Rossendale Free Press
Paul asked me to join Wings but my heart was with The Hollies
British band The Hollies are marking six decades of music. MARION McMULLEN chats to drummer Bobby Elliott about the early days of the iconic group
BOBBY ELLIOTT has been the beating heart of the Hollies since the Swingin’ Sixties and has never been tempted to leave the iconic band.
He remembers recording at Abbey Road when former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney was in the neighbouring studio with his then new band Wings.
“He was in the number three studio and we were in number two,” he recalls.
“He would come in a few times and he asked me, ‘Do you fancy doing a bit of jamming?’
“I said, ‘sure’. I thought he just wanted get together in the pub.
“That night he poured me a glass of wine and said ‘Bobby I’d like you to join our band, to join Wings’.
“I had to tell him, ‘Well, all my heart is with The Hollies. I’m sorry Paul, but no thanks,’ and that was that really. It was all done in a friendly way.”
Bobby recently went back to Abbey Road to work with Paul’s photographer daughter Mary on the documentary If These Walls Could Sing about the famous recording studio.
“I took along the drum kit I used for The Air That I Breathe,” says Bobby, “and I had a look around the old cupboards that used to be filled with special effects records.
“They are empty now, but they used to be filled with sirens, thunder claps, whistles and chimes.
“Before the Beatles, it was known as the EMI studio and did classical recordings of Elgar and Stravinsky as well as Cliff Richard.”
The Hollies recorded most of their music at Abbey Road Studios and would stroll into central London after finishing for the day and enjoy a drink with Keith Richards or Eric Burdon of The Animals.
Self-taught drummer Bobby began playing along to music on the radio in his bedroom above his mother’s grocery shop as a boy.
“I had paint brush handles for sticks and a Cadbury’s Roses tin and a biscuit tin for drums and got quite a nice sound,” he chuckles.
“Later I managed to scrape together some drum parts with help from my dad. I’d get a bit carried away banging up there. My mum one time said a customer came in with a shopping list and just left because it was so loud. I had visions of the ceiling flaking down, but it was not quite as drastic as that.”
When Burnley-born Bobby joined The Hollies it was the start of a life-long commitment. Emerging from Salford in 1962, the group were inspired by the Everly Brothers and the skiffle craze sweeping Britain.
A successful show at the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool won the group a pivotal audition with the Parlophone record label.
With tracks such as The Air That I Breathe, He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother and Bus Stop, their threepart vocal harmonies became instantly recognisable.
Celebrated as one of the most influential bands from the 1960s British Invasion era alongside the likes of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the Hollies have had more than 20 world-wide hits, including number one singles in the US and UK. They have also spent an astonishing 263 weeks in the UK top 40 official singles chart and have been performing continuously since their formation in 1962.
Sir Elton John, Burt Bacharach and John Paul Jones have all played with them on various projects over the years.
The Hollies did not truly break America until Bus Stop in 1966 and they were successful worldwide, with hits in New Zealand, Canada, Australia and more.
“The first time we went to America we were like these Limey weirdos stepping off the plane,” remember Bobby with a laugh.
“Everybody there had cropped hair and suits. Two years later we went back and Flower Power had hit and they all looked like Jesus.”
Bobby has brought out his autobiography, It Ain’t Heavy, It’s My Story, recalling his rock and roll career, but he remembers it was touch and go when he collapsed on stage in Germany in 1967 with an inflamed appendix.
“We were touring Germany and we were in Hamburg when I just collapsed and woke up in hospital,” he remembers. “I needed a transfusion and they had to change all my blood – I have German blood running through my veins.
“They cared for me for two weeks and my parents came over and it was quite scary. It took me a while to recover. They could not operate for three months because my stomach was so swollen and they had to wait for it to go down.
“I eventually had the operation back in the UK. I still have the two scars. One was from a drain. I looked like a little teapot.”
The Hollies are now planning to celebrate their 60th anniversary with a nationwide tour next year with a line-up that includes Bobby and the band’s original singersongwriter, and lead guitarist Tony Hicks. They will be joined by lead singer Peter Howarth, bass player Ray Stiles, keyboardist Ian Parker, and Steve Lauri on rhythm guitar.
Bobby, who turns 80 on December 8, is already looking forward to performing live again.
He laughs: “At my age if you are touring you’re doing OK. We’re straining at the leash. Put me behind some drums and I am in heaven.”
The Hollies’ 60th anniversary tour runs from May next year. Go to TheHolliesOfficial. com for ticket details