BRISTOL HIPPODROME

Buddy June 2014

Oh boy! Bristol loves the 25th anniversary tour of the Buddy Holly story and spontaneously stood to loudly applaud at the end of the opening performance on Monday night.

Buddy has been called the ‘most successful rock ‘n’ roll show of all-time’ and has been seen by more than 22 million people worldwide.

Unlike other musicals I had seen lately at the Bristol Hippodrome fans didn’t have to be encouraged or cajoled into showing their appreciation – they loved it and rocked the aisles.

The first half which charts Buddy’s long and sometimes laborious attempts to break into the music business is a little drawn out and I expected more of a love story but it is a good if not great show.

So how has his geeky man wearing thick rimmed glasses and whose sex appeal was compared to that of a ‘telegraph pole’ managed to stay ‘real’ to music lovers despite his time in the limelight being cut tragically short?

Well I believe his 15 minutes of fame has endured more than half a century because of his innovative music and modern outlook.

A boy from the south he married a Spanish-speaking girl from Mexico and headlined at a Harlem theatre at a time when segregation was the norm and rock ‘n’ roll dammed as ‘coloured’ music.

This was the 1950s when a leading psychologist published a article in a renowned broadsheet calling for rock ‘n’ roll to be made a ‘communicable disease’ – you couldn’t make it up!

And as the lyrics in American Pie by Don McLean lament Buddy Holly’s death aged 22 was ‘the day the music died’.

This is a reference to the demise of both Buddy and his rock ‘n’ roll buddies Ritchie Valens and JP ‘The Big Bopper’ Richardson all killed along with pilot Roger Peterson in the plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, on February 3, 1959.

The musical doesn’t linger on the accident – no overhead engine failure noises like the opening scene of Lord of the Flies – a lone guitar is left front of curtain, and the music plays on...

Music fan Stephanie Fuell said: “My husband Keith and I both really enjoyed it.

“While we take the point about the first half it was his story and it is good to see people are still rocking."

Emma and Darren Rowlands were one of the younger couples to see the show this week.

Emma said: “ I wasn't quite sure what format it would take - whether we would learn something new about the life and death of Buddy Holly or whether this was more of an excuse to celebrate his music in the company of fans.

“I feel on reflection it was more the latter.

“The audience were, in Darren's words, ‘old timers’ - but needed no encouragement to get up and dance towards the end of the second half.

 “Roger Rowley as Buddy was believable - boyish, assertive, gentle, straight-forward and sounded a dead-ringer for the real thing.  

“I liked the authentic sounds throughout.

“For me the Big Bopper (Jason Blackwater) and Richie Valens (Will Pearce) stole the show and brought some much needed visual stimulation after what felt like realistically rigid radio performances beforehand.”

Although the ‘lucky’ flyer interlude fell flat Emma added: “We really enjoyed the good old ‘snake-hips’ routine.

“This show worked for anyone who had a passionate investment in the music, politics and social climate of that era.

“And I think it would have lost its charm if it had attempted to appeal to too many people in one go.

“However, I disliked the two-set maximum throughout the show.

“We were either given a red-brick overload or restricted to a curtain backdrop. 

There were no special effects to note, where as in my mind I had envisioned perhaps some clever cinematography or an eerie plane crash scene at the end.

 “I guess, to its credit, it knew the audience it wanted to appeal to and didn't try to stretch too far from its comfort zone.”

The publicity blurb says ‘In 18 short months Buddy Holly revolutionized the face of contemporary music influencing everyone from The Beatles to Bruce Springsteen’.

Buddy the musical showcases more than 20 of his greatest hits including That’ll Be The Day, Peggy Sue and Rave On.

Add the Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace and Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba plus covers of Johnny B Goode written by Chuck Berry and it is a stellar musical treat.

You do learn someone else recorded Shout before Lulu, that Heartbeat isn’t only a 1960s police television series set in Yorkshire and Bill Haley wasn’t the only person to swing a double bass.

In the late 1950s my cousin Priscilla and I would bop around her living room to Buddy Holly LPs played on a gramophone built into a large wooden cabinet – technology then was basic and recording equipment even more archaic compared with today’s standards.

Buddy’s widow Maria Elena said: “When we opened the show we never imagined Buddy’s music and story would still be rocking stages and entertaining audiences around the world week-in week-out 25 years later.

“I believe this is testament to a great show – the first of its kind – and to the enduring appeal of Buddy Holly and what he represents; a youthful energy, huge talent and creativity, combined with a determination to make a lasting impression in this world.

“Buddy was certainly a one-off, as the show demonstrates. It’s incredible to witness subsequent generations getting carried away in Buddy’s music - proof that his spirit lives on through all of us.

“Buddy is one of those shows that an audience trusts; and once someone has bought their ticket they know they are in for a fantastic night out.”

The physically demanding role of Buddy is alternated with north east performer Glen Joseph.

The cast also includes Shaun Hennessy as country radio station DJ Hipockets Duncan; Peter Kenworthy as producer Norman Petty; and Scott Haining and Adam Flynn as The Crickets’ band members Joe B Mauldin and Jerry Allison.

Lovely Vivienne Smith as Maria, talented Lydia Fraser as Apollo performer and comedic Sarah Mahony as Vi Petty also deserve a mention especially their beautiful harmonies.

Buddy plays the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday, June 7.

Carol Deacon

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