights at his local youth club there in the heart of London; he hung out with Kenny Ball at Ronnie Scott's and had a drink more than once with Viv Stanshall. And wasn't impressed by any of it 😉 He's also still angry that my Granddad didn't let him go to the Buddy Holly concert in 1957, being told he could go 'next year'…
So if you ever wondered where I learned this from, you have your answer. And the Shadows, today's subject, are integral to it all. If I love guitar music – and you know I do – the Shads were a big part of it. I needed Hank Marvin, Duane Eddy and Link Wray to put the later guitarmeisters in context.
In short: No Hank, No Eric. No Duane (Eddy), no Duane (Allman). No Link, No Rory. (incidentally, this vid of Jimmy Page listening to Rumble is my new favourite thing)
The Shadows were my introduction to that world. Thanks to Hank and The Holly, I wanted a Stratocaster. That's what rock stars played. I've mentioned before how disappointed I was when I finally got guitar lessons only to discover they were classical guitar lessons. I was an ungrateful little sod, of course. I was 21 when I finally got my Strat (a copy, natch). The feeling when I held my darling, sparkling gold Strat named Jimmy (for Page, natch)… nothing like it. I was Hank, I was Buddy. I was every kid who ever dreamed of being a rock star.
Then I tried to play and as a rock guitarist I make a passable classical guitar student. I can't do it. It's not in me. I can play melodies, but I can't play riffs. I can passably accompany my own singing with some chords and even some finger-pickin' but I'm not Hank Marvin.
When The Shadows come on the radio or whatever, my fingers find that imaginary fretboard and they find the invisible strings. For those three or so minutes, I am one of the Shadows in their suits and ties doing that odd Shadow Walk. Which makes for an interesting walk home. In this, I am like most every Shadows fan ever, including my own dad, whose only musical skill is playing a two-note Eddy riff.
I'm getting off the point. Which was this: when I was five, I would've told you that The Shadows were fantastic. Mind you, I liked Cliff Richard then too. I believed my dad when he said they were the best. And they were, for a time, some of the best out there. This was also before I'd seen the "Wired for Sound" video which I can neither forgive nor forget.
And then The Beatles happened. Nothing was quite the same after that, and I do feel sorry for the Shadows and other pre-Beats bands who woke up one day and found themselves outdated and outpaced. For an example: try watching Summer Holiday starring Cliff and the Shadows and then watch A Hard Day's Night. Light years' cultural difference and yet the latter only released a year and a half after the former.
But I get that. Things change. Punk screwed with a lot of people's plans and I'm fairly sure Crosby's still pissed at that Sinatra upstart.
What turned me against the Shadows was the elevator music they put out later and which my dad still seemed to want to play. Awful bland renditions of crap like "Don't Cry For Me Argentina". Boring, bland, safe covers of previously awesome songs. The musical equivalent of tapioca pudding.
It was the opposite of what rock music is supposed to be, a betrayal I believed of the dangerous power that is inherent in the electric guitar.
I was disappointed. I was bitter. I decided the Shadows were beneath my notice. The Beatles was where it was at, man! I was living out the chronology of 1960s popular culture in the 1990s. The Beatles, Dylan, Cream, the Stones, this was real music! Who wants to listen to rubbishy, tremelo-heavy instrumentals by Cliff's backing band? Not I!
And then… one day some years ago, my dad was driving me home from a weekend at their house in Suburbia. As our family's ill-advised journey to the bourgeois heartland was coming full circle for me in a triumphant return to the Worley Stomping Ground, we listened to compilation CDs he had in the car.
And wouldntcha know it, "FBI" by The Shadows was one of the tracks. I hadn't heard it for years– I really did turn against the Shadows pretty wholeheartedly – and it was amazing. Oh, the feeling of meeting a dear old friend after so many years, being able to appreciate its economy, its crisp, clean notes, the driving rhythm.
In the car, I found my shoulders moving in time with the Shadow Walk and my fingers searching for that imaginary fretboard again. I swear if I my dad hadn't been driving through North London, he'd have been doing the same. And for a minute or two it felt like his Renault Scenic was a Thunderbird and we weren't on the A1 towards Hendon, we were on Route 66 getting near Joplin, MO. Or something. Music can have such power. Mostly though, we were caught up in the euphoria of a shared memory and a shared love of the music. I hadn't asked him, but I came to realise that he was disappointed somewhat in how the Shadows eroded their own reputation – he refused tickets for the recent Cliff N Shads reunion shows – but he'd kept his love of the great stuff where I'd kicked it aside.
Which was silly. I didn't need to do that. Tunes like "FBI" and "Apache" stand for themselves and no cover of "Parisienne Walkways" can wreck them. Nothing, not even the group themselves, can wreck how "Foot Tapper" and "Frightened City" make me feel.
And that my friends, is good music well-loved.
Part 14 – Marilyn Monroe as Elsie Marina – "I Found A Dream
Part 13 – Kenneth Williams as Ramblin' Syd Rumpo – "The Ballad of the Woggler's Moulie"
Part 12 – Chas and Dave – "Rabbit"
Part 11 – The Beatles – "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"
Part 10 – Duke Ellington – "The Mooche"
Part 9 – The Doors – "Who Do You Love?" featuring Albert King
Part 8 – Queen – "These Are The Days Of Our Lives"
Part 7 – Thin Lizzy – "Don't Believe A Word"
Part 6 – The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band – "Monster Mash"
Part 5 – Craig Ferguson – "Doctor Who Cold Opening"
Part 4 – The Bees – "Who Cares What The Question Is?"
Part 3 – Marvin Gaye – "Got To Give It Up"
Part 2 – The Dubliners – "Octopus Jig"
Part 1 – The Allman Brothers Band – "Statesboro Blues"