THE MOST IMPORTANT BRITISH 45 EVER
I appreciate that "the most important British 45 ever" is a big claim so perhaps it needs tempering with some equally British bathos.
It was first played on a ukulele.
Now there are some who will say that the most important record could be "Move It" by Cliff Richard which is widely accepted to be the first homegrown rock and roll single from our sceptred isles, released in 1958. It certainly has a claim and its influence was certainly immense.
Interestingly, it was not even supposed to be the A-side of its release as the flip "Schoolboy Crush" (a cover) was originally intended to be but Jack Good, the producer of the show "Oh Boy" insisted that Cliff played "Move It" as it was "Presley-esque". And so a sixty year (and still going) career was launched.
Whatever you may think of Cliff Richard in his various incarnations since, there is no doubting that "Move It" is still a powerful raw record that would probably get more critical acclaim if we weren't subjected to further decades of Eurovison entries, Christmas songs and the "tall speaker, small speaker" fiasco.
So put your prejudices to one side for the moment.
But actually, it is Cliff's backing band who are the subject of this latest piece and of course, I am sure that the sharp-eared among you will know that they were originally called The Drifters until a 'cease and desist' notice came from the Atlantic Records' vocal group of the same name (and considerably more success at the time). However, often ignored is the fact that despite their long association and crucially its searing guitar lick, none of the band played on "Move It" at all.
It was written by Ian Samwell from Cliff's original band and the lead was played by Ernie Shear, a session guitarist, and a man who history should recognise more fully. In fact, Samwell never had time to finish writing the record, which is why Cliff sings one of the verses twice. He completed it eventually in 1995 for a version that Cliff recorded for an album with Hank Marvin.
As history tells us, the Drifters were put together to be Cliff's touring band and changed their name to the Shadows. Cliff was the UK's biggest star and the record company, keen to expand their audience, wanted to put his band into the limelight too. After a couple of flop singles, it looked like this pursuit was never going to be successful.
In 1960, as a last throw of the dice,. the Shadows released the epic "Apache", knocking Cliff's "Please Don't Tease" from the number one spot and changed the history of pop and rock music forever.
It started a run of success over the next four years including four further number ones that was virtually unassailable until the juggernaut that was the Beatles and the Beat Boom swept virtually everything to one side.
Instrumental hits were more prevalent in the 50s and early 60s - perhaps as a hangover from the days of Big Band Swing - but their associated artists tended to be less remarkable and so more often than not their success was isolated.
Until The Shadows that is... who brought with them an iconography that changed a generation.
First port of call is of course, their exceptional lead guitarist Hank Marvin, whose adoption of a set of Buddy Holly-like spectacles made him instantly recognisable. However, the real dazzling attraction was that he owned the first ever Fender Stratocaster in the UK - which also happened to be apple red like Holly's. It had been bought for him by the singer in his band, Cliff.
And it was a mighty splash of colour in a previously rather dreary British pop industry that was a pale imitation of its American contemporary.
But it wasn't just how it looked but how it sounded . The addition of a tremolo arm and an echo chamber given to him by Joe Brown, who could find no real use for it, led to a unique sound that managed to capture all the panorama of the Wild West that "Apache" s writer had intended.
Jerry Lordan had been a support act to The Shadows and had written the song as a tribute to the 1954 film "Apache" starring, rather incongruously, Burt Lancaster. He had played Marvin the song on a ukulele while they were touring and suggested it might be good for the band. Marvin agreed but there were still obstacles in its way.
Norrie Paramor, their producer (you just don't get names like that anymore) wanted the eventual B-side to be the lead. It was called "The Quatermaster's Stores" - a name change designed to cash in on the then hugely popular "Quatermass" TV series.
But the band eventually won the decision and the rest was history, as the song was an enormous hit all over Europe, Oceania and Japan.
It is still a tremendously exciting record with its Chinese drum, played by Cliff, bookending the record to give it a sense of threat unlike any other of the time. Hank's guitar lead rings out like something from another world but it is all glued together by the driving acoustic strum of Bruce Welch and the mean basswork of Jet Harris.
The UK had seen and heard nothing like it.
Now my American readers will doubtless say they've never really heard of the Shadows and, if they have, aren't they just like The Ventures, their own long-running instrumental foursome. However, whilst The Ventures have much to commend them, their influence was limited. After the UK public heard "Apache", every teenage boy in Britain wanted to play and sound like Hank Marvin.
Pete Townsend, Dave Gilmour, Richie Blackmore, Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton are just a few who have regularly gone on record saying that without The Shadows they would never have even thought to pick up a guitar. Indeed, the pop business had always really rather been dominated by seeking acts that appealed to younger female fans; but now with this virtuoso performance from a wonderful looking guitar this gave the previously ignored teenage male something to which they could aspire.
