For those still salient enough to peg the launch of British Rock to the evening of February 9, 1964, when four young Liverpudlians appeared as if from nowhere onto the stage of The Ed Sullivan Show, think of this:
A dozen years ago, a different U.K. band celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with a series of sold-out concerts at London’s mammoth O2 Arena.
At the height of their success, this band placed an astounding twenty-eight hits atop the European charts, have all told released over one hundred albums worldwide, and their lead singer was knighted by his Queen before Elton John, Tom Jones, Mick Jagger or even Paul McCartney was.
That singer’s name is Cliff Richard (Happy Birthday on October 14, btw!) His band is The Shadows. And Eagle Rock Entertainment’s Cliff And The Shadows: The Final Reunion DVD, documenting those landmark 2009 O2 performances, constitutes a two-hour, note-by-perfect-note primer of and for pre-Beatle Brit-rock.
Accordingly, barely a minute into the proceedings, no less an authority on the subject as legendary Shadows guitarist Hank B. Marvin (and his birthday’s on the 28th) claims Cliff’s 1959 chart-topper “Living Doll” as, and I shall quote, “the first real British rock and roll record.” That classic is duly performed herein, along with forty-one (!) other songs in just under 137 minutes flat. Each comes fast and furious, short and sweet, and at a near assembly-line pace, captured in sight and especially sound which is clean, bright, and sharp from beginning until final encore.
Truly the music of Hank, fellow guitarist Bruce Welch, and drummer Brian Bennett deserves no less: This is one yester-band that remains in remarkable fighting form, their matching red Fenders sporting all the twang of Buck Owens’ Buckaroos, the whammy of vintage Ventures, and the precision of Les Paul at his 78-RPM finest. Not only that, but those tightly choreographed little dance steps the band often break into whilst performing – moves which were once the bane of the Beatle-era pop combos – now seem far more fun and even fashionable than merely quaint.
Yet lest you fear these guys simply coast along atop their fancy footwork, a three-song “unplugged set” halfway through the proceedings, wherein Bruce, Hank, and even Cliff break out acoustic guitars, sounds surprisingly more Eagles than skiffle. In fact, their “All Shook Up” could easily have been arranged by Pete Townshend circa Tommy, I kid you not!
Indeed, while you may be hard pressed to recognize (m)any of the dozens of hits performed in this package, you will spot traces of their melodic influence – not to mention stinging Marvin guitar licks – scattered throughout the more discriminating reaches of your music collection. Because while they may have never made lasting impressions upon the American hit parade (save for Cliff’s “Devil Woman” reaching Billboard Hot 100’s # 6 in 1976), the six-string-powered sound of The Shadows has been cited as an indelible influence upon artists as diverse as Randy Bachman, Carlos Santana, and even Neil Young.
One evening spent with The Final Reunion, volume cranked to ball-busting levels of course, will most easily show just why.