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“We were playing the Palace Theatre in Manchester, some time back in the early eighties… and we were on stage, ready to go, when all of a sudden the PA went kaput!”
And so begins the story of a relationship that has spanned over forty years.
We’re sitting with Bobby Elliott, the influential drummer from iconic rock ‘n’ roll band The Hollies. Now into his eighties, he’s still going strong, and as we sit in his dressing room in the world-famous London Palladium, the band are about to play the final night on their twenty-five date 2023 tour – a tour that marks the bands sixtieth anniversary. It’s a truly incredible feat.
Anyway, back to Bob’s story…
“It was about 7. 25pm one night, we were due to go on in five minutes, and the punters were all still waiting outside – and this is a 2,000 seater venue! They were all trying to get in and I remember they had their noses pressed against the glass of the doors. Of course, we were frantically looking at the equipment, trying to get it to work, and our guys were floundering, because we had nothing!
We just looked at each other and thought, ‘What can we do?’
Then this unassuming little fella walked in and disappeared backstage. We all looked at each other, and thought, ‘What’s he up to?’ But a few minutes later he came back on stage, and suddenly the equipment started working again. He’d fixed it!”
The ‘unassuming fixer’ in question is none other than Mick Spratt, veteran of the industry, and former owner of Wigwam. Bob laughs fondly at the memory and his eyes drift off in recollection. He’s recently written his first autobiography, ‘He Ain’t Heavy, It’s My Story’, and it’s packed full of rock and roll anecdotes like this one.
‘Well, we’ve been inseparable ever since,’ he continues. ‘They stayed loyal to us, and we stayed loyal to them. We’ve been working together now for over forty years.’
The Hollies are incredible. As Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, they are one of the hardest working bands of all time, having toured every year since 1963 (save for a couple of absences due to COVID).
I ask Bob what their secret is. What is it that has kept them going, and what is it that has kept Wigwam, then SSE, and now Solotech so close to The Hollies?
‘Well, it’s been a joy really. I mean, obviously we still enjoy performing – we wouldn’t do it otherwise – but just it’s been so easy. Wigwam, SSE, Solotech, have always made it a pleasure. There’s been a lovely continuity between the businesses.
And that personal touch has always been very important to us. Even when we came out of COVID, it could’ve been difficult, but we just rang Tom (Tom Bush, Account Manager), and he made it all happen.
See, it’s the people. They did (and do) the job so well. There’s none of this unnecessary jargon that that you get from other companies, there’s no blinding you with science and all that. They’ve always just got it done.
And it’s no different today. That same special care – that we’ve always enjoyed – is still there. Take the carnets, for example. Jordan Franks, based out of the Birmingham office, she handles all that for
us, it’s seamless. It’s just so easy. And that’s just one way that [Solotech] makes our lives easy. And that translates.
See it’s not just the gig, it’s not just the gear, they are all important, sure, but it’s the people, you know? You’ve got it all there, the people. There’s a camaraderie with the band, of course, but also with the crew. And whether it’s backstage or on stage, you know, everybody’s happy! You can hear laughter, usually down the corridor. And that transmits to a good show – one that people love coming back to!’
Dave (Hoppy) Hopkinson, Tour Manager and Sound Engineer, nods in agreement. He’s been working with The Hollies for more years than he cares to mention and is clearly another happy member of family.
Speaking of the show, I ask him what they’re using out front.
‘A bit of the house, and we’ve got a vintage d&b C4/C7 system, which serves us amazingly well in all these venues. See, the band don’t need really heavy subs because back in the sixties they didn’t exist – especially the really low frequency sub bass units that you hear today – and so the music doesn’t suit it. We do have bass, but it’s a very sixties sound. It’s crisp. Really distinctive. Almost like a studio in quality.’
Tony Hicks, Lead Guitarist and Backing Singer, agrees. ‘We don’t have amplifiers on stage, behind us, going out to the audience, we just have monitors at the front, which can sometimes cause us problems. I remember once we went on stage and the monitor controller failed halfway through. We had to do the whole gig with nothing more than the sound from the auditorium!
When we tell that story to the fans they say, “Why didn’t you just stand closer together!”’
Our laughter is interrupted by another member of the crew. There are less than a couple of hours before the curtain goes up and the guys need to do tonight’s sound check.
Before they go I ask Bobby if he has any other rock and roll anecdotes that he can share.
‘Plenty,’ he says, ‘I should call my journals “Bobby’s Saucy Diaries”, but if you want more then you need to read my book!’
And so you should. It Ain’t Heavy, It’s My Story is a rollocking good read and can be found here or at all good book retailers.