Holly definitely not fading away

 

Glen Joseph sounds and plays like the late Buddy Holly as he goes through a raft of his hits in Buddy

Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story

Wolverhampton Grand

****

OH BOY, if ever a show needed a big ending to make you forget a very average beginning it is Buddy, the show that has been credited as the first of the jukebox musicals. And thanks to Glen Joseph as Holly this has it in spades.

The problem with these bio-tributes is that there is little in the way of drama or real storyline, the characters are tissue paper-thin and if you know anything at all about the star you are unlikely to learn anything new.

They are just vehicles for the music, taking the show up a couple of notches up the theatrical tree from being merely a tribute act. Not that Joseph could not make a decent living as an ersatz Buddy. He is a fine guitarist and manages both the style and sound of the boy from Lubbock, Texas as well as having a look of our hero to boot.

He has an infectious enthusiasm and energy which, particularly in the second half, moves the show up through the gears.

The story starts in February 1956 with Lubbock local radio artist Buddy being offered a Decca recording contract.  Three years later he was dead and, apart from releasing a lot of records and touring, not a lot else happened.

He proposed to his wife Maria Elena (Felicity Chilver) after his first date and split from the Crickets when they wanted to stay in Lubbock while he was lured by the bright lights of New York - then he died and that was sort of it. End of story.

Not exactly a long career to work with indeed from his first big hit, That'll be the Day, in Autumn 1957 to his death in February 1959 was less than 18 months while the show has been running 22 years - Holly's age incidentally the day the music died.

The scene setting opening is hardly memorable as we learn Holly wants to play his own music , rock and roll, and is going to have trouble with country label Decca but the lad's talent and new sound is always going to win through.

Decca's only real contribution to his early career was to misspell his name as Holly, a mistake Buddy, real name Charles Hardin Holley, decided to keep professionally.

Maria Elena's Aunt Provi, played by Katia Sartini,  finally agreeing to the marriage of her neice (in the background, played by Felicty Chilver) to Holly after a five hour romance.

There is lots of blacked out stages to change scenes or represent a passage of time, and plenty of snatches of songs with a few extended numbers but it is all a little bitty and disjointed working best when Holly and his band actually sing a number such as a scene on the song Cindy Lou, who changed her name to Peggy Sue to help drummer Jerry Allison's lustful ambitions for the lady of the same name – he eventually married her.

But the show and sets all look a bit tired and dated and Buddy does not really pick up until Holly plays the all black Apollo Theater  in Harlem, the sort of place where white bands just do not go.

For the first time in the show Buddy is not in a radio or recording studio and is playing to an audience - and doesn't Joseph know it. We get a storming set of Holly hits and the bonus of a lively version of Shout from Melissa Keyes – billed merely as “Apollo performer”.

The theme continues as we move on to the Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa on the Winter Dance Party tour in 1959. Holly is joined by Steve Dorsett as The Big Bopper and Miguel Angel as Ritchi Valens which provides Chantilly Lace and La Bamba as well as more Holly hits.

The three were the passengers on the plane Holly had chartered to avoid another night travelling on a freezing bus with a faulty heater and temperatures well below zero.

The plane crashed soon after take-off killing all on board. The end with a simple guitar on an empty stage was tastefully done but then you can't keep a good man down and Holly, Bopper and Valens were back from the dead for an encore with the audience – many who seemed to be original fans from the 50s – up on their feet clapping and bopping.

In truth this is what they had come for. A night of nostalgia with songs from their youth. Holly's music is universally known and has an enduring quality with its tales of teenage love and angst, catchy tunes and easy to remember words recalling a time when the world was a more innocent place.

As an example of Holly's enduring popularity  52 years after his death Google has more than 5,950,000 results in a Buddy Holly search while Amazon's music section has 715 entries

This is what the crowds wanted and with a talented group of musicians is what they got with a special mention for Gary Trainor as the MC at Clear Lake who showed some nice comic touches and Dan Graham as Allison who managed the not that easy knee slapping on Everyday without missing a beat.

There were anomalies, omissions and inaccuracies in the thin storyline – such as Holly supposedly writing True Love Ways on the eve of the Winter Dance Party trip and singing it the first time to his wife while waiting for his taxi to leave on tour – so how did he manage to record it, on tour, with an 18 piece orchestra, in the few days before he died.

Simple answer. He didn't . It was written for his wife and she was there when he recorded it but it ws done the previous October.

Nothing was made either of one of the reasons Holly was on the ill fated tour at all which was that he was broke because he was still battling to get the royalties he was owed from his time with former manager and producer Norman Petty.

The fateful flight had Valens eventually tossing a coin for the third seat with guitarist Tommy Allsup who is hardly a household name. There was no mention of Holly's bassist Waylon Jennings, now a mega country star. He gave up his seat to P J Richardson, The Big Bopper who was suffering from flu, an act of kindness that was rewarded by saving his own life.

As they left the ballroom for the next venue Holly had joked with Jennings that he hoped his bus froze while Jennings quipped back "I hope your plane crashes". It was a harmless retort that haunted Jennings for years.

If you are a Holly fan or know and like his music then there is plenty to enjoy though.

Roger Clarke

Meanwhile Wolverhampton City Council, in their wisdom, seem to have decided to dig up anything that has road or street in its title. Driving in from Sutton Coldfield it took me more than half an hour from Willenhall. So if you are travelling in to see Buddy by road allow plenty of extra time and check with the Grand's website for the latest map and information on which roads are closed and when.

http://www.grandtheatre.info/ 

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