The Hollies - Biography

The Hollies (Band)

The Hollies are an English rock and roll band formed in the early 1960s. They are commonly associated with Manchester, as several original Hollies came from the city and its outlying communities.

The Manchester quintet, heavily influenced by the Everly Brothers, is known for their rich three part harmonies rivalling those of The Beach Boys, ringing guitars, infectious melodies, jazz oriented backbeats, and a squeaky-clean image. They have been called the British Everly Brothers. Nevertheless, The Hollies are one of the most commercially successful pop/rock acts of the British Invasion. While groups like the Beatles would sometimes toy with non-pop experiments, the Hollies kept their material catchy and appealing no matter what style they pursued; however, they tried easing into more sophisticated folk-rock and mildly psychedelic sounds as the decade wore on, especially on their albums.

Their mass recognition is generally limited (especially in America) to a selection of perhaps a dozen hit songs, from 1964's "Just One Look" up through 1976's "The Air That I Breathe." In reality, their recorded history started in 1963 and encompasses more than 350 songs, spread over dozens of albums, EPs and singles, across 33 years (Eder,1996).


The Hollies' history began by chance with five-year-old Allan Clarke's arrival at the Ordsall Primary School in Manchester, England in 1947. He met five-year-old Graham Nash, when Nash was the only student to volunteer to let Clarke sit next to him in class. Soon, they found a common interest in music. They began singing together in choir and as they matured, their voices complemented each other magnificently. The impetus for Clarke and Nash to begin music careers together was the emergence of skiffle music in England (Eder, 2004).

According to Clark (Eder, 2004),

"We all wanted to be rock 'n' roll stars, and skiffle was one way to start, because it was all based on the easiest chords to play, A, D, G, and C, and we loved the songs. Graham and I played clubs in Manchester, doing an Everly Brothers-type thing. The Everly Brothers were our real inspiration, because of the two-part harmonies."

This laid the foundation for The Hollies. By 1962 Clarke and Nash had already been singing together locally at coffee houses for a number of years as a semi-professional duo under a number of names such as the Guytones, the Two Teens, The Levins, and a brother act called Ricky and Dane. As they were playing a show with the Fourtones, they met Eric Haydock and Don Rathbone, and were invited to join The Deltas (Rock, 2000).

The four decided to abandon the Deltas and form a new group. According to those close to the band, they chose the name from some Christmas holly decorating Graham Nash's house; not in homage to Buddy Holly, as a long time rumor has it (Rock, 2000). The stories are sufficiently vague enough that not even the band members remember exactly; however, what they do agree upon is that the name was simply a stop-gap, and it's stuck for 34 years and counting (Eder, 1996). The original lineup consisted of lead singer Allan Clarke, guitarists Graham Nash and Vic Steele, bassist Eric Haydock, and drummer Don Rathbone. Vic Steele soon left, and was replaced by local guitar hero Tony Hicks. In 1963, before the group started having hits, Rathbone left to become their road manager and was replaced by Bobby Elliott from Shane Fenton And The Fentones; however, both Elliott and Hicks played together previously in another Manchester band called Rick Shaw and the Dolphins. Later, Bernie Colvert took Haydock’s place in '66; and in '68, when Nash left to form Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, he was replaced by Terry Sylvester (Artist, 2004).

The 60s

The band's first show as The Hollies took place at the Oasis Club in Manchester in December 1962 with great success. Not long after, The Hollies took The Beatles slot at the Cavern Club. The Beatles had graduated from the club and had been signed to EMI's Parlophone label by producer George Martin. The amount of musical activity in Liverpool and Manchester caused record producers who had previously never ventured very far from London to start looking to the north. One of them was Ron Richards, a staff producer at EMI, who went up to the Cavern in January 1963. What he found was a tiny club that lived up to its hype and that The Hollies could do more than just wail (Eder, 1996).

After Steele's departure and Hicks entry, The Hollies incorporated many obscure American R&B classics in their early repertoire, similar to many beat groups of the early 60s; however, they were writing new songs as well as commissioning other songs from professional songwriters. The originals wound up as "B" sides, often credited to the pseudonymous "Chester Mann" or “L. Ransford" (Artist, 2004). They scored their first major British hit in the end of 1963 with a cover of Maurice Williams and The Zodiac's Stay which hit #8 in the UK charts. They quickly followed with Doris Troy's Just One Look. The group's fifth single, "We're Through," was their first original A-side, written by Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks and Graham Nash under their new collective pseudonym of "L. Ransford." Recorded on August 25, 1964, "We're Through" was released the following month,and on September 26, 1964, the single entered the British charts at No. 27 and, during a relatively short stay, peaked at #7, a fact that, in the wake of "Just One Look's" #2 showing, discouraged the record company from pursuing any more original A-sides from the band at that time. As an original A-side, however, it was a milestone for the band, and portended better things to come for them.