This actually had a tremendous effect on the touring popularity of Cliff & The Shadows because, as Bruce Welch relays, while the customary concert-going fans were female and therefore flocked to see their handsome singing idols such as Cliff, the technique of The Shadows created many devoted male fans keen to mimic their playing style.
If you doubt this, check out the advertisement that was made in 1977 for the million selling "The Shadows 20 Golden Greats" which truly captured the latent affection felt for the band. It put them back at the top of the charts, persuaded them to successfully reform and was the first of what became a bunch of very successful 20 Golden Great albums for EMI in the late 70s from the Beach Boys and the Supremes for example. Check out your Mum & Dad's loft - they'll be in there.
As I wrote earlier, The Beatles did rather usurp the Shadows but that does not in any way lessen their influence. When the Beatles made their very first recordings they produced an instrumental tribute called "Cry For A Shadow" written by George that was a tribute to their then all-conquering idols. You don't have to be genius to work out who wanted be who at that point in time.
In fact, though it is often levelled at the band that they became "entertainers" - rather than popstars - with tuxedos, movie tie-ins and Variety Performances, this is the very same course that Brian Epstein was charting out for the Beatles. Their first two Christmases as chart-toppers ended with three week long pantomime seasons as well. Though unlike The Shadows they were not appearing at the most prestigious of venues, The London Palladium. They even appeared as themselves in "supermarionation" in the movie "Thunderbirds Are Go".
These extra-curricular appearances are also important, because The Shadows were writing and publishing a lot of their own material for them and so developing a lucrative career as writers as well as recording artists, bringing them income streams that had never really been open to young artists, often manipulated by publishers and managers. Often forgotten is that both Hank and Bruce were younger than Ringo for instance, so whilst they seem to have taken different paths, they were all barely out of their teens when success hit them.
Obviously, as the world opened up for the Beatles and their vision became broader, their path deviated from that of The Shadows and they took on the role of serious musicians, no longer conforming to the expected duties of the entertainment world. They and many of the bands that followed in their wake were rewriting the rule book.
So, whilst by the end of the decade, The Shadows were seen as old hat and part of the establishment, they were no less accomplished but their path seemed like one against which others should rebel.
And yet it was their success that would create the tension against which bands like the Stones and The Yardbirds would rebel - so they can in may ways take credit for their inceptions too. When the snarling Stones refused to join the other performers on the carousel at the end of "Sunday Night At The Palladium" - a previously unheard of transgression - they were making a very clear statement about what they were not.
In truth if you watch the finale of the strangely compelling TAMI show from 1964, where an earlier and less established version of The Stones close the proceedings, you'll see them lead the whole ensemble including go-go dancers and orchestra in the finale. Even the early Stones were still part and parcel of the long-established terms of engagement for those who participated in the business of show.
However, The Shadows influence on all of these bands extended beyond being just the grit against which they could rebel. In truth, The Shadows popularised the classic group line-up of lead, rhythm and bass guitars backed by drums that has served the rock community so well - with a singer either included (as they demonstrated with Cliff) or with one or other of them taking on vocal duties which they had done on their early records.
The Shadows had started off as a Newcastle skiffle band that wound up in East Finchley (a familiar journey to this author) and this background - admittedly not on that particular route - was one that was followed by the Beatles and countless other young bands all wanting to end up like the Shadows including one of their support acts, Neil Christian & The Crusaders, which included a young skiffle trained Jimmy Page. He would later say that Hank Marvin was "a god on the Olympus of rock". How very Spinal Tap...
His future bandmate, John Paul Jones was a session player on Cliff's "Congratulations" in all its different language variants, by the way.
By the time, the guitar had made a new set of heroes in the 70s, even acclaimed masters like Jeff Beck and Gary Moore were proudly attributing their initial love affair with the instrument to Hank Marvin and his band.
Mark Knopfler - who is one of the finest of all the British guitarists - uses a trademark red Stratocaster in tribute to Hank and they have successfully duetted in concert on numerous occasions and Knopfler still looks like he cannot believe his luck.
This veneration of guitarists and especially lead guitarists is something that all of those named above and many more have benefitted from during their illustrious careers.
The pioneers of punk too admired the band for their economy as the aforementioned "20 Golden Greats" could be found happily nestling next to copies of "London Calling".
So if you are a rock fan of any description it all started with "Apache" and a drum beaten by Cliff Richard, an echo pedal discarded by Joe Brown and the mastery of the Shadows. The axeman cometh...