Sunday Express

It’s still hip to be in Cliff’s Shadow


BRIAN BENNETT, drummer with rock pioneers The Shadows, chuckles as he tells me how hip-hop made him hip for a new generation.

Brian, 79, was shocked to receive a rap track in the post – a recording of his 1978 disco instrument­al Solstice blitzed with more bad language than a Channel 4 comedy.

“I threw it straight in the bin,” he says. Later on the golf course, he told a music business buddy about it. “He asked me who the rapper was. I said it was Was or Wiz or something similar. ‘Nas?’ he asked. ‘That’s it’, I said. He was aghast.

“‘He’s sold millions of albums’, he said.and he had. I got a £10,000 cheque for that!”

Kanye sampled the same track in 2010 for his hit Lord Lord Lord. “Then Drake sampled another of my tracks for Summer Sixteen in 2016,” Brian laughs. “Now my granddaugh­ters think I’m hip.”

Go back 58 years and Bennett was as hip as you could get. Before the Beatles and the Stones, Cliff and the Shadows were Britain’s top band.

Brian, who replaced Tony Meehan in 1961, says: “I’d played with

Marty Wilde, Eddie Cochran and Genevincen­t so screaming audiences weren’t new to me but this was bigger, louder. You’d never heard anything like it. It was unique, exciting, incredible.”

It’s now the 60th anniversar­y of the first No 1 by Cliff and the Shadows, Travellin’ Light, a fact celebrated by a 60-track CD set, The Best of The Rock ’n’ Roll Pioneers.

Softly-spoken Bennett was house drummer at Soho’s famed 2i’s coffee bar and regarded as the best of his generation when the Shadows came calling. He said “no” and they doubled their offer to £50 a week. Next day he was in summer season.

The touring “all merges into one” he says, although he fondly recalls a lass who hailed taxis to follow their coach home, “waving out of the cab until she ran out of money and then walking back to Liverpool”.

Fans included George Harrison who said “No Shadows, no Beatles.” Says Brian: “They used to come and see us at Liverpool Empire. I was at Paul’s 21st birthday party. He picked us up from the station.”

The Who, Jimmy Page and Brian May were also admirers. “We were a good rock ’n’ roll band, before management tried to turn us into all-round entertaine­rs,” Brian says with a sigh. “They were convinced rock was a short-lived fad, so they made us do pantomimes and films.”

They were in panto in Stocktonon-tees in January 1962 when Shadows rhythm guitarist Bruce Welch came up to him with the film script for Summer Holiday and said the producers wanted a hit single.

“I was in the pit doing a postal course” – on drumming techniques and harmonies. “Bruce started strumming. He had the opening lines and I came up with the next lyrics off the top of my head: ‘We’re going where the sun shines brightly, we’re going where the sea is blue...’ It took 20 minutes to write.”

It was Brian’s first number one, a source of great pride and occasional embarrassm­ent.

“My wife Margaret and I were flying from Luton to Portugal on the red-eye and a group of children started singing Summer Holiday. I joined in; a teacher came up. ‘I wrote it,’ I said, and he looked at me and said ‘Go away!’”

In 1962 came America. But the first date, Miami, was “a disaster,” Brian says. “It coincided with the Cuban Missile Crisis, the day JFK told Kruschev to back down.

“We got to the theatre and it was empty, the city was on high alert; nobody wanted to go out.”

They were promoting The Young Ones but as there was already a US film of that name, it was changed to It’s Wonderful To Be Young. “A young chap came to see us to write the title song, an unknown American, Burt Bacharach...”

Cliff had the X factor. He was only 17 when he had his first hit with Move It in 1958, back when the Shadows were called the Drifters. Cliff was modest, decent and smart, with a classless accent; crucially he didn’t terrify parents. He was a blank canvas fans could project their fantasies on to a perfect star.

As unknown Harry Webb, Cliff had recruited teenage Geordie guitarists Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch at the 2i’s. Bassist Jet Harris and drummer Tony Meehan completed the line-up.

Fame didn’t involve drink and drugs; welch didn’t drink until he was 21. Female fans were besotted with Cliff who, with his clean-cut image, kept them at bay. Brian, a father of three, married at 20. By the time he replaced Meehan, “the Shads” had topped the charts themselves with Apache and had hits with Cliff...travellin Light, I Love You and Please Don’t Tease. Cliff and the Shadows notched up seven UK No 1s and 16 other top 10 hits but by 1968 they’d burnt out.

“I loved it,” says Brian. “The pantomimes were the only downside but it enabled me to stay in one place to do my postal course.we were in freezing cold B&BS for months. It got a bit wearing after my 100th fall through Arthur

Askey’s mangle.”

Brian, born in war-time London, has written background music for TV shows from The Sweeney to Ruth Rendell. He’s a conductor, has three Ivor Novello awards and has written library music for film and TV for decades, which is where the hip-hop producers found it. australia’s Channel 9 has long used his work as the theme to its cricket coverage.

Home is a Hertfordsh­ire farm with a recording studio. Brian composes every day – he’s finishing a musical about 1950s Soho. But the Shadows retain a special place in his heart.

Cliff has hinted that they might all get together for a 60th anniversar­y tour. Brian, however, is sceptical. “I’m 80 in February, if we’re going to tour they’d better get a move on.”

But the prospect excites him. “I’d want to practise for six months and lose a couple of stone,” he muses.

“It wouldn’t be too hard...”

 ?? ?? CHEERY: Cliff with Hank Marvin
CHEERY: Cliff with Hank Marvin

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