Face to face with Brian Southall

Hollies front cover.indd

The Hollies played a huge part in the shaping of UK music. Thus said, it’s astonishing that their first ever biography has been written only recently. Brian Southall’s book ‘The Road Is Long… The Hollies Story’ comes out just in time to mark the 50th anniversary of the band’s first #1 hit song ‘I’m Alive’. I asked Brian a few questions about his new book and The Hollies and here’s what he had to say.

– What inspired you to write the book about The Hollies?

– The idea to write a book about The Hollies came after a lunch with an old EMI/Abbey Road studios colleague when we reminisced about the old days and The Hollies came up in the conversation and I began to wonder whether anyone had ever done a book about them. I turned out nobody had so I began talking to people I knew who had worked with them and it went from there to what we have today.

– In a nutshell, how would you introduce this book to readers?

– I would like readers to know that it is the first detailed history of The Hollies ever published in the UK and that it tells the story of one band’s journey through changes in personnel, fashion, musical styles and any number of other challenges – including drink, drugs and acrimonious bust ups.

– What were the most interesting and challenging things while writing the book?

– The most challenging thing was trying to find members of the band. Eric Haydock was most helpful and Graham Nash sent back plenty of e-mail answers while Allan Clarke replied with just a few comments. The fact that I couldn’t find Bernie Calvert was disappointing but it was a real frustration that Terry Sylvester, Bobby Elliott and Tony Hicks would not be interviewed.
However talking to the people in Manchester who worked with the band members before they were The Hollies – and in their early days as a band – was fascinating.

– What would you like the readers to take out of the book after they’ve finished reading? 

– Hopefully the book will help people realise the importance of the band as one of the great British acts to emerge in the 60s and then go on for another 50+ years. Their track record has been overlooked by many people and hopefully this book will remind people just how influential and successful they were.

– What do you see as the most unusual fact of The Hollies’ biography?

– I think the fact that as a band they have four lead singers over the years is unique and also that there is nobody from Manchester in the current line-up of a band that was seen as Manchester’s answer to The Beatles – in fact none of the band’s current line-up were original members of The Hollies.

– What role did The Hollies play in your life?

– I was a fan of The Hollies from my days as a 16-year-old school boy when I first got into them through their 1964 hits ‘Stay’ and ‘Just One Look’ – and, as with The Beatles and their covers of US songs, they led me to go and find out about the original American acts like Maurice Williams and Doris Troy. They were a major part of my musical education.

– What, do you think, is the key to writing a good band biography?

– A good band biography requires lots of painstaking research in libraries and through newspaper files and also finding interesting people who have important memories/stories of the band. And what’s good is that once you find one ‘old’ contact they lead you to others as was the case with people in Manchester who knew The Hollies. I also think it’s important to try and reflect the time in history when things happened – the 60s & 70s are a long time ago and has a lot has changed so it’s good to try and get some of that nostalgia into the story.

– What’s your favourite book about music or a band?

– I am a big fan of Mystery Train by Greil Marcus, which traces the history of American rock’n’roll, alongside Jerry Hopkins’ book Elvis and also Ray Coleman’s biography of John Lennon plus, of course, the first and only official biography of The Beatles by Hunter Davies – a must for all music fans.

– What are your plans for the future? 

– I have a couple of book ideas in the pipeline but it’s down to publishers as to whether they get any further than being an idea. That’s how it is with writers … we have ideas but we have to find publisher’s who like them!!

The Road Is Long… The Hollies Story is now available from Amazon

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