During the summer of 1965, the Clarke-Hicks-Nash songwriting team, working as "L. Ransford," achieved what, at the time, seemed like a major breakthrough. The three were signed to a publishing contract by Dick James Music and given their own publishing imprint, Gralto Music (for Graham, Allan, and Tony). When Graham left, it became Alto Music. The period from 1966 to 1968 saw Clarke, Hicks and Nash become one of the strongest songwriting teams in English rock, capable of holding their own against the likes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (Eder,1996).

By 1965, The Hollies established themselves as one of Britain's pre-eminent singles bands and enjoyed enormous chart success in several countries (Biography, 2002). However, the group experienced their first lapse when their recording of George Harrison's If I Needed Someone just scraped the UK Top 20 and brought with it some bad press. Both the Hollies and John Lennon took swipes at each other, venting frustration at the comparative failure of a Beatles song (Rock, 2000).

Bassist Eric Haydock and drummer Bobby Elliot were considered one of the tightest rhythm sections in British Pop/Rock of the period; however, in 1966, bassist Haydock was replaced by Bernie Calvert. Many music critics do not consider Calvert to have been as good a bass player as Haydock, whose playing had a much higher profile on the group's records. Ron Richards seemed to bear this out in his contribution to the notes of Epic Records' 20 Song Anthology (Biography, 2002).

According to Richards,

"Calvert was not a good bass player, and [I] deliberately buried his sound in the mix of their songs once he joined the group."

Although they became quite successful by 1966 in Britain and Europe,neither their tours of the United States, nor their record releases in the States had been successful as their success in Europe. With their new member, Bernie Calvert, The Hollies recorded the song that was to become their long-awaited American breakthrough single, "Bus Stop." Written by Graham Gouldman, "Bus Stop" rose to #5 in America as well as making it to the same spot on the English charts.

By this time, the band had blossomed as songwriters and recording artists. Its next album, For Certain Because, was their most elaborate yet, its songs, all originals, filled with unusual instrumentation, including marimbas, kettle drums and other exotic sounds. In many respects The Hollies' equivalent to the Beatles' Rubber Soul album, For Certain Because was the first album by the group in which not a single track was filler, and on which every track could have been either a proper A-side or B-side of a single. Indeed, one song off of the album, "Pay You Back With Interest," was issued as a single by Imperial in America after the band signed with Epic, while another, "Tell Me To My Face," was later covered very successfully in the 1970s by Dan Fogelberg and Tim Weisberg. Other songs, such as "Clown," were more personal compositions by Graham Nash, who was starting to develop a distinctly individual approach to songwriting (Eder,1996).

This was a golden era for The Hollies as a performing unit as well. In concert, they worked on the same bill with acts such as the Spencer Davis Group and the Small Faces, and their music onstage had achieved a level of sophistication equivalent to the kind of songwriting they were doing.The record's success, achieving the #2 spot in England and #7 in America, was all the more remarkable as an original A-side. Their follow-up record, "On A Carousel," was written during the group's tour of America, and recorded on January 11, 1967. Released the following month, it reached a by-now routine #4 in England, and #11 in America. "Carrie Anne" had been started by Hicks in 1965, while the band was on tour in Norway, and started out in the wake of the Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man," with Hicks writing to the phrase "Hey Mr. Man." Two years later, it was finished in its familiar form and recorded on May 3, 1967, in only two takes. Released later the same month, it ascended to #3 in the United Kingdom and #9 in America (Eder,1996).

The year 1967 saw the band release not one, but two long-players, Evolution and Butterfly, that can only be regarded as classics of the psychedelic era. Either record can command a place alongside the Beatles' Revolver or Sergeant Pepper, or even that Pink Floyd standard, Piper At The Gates of Dawn. To date, however, only hard-core Hollies fans have ever picked up on either album, a genuine tragedy for those who are missing them.(Eder,1996)

After The Beatles released Sergeant Pepper in June 1967, The Hollies were quick to join the flower power bandwagon. The band tried their hand at psychedelic music with a new song, King Midas in Reverse largely written by Nash, who yearned to make an impact as a more serious artist. The song had an ambitious string, brass and flute arrangement; however, its relatively modest commercial success did not bode well for his influence over the band's direction, and their next singles were in the more romantic tradition.

