Allan Clarke

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Allan Clarke Pencil Portrait
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The quality of the prints are at a much higher level compared to the image shown on the left.


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Last update:30/7/18

By the late 90’s, Allan Clarke was struggling to hit the high notes he had so effortlessly caressed for nearly four decades as The Hollies’ front man. Interviewed years later for a DVD release of the band’s promo videos, he remained philosophical about his decision to retire from the music business.

‘I figured I would rather be known for what was than as someone who tried to struggle on for too long. My wife was also diagnosed with cancer in 1999 and we decided that it was time I put my guitar away. We thought we’d just spend the rest of our lives hoping the cancer would go away, which it did and she’s doing beautifully. I’ve been more or less retired since 1999. I decided to spend most of my time with my family, and it’s been great. But recently I’m getting all these offers and really thinking I might do some of them. Being with Graham (Nash)at the Albert Hall [a guest appearance in October 2011]and getting on stage and getting a standing ovation sent a lot of shivers down my spine! Maybe there will be something for me to do in the future. But I’m still writing and self-publishing. I’m not twiddling my fingers and doing nothing!’

How reassuring to see at least one pop star being sufficiently pragmatic, and singularly focused on life’s priorities.

If the band never achieved cult status in the lucrative album market, Manchester’s finest still enjoyed considerable popularity in many countries as a singles act – at least 60 singles or EPs charting somewhere in the world over a five decade period. The Hollies had over 30 charting singles on the UK Singles Chart, and 22 on the Billboard Hot 100, with major hits on both sides of the Atlantic that included “Just One Look”, “Look Through Any Window”, “Bus Stop”, “I Can’t Let Go”, “On a Carousel”, “Stop Stop Stop”, “Carrie Anne”, “Jennifer Eccles”, and later “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”, “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” and “The Air That I Breathe”.

Recommended listening

The Clarke, Hicks & Nash Years: The Complete Hollies, April 1963-October 1968 [Box Set, Original Recording Remastered]

The “Clarke, Hicks and Nash Years” is a six CD collection of all The Hollies material recorded between April 1963 and October 1968, in other words their stellar period, ably propelled by the in-band songwriting trio of Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks and Graham Nash.

The Hollies were one of the most successful British groups of the 1960s, scoring 17 consecutive, Top 20 UK singles. Signing to EMI in 1963, they started out scoring hits with a number of cover versions – songs such as Leiber and Stoller’s “Searchin” (#12), Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs’ “Stay” (#8), Doris Troy and Gregory Carroll’s “Just One Look” (#2), Gerry Goffin and Russ Titelman’s “Yes I Will” (#9) and George Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone” (#20), plus a series of written-to-order singles by Graham Gouldman, later of 10cc.

From October 1966 until Nash’s departure, all their A-sides were Clarke-Hicks-Nash compositions. Beginning with “Stop, Stop, Stop” (UK #2, US #7), through “On a Carousel” (UK #4, US #11), “Carrie Anne” (UK #3, US #9), to the more experimental “King Midas in Reverse”, “Jennifer Eccles” (UK #7) and, final single with Graham Nash, “Listen To Me” (UK #11), the songwriting trio crafted a series of hugely successful, imaginative pop songs, which showcased their beautiful harmonies and songwriting incredible prowess.

The Clarke, Hicks & Nash Years set contains all the bands albums, EP & singles tracks from the period April 1963-October 1968, spanning seven EPs, seven LPs,and many hard to find tracks scattered over various releases over the years. All this for under £15 plus three unissued French language tracks and a live previously unissued May 1968 show from Lewisham in stereo.

Bitch away if you don’t enjoy everything, but for the price, you won’t have a leg to stand on.

An essential purchase.

The Hollies (1974)

‘Pop’, in certain journalistic quarters, is a reviled musical genre, implying rather easily digestible lightweight froth. Yet despite certain obvious constraints, at its very best, it can still offer the potential for a wholly satisfying listening experience.

