an Interview with
Tony Hicks is the Hollie with the perpetual smile and Peter Pan looks who learned his guitar style in the Manchester r’n’b scene of the early sixties after moving there from Nelson. The Hollies were the British pop band that deserved a cooler image. Hailed as Mancunian rivals to the Fab Four, they produced a string of brilliant singles and were, largely underrated as an albums band, the real way to be cool in the era everybody supposedly can’t remember if they were there. Still who cares when you are producing songs like ‘Stay’, ‘We’re Through’, ‘Look Through Any Window’, ‘Bus Stop’, ‘King Midas In Reverse’ (which Hicks co-wrote with Graham Nash and Allan Clarke) and ‘I’m Alive’, to name but a few. ‘Evolution’, the LP, saw them dabble in psychedelia and cost me money I couldn’t really afford. They tried a Bob Dylan covers album and a third long player too. But it all came back to those 45s. I remember their Greatest Hits LP was actually ALL greatest hits, no filler.
Whatever the catchy tunes and hallmark harmonies mean to you, Hicks was there at the start when pals Allan Clarke and Graham Nash were putting the ensemble together. When I spoke to him, Hicks was in the midst of a Hollies tour. New millennium, but old habits die hard.
PT: So, how are you Tony?
TH: Fine. I’m enjoying what I’m doing as much as ever.
Still enjoy touring?
Yes. We do very faithful versions of our hits. We do two-hour shows and try to create a stadium atmosphere indoors rather the going through the bullshit of outdoors in muddy fields. We change the songs around and do new ones. As well as our own songs we do covers, like a rock’n’roll medley with stuff by Chris Montez, ‘At The Hop’. Classy stuff.
You don’t find touring arduous at all?
We don’t do that much, about 45 dates over 18 months. It works out a four-day week. I get home most nights. It is hardly hard work. I’m still living out the fantasy of doing my hobby for a living with my mates.
You make sure you’re fit after four decades of being part of a British pop institution?
I look after myself. I take my tracksuit and my pumps on tour and do a bit of jogging every day.
Your musical influences?
I grew up loving Johnny Kidd and The Pirates, numbers like ‘Shakin’ All Over’ and ‘Restless’. There was Cliff and The Drifters, who then became the Shadows, of course. I used to listen to American stuff too like Bobby Vee, The Everly Brothers, and Elvis Presley. I loved Scotty Moore, Elvis’s guitarist.
What shows do you remember?
I went to see Tommy Steele at the London Palladium. That was an early show I went to.
Was that when you started playing music?
Around then. I started looking in windows of second-hand shops for guitars. I had a homemade one. It was diabolical. I got a fairly sensible acoustic and then moved on to a Hofner Club 40 and went semi-pro. It was quite good money around the Manchester scene.
Then you chanced upon Allan and Graham?
I used to play these typical clubs of the time and Allan and Graham used to be in the audience watching. I did my audition at Abbey Road Studios! It was a big deal. We had two hours and did two tracks, one was ‘Just Like Me’. It had a good feel.
What were your first gigs as a Hollie?
We played the Manchester ballrooms and went to Liverpool and played the Cavern quite regularly. The Beatles were just ahead of us. We were dubbed the Manchester Beatles. We did two sessions at lunchtime. It was very exciting.
How did the three-part harmony sound develop?
By accident. Allan and Graham sung together but we found my voice could blend in as well.
The stream of hits was seemingly endless, so what was the secret?
We kept a freshness. The follow-up was not Part 2 of the previous hit. We experimented with the instruments we used. We even added banjo on ‘Stop, Stop, Stop’, for instance. ‘Carrie Anne’ (another which Tony helped to write with Allan and Graham Nash) had steel drums on it.
The Bob Dylan covers album?
I thought that was very successful. Bob Dylan has written some very interesting songs. Some of the versions were half finished, some were. It was okay.
That was an experiment. We had a Byrds influence. Music was evolving and we wanted to go along with it.
Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll?
I don’t ever remember any TVs thrown out of windows but, as young lads, we had fun. We lived the life. Excess! We used to hang around the same clubs as other bands. There was Carnaby Street, Twiggy, all that in the Sixties. It was like chalk and cheese in image compared to the cotton mills of the North.
Graham went off to form Crosby Stills and Nash, which added Neil Young, and all that was considered cool yet the Hollies weren’t. Did that, does that, bother you?
No. I’m not jealous. Graham and I are still great mates. When he went off, Graham’s life was a mess. He didn’t have the happiest of home lives and he got ripped off by some. So he decided "I’m off" and he got very, very lucky.
What music do you like now?
Great songs. I like Steely Dan. I even appreciate The Spice Girls.
There’s another musical influence in the family?
Yes, my son Paul. He worked on The Beatles Anthology at Abbey Road as an engineer. He’s getting on very well. Abbey Road has always been a magical place to record and very little has changed. The control room, though, has. We had mono and stereo. Now it looks like the flight deck of a Concorde. But the original features are still around like the echo room. Abbey Road has always been a magical place to record and very little has changed. My son was engineer for Paul McCartney’s with his Rock ‘n’ Roll album (‘Run Devil Run’). He worked with Paul on the charity he did with that model (Heather, now Macca’s fiancee). I saw the show Paul did from The Cavern on TV while we were playing in Blackpool. He looked great playing there with Ian Paice, who is a big mate, and Pete Wingfield.
What about outside music?
I like my football. I support Queens Park Rangers from when I lived close by. My favourite era is the one in which Stan Bowles, Gerry Francis, Don Givens and Phil Parkes were in the team.
Where do you live?
Henley. George Harrison lives up the road…
Tony Hicks interviewette: Mick Donovan (c) Ptolemaic Terrascope, 2001