In 1968, Nash felt constrained by the band's commercial orientation and left due to creative differences over the plan to record an album of Dylan songs, he saw this as a step backward for the band. He joined forces with former Buffalo Springfield member Stephen Stills and former Byrds member David Crosby to form one of the first supergroups, Crosby, Stills and Nash. His departure really marked the end of the group's peak era. Terry Sylvester, formerly of Liverpool bands The Escorts and Swinging Blue Jeans, replaced him. This lineup had an immediate hit in 1969 with Sorry, Suzanne, which reached No. 3 in the UK. The hit streak continued for a while with He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother, written by Americans Bob Russell and Bobby Scott. The song topped the British and U.S. charts twice; originally in 1969, and again 19 years later, thanks to play in a beer commercial (Artist, 2004). Budding superstar Elton John played piano on this hit .

Nevertheless, the group was reaching a dead end after managing a long run at the top considering that they hadn't changed their formula much since the mid-'60s. It was apparent they really were not capable of producing long-playing works striking enough to appeal to the album audience. Their singles, still charted on occasion; however, the songs were not as memorable as their best '60s work.

The 70s

Clarke, devastated by the departure of his friend of more than 20 years, had been locked into the group identity for nearly all of his adult life, and now felt the urge to step out on his own. The group was beginning a work on a new album, which Clarke would do with them, after which he would begin work on his own career and his own recordings, independent of the band. Ironically, the new album was to benefit from Clarke's plans for a solo career, but the group's ability to take advantage of its unexpected success was to be sorely tested. While recording the album, titled Distant Light, Clarke turned up with a song that was to be added to the record: a throwaway, co-authored by Clarke, Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, titled Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress) (Eder, 1996).

Recorded on a day when producer Ron Richards was absent, the album gave Clarke a rare chance to show off his guitar skills. The problem was that Clarke had not intended it to be released on a Hollies album, but as a record of his own. However, a couple of members of the group did play on it and he was forced to include it on Distant Light. This, in turn, led to an open breach between Clarke and the rest of the group, once they learned that he intended to do a solo recording. Clarke was issued an ultimatum, that he either remain with The Hollies or pursue a solo career, but not both.

In a 1973 interview with [Melody Maker]], Clarke states (Eder, 1996)

They thought that when I became successful, I'd leave them anyway, so they just shortened the agony by forcing me to do one thing or the other. It was silly, really, because I wouldn't have left the group.

Long Cool Woman came out as a single after a modest slide in the early '70s. The song was a Creedence Clearwater Revival style million record selling rocker that made #2 in the States in 1972; suddenly, this became the group's new signature tune, saturating the airwaves in the United States. However, Clarke was already gone, being strangely replaced by Swedish star Mikael Rickfors, who attempted to overcome language barriers. The new Hollies yielded the minor hit The Baby; however, Rickfors could sing in English but not speak it fluently, which created problems that were never fully resolved (Biography, 2002).

Clarke returned in late 1973 and they returned to the UK Top 30 with another swamp rocker written by Clarke, "The Day That Curly Billy Shot Down Crazy Sam McGee". In 1974 another hit ensued, the worldwide smash, The Air That I Breathe and returned the group to their orchestral style in grand fashion; however, it was their last major UK hit for over a decade. The song was written by Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood, and originally recorded by the group's early idol, Phil Everly. The Everly connection had been cemented a few years earlier, when The Hollies largely wrote and backed the American duo on their 1966 Two Yanks in England album. The Air That I Breathe was the last Hollies hit to be produced by Ron Richards, as the group took their own reins (Artist, 2004).

Subsequent singles like Son of a Rotten Gambler, I'm Down, and Boulder to Birmingham, failed to chart. Curiously, mostly thanks to Clarke, they did pick up on Bruce Springsteen's work as a songwriter earlier than a lot of other acts, but not even their beautiful rendition of Sandy could avert their slide from the public's consciousness. Disco heavily influenced most of their late 70 releases and dance-rock sounds of the era, although they never entirely abandoned their harmony vocal sound. Over the next five years, the Hollies pursued the supper-club and cabaret circuit as their chart appearances began to dwindle. Although their albums were well produced, they were largely unexciting and sold poorly. Under other circumstances, they might have pulled off a career conversion similar to that achieved by the Bee Gees after 1974 (Unterberger & Eder, 2005).

Unlike some other British Invasion bands, the Hollies were also accomplished in concert, as indicated by their 1977 Live Hits album recorded in Christchurch, New Zealand the previous year. The album included effective performances of lesser-known songs such as Hicks' working-class portrayal Too Young to Be Married, which reached #1 in several overseas territories, though never released as such in the UK or US (Biography, 2002). Ironically, their American label, Epic Records ended up passing on the Live Hits that would have reached out to old and new audiences. It received enthusiastic reviews in numerous American magazines and newspapers as a Canadian import. Apparently, Epic made a decision that The Hollies would never sell large numbers of LPs regardless of how big their hits were and subsequently minimized their marketing efforts, essentially running out the clock on their contract (Unterberger & Eder, 2005).

