sat 20/07/2024

The Shadows at Sixty, BBC Four review - pop's age of innocence | reviews, news & interviews

The Shadows at Sixty, BBC Four review - pop's age of innocence

The Shadows at Sixty, BBC Four review - pop's age of innocence

The guitar revolution starts here

'Like Christmas every day' - The Shadows with Cliff Richard

Back in the day, the weekend started with Ready Steady Go. Now Friday evenings are once more essential viewing, and not just because we’re all locked down. While the endless ToTP reruns are often no more than bad-taste wallpaper, the music documentaries are consistently high quality.

This week the camera, or perhaps the spotlight, fell on The Shadows, “the British guitar band that sparked a revolution” as Gina McKee’s voiceover to The Shadows at Sixty informed us with little or no exaggeration. Spoken of in the same breath as Cliff Richard, the original British rock idol whom they backed, The Shadows had a life of their own. Their hits – including “Apache”, “Kon-Tiki”, and “Foot Tapper” – spent a total of 500 weeks in what was then “the hit parade”, with “Apache” displacing Cliff’s “Please Don’t Tease” from the top spot after three weeks. The singer, who played a Chinese drum on the intro, seemed genuinely delighted.

The documentary provided the usual nostalgic mix of archive footage plus old and new interviews, Hank Marvin talking from Perth, Australia. In their suits, bow ties and neat haircuts, The Shadows looked straight out of 1950s Light Entertainment which, in a sense they were. But all the artists who grew up in the dull, grey 1950s and experienced their heyday in the Technicolor 1960s followed the same path – even, though to a slightly lesser extent, The Beatles, who were honing their craft in Hamburg while Cliff and his boys were dominating the  charts.

Marvin and Bruce Welch met as 17 year-old Geordies, attending the same school – a crowd had gathered around Welch as he played his guitar. Marvin – “who looked even more like Buddy Holly than Buddy Holly” – was impressed. They swapped chords and songs and soon they’d formed a skiffle group. The Railroaders as they called themselves adventured down to London for the finals of a national competition. They came third, and the theatre manager found them a bed for the night – a kindly Geordie woman who made them sandwiches and allowed them to camp out for six months. Immediately, they discovered Soho’s 2i’s coffee bar, “hot, sweaty, fun” and so crowded that a new dance was invented – the hand jive. There they met up with house drummer Brian Bennett. Fortuitously they were all hanging out when Cliff’s manager came in recruiting for a tour.

Immediately, they were whisked around the corner to a Dean Street tailor where “the man of the moment” was being measured for his pink silk jacket. Booted and suited, they all went over to Cliff’s to try out in the family living room. “I just thought they were fantastic,” the Living Doll remembered. And so did the nation’s teenagers as Cliff Richard and The Drifters (as they were then called) toured the country. The gig at Newcastle City Hall was a particular thrill. Flushed with success, Cliff decided his band needed to have the best, so Hank chose a red Stratocaster from the Fender catalogue for £150 – a fortune in 1959. Imported specially from the US, it’s thought to have been the first such guitar in Britain.

At the suggestion of bassist Jet Harris, the Drifters became The Shadows. Three giants of rock paid tribute to their influence. For Pete Townshend, hearing “Apache” was “as pivotal as my first orgasm” while David Gilmour remembered the thrill of “a simple song” which “struck a chord”. Brian May remembered “a clean metallic sound, every note having a beauty of its own”, the guitar finding its voice and its place centre-stage.

They were megastars, forsaking the tour bus for the plane, co-starring in five films, beginning with Summer Holiday, which gave The Shadows the opportunity to write movie music and enabled Bennett to buy a top-of-the-range Rolls Royce. “Like Christmas every day” was how he remembered it all. They all did sixteen weeks in Aladdin at the London Palladium: Wishy, Washy, Noshy and Poshy, with Cliff in the title role. The lure was again the score and if it came to feel like drudgery the Barbados holiday that followed more than compensated.

Then came The Beatles, who swept all before then. Cliff Richard and The Shadows could never be part of “the British invasion” – they looked like an MoR Vegas act. By 1966, their creative juices spent, The Shadows split. After a year or so, Bruce and Hank got together with John Farrar to form Marvin, Welch and Farrar, all acoustic guitars and close harmonies, inspired by CSN&Y. But the fans wanted to hear The Shadows, so they split.

By the mid-70s The Shadows had come together again and were chosen as Britain’s Eurovision hopefuls in 1975, coming third with “Let Me Be The One”. And then, in the summer of punk, The Shadows 20 Gold Greats – the first TV-advertised LP – hit number one, selling 1.25m in the UK. Thereafter they found a niche giving pop classics their unique treatment. A 1989 stadium tour with Cliff culminated with two nights at Wembley Stadium, Marvin’s eyes tearing up as he recalled the rapt attention with which “Cavatina” was received. 

Sixty years on and approaching eighty, Marvin now plays gypsy jazz while Bennett composes for film and TV – Canadian rapper Drake sampled one of his numbers, which impressed the grandkids. Welch is a producer, responsible for two of Cliff’s biggest hits, “Devil Woman” and “We Don’t Talk Anymore”. No doubt if Cliff is able to play his proposed eightieth birthday concerts this autumn his trusty Shadows won’t be too far away.

The documentary was a reminder of the age of innocence, when working-class kids with talent could make it. Those heady days before pop became the purest form of capitalism. When we were all the young ones.


Apache first record I bought brilliant still makes hairs on neck stand today just wish I'd seen them

Born in Nyasaland (Malawi) , I first heard 'that' single on LM Radio. I was 8, Thank You Hank Bruce Jet and Brian(my main man). 'Little B' was thrashed out on stainless steel 'thali's ( hindu, teachers family)with no energy spared, not least my mum's ears. She really liked 'Wonderful Land' Right up there with any 'classical' legends.

Is this a review? It's a summary, yes, but one with errors which show the writer hasn't even properly listened. This could have been written without watching the documentary.

This review seems to have been written by someone who knows very little about The Shadows and for that matter about the 1950's!

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