This retooled, revamped version of the Hollies’ self-titled 1974 album doesn’t seem like much at first glance — but first impressions can be wrong, and this one would be. At the time of its recording, the original album marked the return of original lead singer Allan Clarke to the Hollies lineup after a two-year absence, and it also yielded the group’s last major hit, “The Air That I Breathe.”

I purchased the original vinyl release that spring but since then, the album has mostly been forgotten, even by many loyal fans, for the very good reason that, the one hit aside, critics would have us believe that there really wasn’t that much else to commend it. Here – so the story goes – was a perfectly sound, competent record by an early British Invasion act, that was very obviously running low on inspiration and material, and if not for “The Air That I Breathe,” would have done little more than fill a space on the release schedule, and maybe bought them some time. In fact, the song brought them to the U.S. charts one last time and got them a new round of television appearances, just before the commercial roof started falling in. The very fact that the hit was an Albert Hammond/Mike Hazelwood song only provided fresh evidence that, despite their improved and higher-volume in-house songwriting, the members – apart from Tony Hicks’“Out on the Road” and “Down on the Run” and Terry Sylvester’s beautiful “Pick Up the Pieces Again,” – the band still had a long way to go to compete in the pop record sweepstakes. That may or not have been the case, but undeniably every member acquits himself well. Hicks is on fire on “Rubber Lucy” – his country pickin’ guitar lines running amok throughout a tightly arranged 12 string acoustic workout- and six string afficionados would happily extend the song’s fadeout by another minute to further savour his playing. Clarke’s singing on “Love makes the world go around” is breathtaking on the song’s middle eight, whilst Calvert’s bass lines are melodic and tightly compressed throughout.

The original release was a poorly packaged affair – a gripe that could be perennially levelled at Polydor – yet the 2008 EMI reissue on CD does much to improve matters. Restoring the original U.K. album song lineup (with “The Air That I Breathe” as the last track), the reissue augments the album with five bonus tracks from the same sessions that either went unreleased at the time or ended up elsewhere (i.e., single B-sides, etc.).

As well as the newly improved sound, these five songs are top notch additions to the collection. “Mexico Gold” and “Tip of the Iceberg” are fiercely stylized tracks with commercial hook lines and memorable choruses, whilst the previously unissued “Burn Fire Burn” (composed by drummer Bobby Elliott), presented here in a fresh mix, is as good a track as anything that did make it onto the original LP. “Born a Man,” featuring Tony Hicks on lead vocals, was a reconsideration of a track from the ’73 lost “Out on the Road” album, and is worth it just for the spotlight it gives to Hicks’ seldom showcased singing. “No More Riders” is a Terry Sylvester number with compelling hooks, memorable melody, and a distinctive guitar sound behind some great harmony singing.

I’m going to antagonise the mancunian faithfull, but there’s much to savour here on what might possibly be the band’s most wholly satisfying long player.

Recommended reading

The road is long: The Hollies Story (Brian Southall) 2015

Recommended more for the dearth of literary material on the band rather than for any particular merit in this rather slim publication, there’s a far heftier and more deserving tome on Manchester’s finest waiting to be written. Until then, there’s Mr Southall’s appreciation, strong on chronology but weak on any musical analysis, especially in light of a whole slew of albums worthy of deeper retrospective analysis.

The publication date marked the 50th anniversary of the bands first No 1 hit back in 1965 when “I’m Alive” knocked Elvis’s “Crying in the Chapel” off the top spot on June 24. This is the first ever biography of a band which had two remarkable careers. Their amazing run of three-part harmony hits came to an end when Graham Nash left for the US taking his new songs “Marrakesh Express” and “Teach Your Children” with him to form Crosby, Stills & Nash. But a second run of success would be kick-started over a five year period with a wave of classic singles led by “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” and ending with “The Air that I Breathe.”


The Beat Goes on - Manchester Beat

The Official Hollies Website

Includes a comprehensive session listing.