The 80s and beyond

In 1981 Calvert and Sylvester left and were replaced by Alan Coates and Ray Styles, respectively. Sensing major problems ahead, EMI suggested they put together a Stars On 45-type segued single. The ensuing Holliedaze was a hit and returned them to the UK Top 30 (Rock, 2000). Nash and Haydock briefly rejoined to promote the record on Top of the Pops. The Hollies received a small boost in press interest in America when Graham Nash decided to reunite with the Hollies. They found worldwide success with an update of the Supremes classic Stop! In The Name Of Love, which reached No. 29 in 1983, subsequently, the group recorded an album (What Goes Around). The next year, a live album featuring the Clarke-Hicks-Elliott-Nash regrouping, Reunion. However, this proved a false start, the album received reviews, but they were often negative, and a tour by this line-up had to be hastily re-booked into smaller halls (Unterberger & Eder, 2005). He Ain't Heavy was reissued in the UK in 1988 and reached No. 1 after its use in a Miller lite beer commercial, thus establishing a new record for the length of time between chart-topping singles for one artist of 23 years (Biography, 2002).

Although The Hollies continue to tour and record today, with only two original members, Hicks and Elliot, there really is no public demand for new recordings, and by the 1990s they had ceased recording regularly. Ian Parker joined the group on keyboards circa 1990. However, their status as pop music legends is already assured. Their classics are frequently reissued and win the band new fans all the time thanks to the durability and imagination of the group’s song writing. In 1993, they were given an Ivor Novello award in honor of their contribution to British music. The group was also the subject of a tribute album, Sing Hollies In Reverse, in 1995. It featured major alternative-rock figures like the Posies and Material Issue covering their Hollies favorites, thus proving the enduring nature of the group’s work.

Allan Clarke, after nearly 40 years as the lead vocalist for the band, found that his singing didn't come to him as strongly or as well as he was used to. In 2000, he decided to retire, leaving Hicks and Elliott as the last two core members of the group. In 2003, EMI Records recognized the Hollies' musical significance with a huge (and hugely satisfying) six-CD box set, The Long Road Home: 1963-2003, covering every era and major line-up in the group's history (Unterberger & Eder, 2005).

After Clarke's retirement, he was replaced by Carl Wayne, former lead singer of The Move. Wayne only recorded one song with them, How Do I Survive, before his untimely death from cancer in 2004, and was replaced by Peter Howarth, who had worked for many years with Cliff Richard and had starred in a national tour of The Roy Orbison Story. The Hollies have recently completed a new studio album, their first since 1983, Staying Power, trailed by the singles Hope and So Damn Beautiful, was released in 2006. (Biography, 2002).

It is a sure bet that the Hollies’ music will continue to delight lovers of pop for pop's sake for a long time. Despite the line-up changes throughout the years, the Hollies have always managed to put out great music with their trademark three part harmony. One of the best and most successful bands from their birth professionally in 1963 into the new millennium.


  • Allan Clarke  : guitar, vocals (1962-1971; 1973-1999)
  • Tony Hicks  : guitar, vocals (1962 onwards)
  • Graham Nash  : guitar, vocals (1962-1968: left to form Crosby, Stills & Nash; 1981)
  • Don Rathbone  : drums (1962; became manager)
  • Vic Steele : guitar, vocals (1962)
  • Bobby Elliott  : drums (1963 onwards)
  • Eric Haydock  : bass (1963-1966; 1981)
  • Bernie Calvert  : bass (1966-1981)
  • Terry Sylvester  : vocals/guitar (1969-1981)
  • Mikael Rickfors : vocals/guitar (1972)
  • John Miles : guitar, vocals (Guest Appearance)
  • Alan Coates  : vocals, guitar (1982-2004)
  • Dennis Haines : keyboards (1983-1989)
  • Steve Stroud : bass (1982-1985; 1990; 1996)
  • Ray Stiles  : bass, vocals (1985 onwards)
  • Ian Parker  : keyboards (1991 onwards)
  • Carl Wayne  : lead vocals (2000-2004)
  • Peter Howarth  : lead vocals (2004 onwards)
  • Steve Laurie  : vocals/guitar (2004 onwards)
  • Jamie Moses  : guitar, vocals (several tours and recordings)
  • Dave Carey  : keyboards (1990)

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