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From Club Sandwich N°79, Autumn 1996
Some people, to quote Andy Warhol, are famous for fifteen minutes. Others say that a week is a long time in politics. So what does that make Buddy Holly Week – launched in 1976 and still as good as ever? Why, it makes it twenty years old, of course, and as Buddy himself would have been sixty this September there was a double celebration when MPL partied in London on 11 September.
Being one of the legendary rock and rollers who “died young” and will forever remain so, it’s a sobering thought that the great Holly would now be sixty. And while one can only speculate as to his present standing, had he lived, it seems reasonable to guess that such an innovative and influential figure would be far from forgotten. Buddy At 60 was indeed the theme of this year’s MPL event, and the artwork for the party invitations depicted Jeff Cummins’ interpretation of -what Buddy might have looked like, 37 years beyond his last ever photograph: grey/white wavy hair swept back over a high forehead, lines etched into his intelligent, dignified face.
The crowd of people packed into the first floor area of the Texas Embassy Cantina, just off Trafalgar Square, were Buddy fans to a man and woman: musicians, artists, photographers, writers and friends, and every glance around the room took in a familiar face or three, from Victor Spinetti, stopping off en route to Hollywood, Peter Blake, the great pop artist whose designing of the Sgt Pepper album cover has unfairly overshadowed much else, other pop artists David Oxtoby, Humphrey Ocean and the aforesaid Jeff Cummins, to musician friends like Eric Stewart, Allan Clarke, original skifflers Chas McDevitt and Shirley Douglas, Dave Dee, Howie Casey, veteran of Hamburg’s night clubs and Wings’ world tours, the cruiserless Dave Berry, and Gary Glitter, dressed in his customary inconspicuous manner. And there was Paul McCartney, of course, mingling with the crowd and enjoying relaxed conversations with his friends. These are people among whom he can feel at home.
Every Buddy Holly Week has a theme, and this year’s was Sing A Buddy Song, a competition for non-pro vocalists, with a first prize of £5000 and a day in a recording studio for the best interpreter/singer of a song that Buddy Holly used to perform. Almost 500 applicants sent in cassettes during the early summer, a number then whittled down to the premier ten – each of whom performed for the gathering at the Texas Cantina. Among the diners was a distinguished five-man judging panel of Russ Ballard, Mike Berry, Bruce Welch, Sir Tim Rice and Laurie Mansfield (the impresario who has mounted the Buddy and Jolson stage shows in London).
In truth, any one of the ten could have won, so high was the calibre of performance, and there was much interest in two singers from Merseyside, with the Liverpool Echo in the audience to track their progress. All manner of Holly songs were performed, with original interpretations the order of the day: a reggae version of ‘Crying, Waiting, Hoping’, a sedate swing through ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’, an excellent Mott the Hoople-style version of ‘Peggy Sue’ being among the highlights.
The winning performance was distinct from all others, however, being a Jungle version of ‘Not Fade Away’ that owed little to Buddy’s original or the Rolling Stones’ hit cover version and plenty to the sound of 1996. The main singer (shouter, really) Mick Walsh, hails from Stevenage in Hertfordshire, although the focus of attention was firmly on his vocal accompanist, a young lady with excellent stomach muscles and clothing that didn’t quite fit in all the expected places. Eye catching as well as ear catching, the hypnotic keyboard beat of the piece, together with these vocal performances, caused eyebrows to shoot up and feet to twitch, for there was no denying the irresistibility and groove of the performance.
In the end, only one point separated the winning Mick Walsh & co from runner-up Paul Collier (the Mott the Hooplist ‘Peggy Sue’ from the Wirral), who won £2000, with Jason Stanley (from Waltham Abbey in Essex, who sang a fine ‘True Love Ways’) placing third and taking home an MPL cheque for £1000.
With the Peter Pan-like and ever-excellent Mike Berry coming on to perform a closing set, the party was winding down when there came a surprise. A woman from Lubbock, Texas – Buddy Holly’s home town – was called to the stage where she explained that as an emissary of the Lubbock mayor, her mission was to acknowledge Paul McCartney’s contribution to the ongoing memory of Buddy and present him with the Freedom of the City of Lubbock and a golden key that (they say) will open every door there.
The presentation required Paul’s presence on the stage and a short thank you speech, and from here it was inevitable that Tony Prince, the indefatigable master of ceremonies, would call for a swift jam session. Within the space of a few drinks – sorry, blinks – Paul was lining up alongside Gary Glitter, Mike Berry, Dave Dee, Allan Clarke and others for a singalong that began with ‘Oh Boy!’ and somehow blurred into ‘Rave On’. The mood was jubilant… which was just as well since the combined muster of these great rockers did not extend to any accurate recollection of the verse/chorus order.
But it was the vibe that counted, with Paul mimicking Gary Glitter’s infamous stage posturing and everyone enjoying the singalongaholly in a manner that, if Buddy was looking down upon the scene, would surely have brought a smile and a tear to the great man’s face.
Rave on, Buddy Holly Week!Mark Lewisohn, from Club Sandwich N°79, Autumn 1996
Last updated on March 3, 2020
Texas Embassy Cantina
This was the 1st and only concert played at Texas Embassy Cantina.
Setlist for the concert