Interview: Hollies drummer Bobby Elliott raring to go for 60th anniversary tour
A truly legendary band that surely needs no introduction, the Hollies are about to embark on a 60th anniversary tour – one that was originally scheduled for autumn 2021.
“It’s been a hell of a two years for everybody, hasn’t it?” says Burnley-born drummer Bobby Elliott, one of two original members still with the band – the other being singer and lead guitarist Tony Hicks.
The group haven’t played the Corn Exchange for a while, but they – and indeed Bobby himself – have a long history with the venue. “I played there before I was with the Hollies,” reveals Bobby, 80, “with Shane Fenton and the Fentones – Shane [Bernard Jewry] later became Alvin Stardust.
“I’ve got a picture of me there playing on Shane’s drums. So we’ve done that gig many, many times over the years – very fond of it.”
The rest of the band consists of lead singer/guitarist Peter Howarth and guitar player Steve Lauri, who both joined in 2004, keyboard player Ian Parker, a member since 1991, and bass player Ray Stiles, a ‘Holly’ since 1986.
Famed for their soaring, distinctive melodies and brilliantly-crafted songs, the 60th anniversary tour will see the Hollies – inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010 – performing their best-known hits including He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother, The Air That I Breathe, Just One Look, Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress), Carrie Anne and Sorry Suzanne.
The extensive tour kicks off in Birmingham on May 22 and will roll into the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Saturday, June 11. The Cambridge Independent spoke to Bobby while he was at his home in the Pennines, “about 30 miles north of Manchester”.
The seasoned musician, who was offered a job playing drums for Wings by Paul McCartney in 1973, says the band always try to use the same crew whenever they’re on tour and notes that “when you go on the road, it’s like a family”.
“Everybody’s relying on everybody else and when you check into that theatre, or whatever the venue, it’s your home for the day. The crew get in just before lunch and we get there about 4 o’clock, soundcheck and it’s playing till 10 o’clock at night, really.
“We do almost an hour, we have a 20-minute intermission, then another hour and I usually come off about 9.50pm. So it’s a full evening of all the hits and more and all that stuff – a few surprises! Hopefully not too many... We’re raring to go.”
Amazingly, Bobby has toured with the Hollies – who were awarded the Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music in 1995 – every year since the early 1960s, that is until the pandemic struck.
“The Hollies have performed every single year since its inception, end of ‘62, beginning of ‘63 – up until about two years ago, when the iron door came down and we were all locked away,” he says. “We had lovely tours organised and this, that and the other, and I wrote a book called It Ain’t Heavy, It’s My Story: My Life in The Hollies.
“That was published right at the start of lockdown but it sold surprisingly well. It’s on its second print now. So yeah, it [lockdown] doesn’t bear thinking about. We’ll just get going again and have some fun.”
Was it nice to have a bit of a break after nearly 60 years of touring? “Oh no, you miss it,” says Bobby. “It’s always nice to get your feet up but then you get fidgety and you want to play. So even round here, I know quite a few of the young, local musicians and a local wine bar was having a jam session so I was down there with my little vintage drum kit.
“I’ll play anywhere, I just love playing... I like surprises, I like to go and play with musicians where I don’t know what’s coming next. I was a bit of a jazzer when I was a teenager. I was very keen on jazz and I think that influenced my style during my career, drum-wise.”
A number of well-known drummers – Cozy Powell, Ian Paice, Gilson Lavis – have stated that they were influenced by Bobby’s playing. “Yeah, that’s quite nice to hear,” he says modestly. “It’s quite flattering and quite humbling, but I just set out to be me.
“And fortunately, all through our recording career I was never really told what to play; I could always play what I wanted, whether it was right or wrong! So in the early days, I used to get a bit busy and fill-y in everything but then you learn that recording is a different kettle of fish to playing at a live, exciting dance hall in 1963.
“So it’s been quite a learning curve but I’ve had plenty of time to learn.”
Celebrated as one of the most influential bands of the 1960s British Invasion, the Hollies have had more than 20 worldwide hits, including number one singles in both the US and the UK. They have spent an astonishing 263 weeks in the UK top 40 official singles chart and have been performing continuously since their formation in 1962.