FORMER Melody Maker journalist and music PR Brian Southall once came to East Lancashire for an interview as a sports reporter at the Nelson Advertiser. He turned it down and one suspects, looking back on his amazing career in the music business, that it's not a decision he's regretted.

"There were cobbles and it was very cold," he laughs. But the clincher was the fact that the newspaper had upset the chairman Bob Lord and been banned from covering Burnley FC unless they paid for a ticket.


Brian, 68, went on to work on the sportsdesk of the Essex Chronicle instead. He eventually got a break with top music papers of the day Melody Maker and Disc which catapulted him into high-flying PR jobs with A&M records, EMI and Tamla Motown.

He's worked with everyone from The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Carpenters, T-Rex, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Queen and many others.

"It's funny but the only band kids ever want to hear about is The Sex Pistols. We only had them for 90 days at EMI and I wrote a book about it. It's a story about how the EMI corporation couldn't deal with these four guys plus Malcolm MacLaren. They were all playing a game so you can imagine the overreaction of a corporate institute which couldn't deal with it. The media went crazy. I still see Glenn Matlock he was always the nicest guy in the band. It was a fun time."

Brian has written 17 books about the music industry. His latest is The Road Is Long ....The Hollies Story, about the supergroup which dominated the charts for more than two decades and featured three East Lancashire musicians, Tony Hicks, Bobby Elliott and Bernie Calvert in its line-ups.

It was published this week to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the band's first No.1 hit back in 1965 when I'm Alive knocked Elvis' Crying in the Chapel off the top spot on June 24.

It's the first ever biography of a band who had two remarkable careers. Their amazing run of three-part harmony hits every year 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 was kick-started with a wave of classic singles led by He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother and The Air that I Breathe dominated charts and the airwaves in the 1970s.

Even Brian was amazed to discover that a book had never been written about the group.

"They were huge in the 60s and came out of Manchester. Allan Clarke and Graham Nash met at school when they were about six. They sang in the school choir. They got guitars at 14. Then came the great moment in their life which was seeing and hearing the Everly Brothers, who had great harmonies which, of course, was what Allan and Graham had. They were their heroes."

They went on to play in various Manchester bands, primarily the Four Tones – "there were actually five people in it, so I've never quite worked that one out," says Brian.

When they split up Allan and Graham played around Manchester – "there was a very cliquey music scene going on in Manchester in the 60s. Manchester had more clubs than Liverpool, The Twisted Wheel, the Oasis. That's where they all met and teamed up."

A founding member of The Hollies was Eric Haydock who was the first to leave the band, "I spent an afternoon with Eric in Manchester. He's living in Stockport."

Eric had a comedy band called The Deltas that did a "strange act where they'd come out dressed in caveman outfits and club each other. He persuaded Allan and Graham to join The Deltas and that was the origins of The Hollies."

In 1962 they were playing the Oasis Club in Manchester and the MC asked Allan Clarke what the band was called. "They didn't have a name, so someone shouted out 'The Hollies', but no-one was quite sure whether it was because it was Christmas or in recognition of Buddy Holly who was a hero of theirs. Bizarrely, that band didn't include the only two members who are in The Hollies today – Tony Hicks and Bobby Elliott, who came from Burnley."

In early 1963 the band were playing in Liverpool at The Cavern and Ron Richards, one of the great EMI producers, saw The Hollies and wanted to sign them. EMI's top man George Martin was busy producing The Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers, and charged Ron with looking after them. He took them to London, with Tony Hicks in the line-up and Don Rathbone on drums.

"Don's dad was an undertaker and he had access to his van, which was very important because if you didn't have transport you had to take your instruments on the bus," said Brian.

Eventually the band got a bit of money and decided "Don wasn't such a great drummer", so Allan Clarke's brother became the driver and Bobby Elliott, who was playing with Shane Fenton (later to become Alvin Stardust), was recruited.

So that was the first line-up of The Hollies with Graham Nash and Allan Clarke on vocals, Eric Haydock on bass, Tony Hicks on guitar and Bobby Elliott on drums. They lasted together until 1966 and had a number one hit with I'm Alive.

"My first encounter with them was in 1965 when I went to interview The Rolling Stones and The Hollies were on the same bill," said Brian. "Allan Clarke borrowed my comb and my girlfriend then stole it off me as a keepsake."

Eric then left the band – it's complicated and to get the full story you'll have to read the book. "He's still a little upset about it," says Brian.

But that was when Bernie Calvert, from Burnley, who was a friend of Hicks and Elliott, stepped up. "So the band was all Burnley and Mancunian and that line up stayed through Carrie Ann, Carousel, Jennifer Eccles, Stop, Stop, Stop – an enormous number of hits."

Graham Nash left in 1968 "because he wanted to be a hippy and was in the studios with The Beatles when they recorded All You Need is Love withTelstar. He went into hippieland and loved sex, drugs and rock 'n'roll and the rest of The Hollies were northern blokes just having a nice time. Graham said 'for every pint of beer they had, I had another joint'."

And the rest, as they say, is history.

  • The Road Is Long....The Hollies Story by Brian Southall. Red Planet Publishing, ISBN 978 1 9059 5976 1, £15.99