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Buddy, the Buddy Holly Story

by on 12 November 2019

Evergreen Holly

Buddy, the Buddy Holly Story

by Allan Janes

Buddy Worldwide at the Ashcroft Theatre, Fairfield Halls, Croydon until 16th November then on tour until 19th July

Review by Vince Francis

This show has become something of a phenomenon over the past thirty – count ‘em – thirty years. I last saw it about twenty years ago in the West End and was swept along by the sheer energy of the piece. It is a tribute to the writing, production, direction and performance that this still remains the case.

The show tells the story of Buddy Holly’s rise to fame and his untimely death in 1959, along with The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. I was born in 1956, so this was slightly before my time, but it is a tribute to Holly that his music continued to be played through the sixties, when I first became aware of such things, and into the present day, where he is rightfully revered as one of the founders of rock music as we know it.

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The first act takes us from early beginnings in the local radio station through to the gig at the Apollo, New York, where Buddy and the band gain acceptance from the initially intimidating Harlem audience. The Apollo gig scene brings us a fine pastiche of Jackie Wilson, as played by Miguel Angel, and some particularly delicious vocals on the part of Sasha Latoyah and Cartier Fraser.

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The second act opens with some audience “warm up” leading to a portrayal of the final gig that Buddy Holly played, along with Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. It was given to Harry Boyd to play the M.C. of the venue in question (Clear Lake, Iowa) and it has to be said, that on a cold Monday evening in Croydon, in a theatre where audience numbers could have been better, he was having to earn his keep up there, but he did it and with great aplomb. The remainder of the cast join as band members and backing singers for this section, which beefs up the numbers wonderfully.

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The risk with a show like this is maintaining the balance between telling the story and being a tribute act. This production achieves that well, through strong characterization, supplemented by the use of a narrator, who steps out of the action to communicate directly with us when it helps to move the story along. Harry Boyd takes on this challenge, portraying various characters, including DJ Dave Stone and producers ‘Hipockets’ Duncan and Norman Petty with huge energy.

BHolly9639A J Jenks gives an impressively rounded portrayal of Buddy. Sometimes showing that young man’s awkwardness and sometimes the brashness, but always the growing confidence. He plays pretty well, too. The band around him were supportive, wholly credible, energetic characters, particularly, I thought, Josh Harberfield as Jerry Allison. Maintaining that drum pattern in Peggy Sue is no mean feat and the precision and attention to detail in Not Fade Away was excellent.

In the humble opinion of this hack, this genre of music is the most accessible and inclusive of any available in the western world. As a jobbing band musician, I know that you only have to include a ten-minute spin through the rock’n’roll hits of the late 50s and early 60s to fill the dance-floor with people of all ages. More than that, I’m sure I’m not alone in being able to remember all of the lyrics and flourishes of songs such as Johnny B. Goode, Peggy Sue and suchlike, whereas I struggle to get beyond the first four lines of I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud.

As a lover of Fender guitars and amplifiers, I’m always happy to hear the crystalline tones of a cranked Stratocaster or the nasal snap of a hard-strummed Telecaster (my instrument of choice, incidentally) and those joyous sounds are in abundance here. Having said that, I know that the two Fender amps on stage were set-dressing, but I had a sneaking suspicion that those models may be a little anachronistic. Still, it would have been nice, if at all practical, to hear them spreading the word. Also, the programme tells us that Buddy applied the tooled leather wrap to his Gibson acoustic, yet the guitar on stage is a Takamine, which, if nothing else, is also a little anachronistic.

This is a touring production and, as such, set and furniture is kept to the minimum required to suggest an environment, be that an office, a studio or a venue. For the most part, this works very well, but there were a couple of clunky changes, which may well have been first-night issues that will be corrected for the rest of the week.

Overall, this is a wonderful, feel-good evening out, which will have you up in the aisles singing out the lyrics, clapping your hands (on two and four, please … this is rock’n’roll dontcherknow) and bopping your hearts out. That is in some ways ironic given that the story itself is so tragic, but a tribute to the man and his legacy. Go see.

Vince Francis
November 2019

Photography by Rebecca Need-Menear

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