Opera House, Manchester, 14th November 2003

Set List

Long Cool Woman / Here I Go Again / Jennifer Eccles / Yes I Will / Look Through Any Window / Sandy / Butterfly / I’m Alive / Fire Brigade / We’re Through / On a Carousel / Blowin’ In the Wind

How Will I Survive / Sorry Suzanne / Just One Look / The Baby / Soldier Song / Gasoline Alley Bred / Too Young to be Married / Bus Stop / Blackberry Way / Carrie Ann /  The Air That I Breathe / I Can Hear The Grass Grow / Stop! Stop! Stop! / Tiger Feet / He Ain’t Heavy / It’s In Every One of Us

“It’s Sort of Like Mecca”

Seeing the Hollies in Manchester, England. Explaining that to other people is like explaining being a Hollies fanatic in the first place. The non-fan will stare at you free of comprehension no matter how much explanation is given, while a devotee of the band will require no words whatsoever as to what this means. Or as Carl would say of playing Manchester shortly into the first set, "the lion's den". And finally, for me, the full two hour UK theater show after much shorter, single set shows in the US and Germany.

Ian's fiddle-tinged intro music for the first set brought the boys onstage and straight into the 2003 opening audience-rouser Long Cool Woman. The Hollies positively rocked and Carl quickly established both his command of center stage and his equally impressive command of the 1972 mega-hit.  Here I Go Again and Jennifer Eccles, on which Tony yielded the trademark slide guitar role to the more than capable Alan Coates, followed in quick succession.  Than the first "new" live song for me, a crisp reading of 1965's Yes I Will (Carl's favorite Hollies tune).  I was delighted to hear Carl is still honoring long-time wife Sue Hanson in the altered lyric. 

Graham Gouldman's Look Through Any Window featured one of two instruments I hadn't seen in the "foreign" shows, Tony's shimmering electric 12-string. Spring concert reviewers were right - Alan's beautiful guitar solo adds so much to the live Sandy.  Combined with the great performance Carl brings to this ballad, they can keep it in the set list for as long as they want.

Some songs just require the touch of echo that an indoor venue can provide over an outdoor stage.  Listen to Me sounded fine in Germany this past summer, but the acoustics of the Manchester Opera House gave the opening a cappella vocal an ethereal beauty that made this  performance far more memorable than that at the Baden Airpark. 

As Tony noted, "Manchester's own Graham Nash" penned another 60s track I was eager to hear, Butterfly.  Alan's sweet vocal, so eerily reminiscent of the Nash original, is enough to make you look around in vain for some sign in the theater of the bearded ex-Hollie.  The Ian Parker Symphonic does a magnificent job of re-creating the original orchestral backing.

But the return of the jangling electric 12-string ends this oasis of navel-gazing contemplation as Carl returned for a great performance of the Hollies' first UK #1, I'm Alive. I always thought this song could be a tricky singing chore for Carl due to the range required in the verses.  Will I ever learn? He simply turns I'm Alive into a showcase for his vocal talents, handling the low notes to the high with ease.

One of the things I had resolved to particularly observe in these concerts was Ray Stiles' contributions to the Hollies sound.  Just as he contributes so much to the acoustic set with his harmony vocals, The Hollies' covers of The Move's Fire Brigade and I Can Hear the Grass Grow demonstrated the value of his brief but key vocal solos on more energetic, full band performances.  And, when I specifically focused on his bass lines at Manchester and the other shows, I was well rewarded.  I may still be partial to the early Eric Haydock-Bobby Elliott rhythm machine, but my regard for Ray's bass work grew by leaps and bounds over the weekend - every note so perfect.  And he works so well with his onstage partner, Shep.  Such silent chemistry!             

It was great to see (flashing blue lights) and hear (sirens) kick the band's off into Fire Brigade, and watch the pure sense of fun I saw in Bob and Tony's playing on such a cracking rocker outside of the Hollies' traditional canon.  Carl sings this so well yet also enjoys himself, with his "pinched nostril" imitation of Roy Wood on the first verse, and the thigh caress that complements the "if I touch her leg, she hits me with her rule" lyric.  His theatrical background at work; Carl's onstage gestures continually help his vocals "sell" the song's story so naturally that it is easy to miss them unless you focus on them. We're Through was also new to me live, and I was delighted to watch Ian, R & R's answer to Lawrence Welk, perform his famous miner's light walkabout, followed by a key pounding performance by "Jerry Lee" Wayne.  Definitely one of my favorite vocal performances by Carl on any up-tempo Hollies song, as well. Another great performance of On a Carousel, as Alan again convincingly channelled Nash, this time in a more conventional rock setting.

As the first set closed, Carl announced that a break was needed - by the audience rather than the band. Then his magnificent pipes heralded the European hit Blowin' in the Wind. While Ian brings some sonic elements of the original big band version to the stage, I find the recorded version rather anemic compared to what I now feel is the vastly superior live take.  Basically the same arrangement, but Carl's full-bodied vocal delivery simply suits the song better than Allan Clarke's voice, and Tony's thick guitar solo adds a dynamic rock and roll tension that I greatly miss when I play Hollies Sing Dylan. Neither Carl or Tony disappointed on this night! 

Previous assessments that How Do I Survive comes off better live than in the studio recording made last February are spot-on, I believe. Carl's vocal and Tony's solo (especially impressive live) have slowly warmed me up to this song over the past eight months.  It is the one Hollies' track where I can compare the Wayne live vocal to the Wayne studio performance (and at Manchester, it measured up very well indeed!). Yet I am reminded that this is almost certainly the only chance I will ever have to do this.  A "mixed feelings" experience, but c'est la vie...  I enjoyed the band's tight performance of “Sorry Suzanne” and Tony's patented lead work on the 1969 hit.  Just One Look illustrated the similar role played by the combination and contrast of Carl and Alan's voices much as it did with Clarke and Nash. 

Carl says the next song is popular in Bradford, although I've been advised that his reckoning of where the Hindu population is located in England is nearly as precise as his knowledge of Bob Dylan's true birthplace. Carl's singing on this Rickfors-era hit was as great as I'd heard, but I have to admit that what I really showed up for was another one of Tony's "toys".  For the first and probably only time, I have heard an electric sitar played live.  That's okay - as far as I'm concerned the textbook on Vinnie Bell's invention has been written and closed with Tony's intro to The Baby.  I could have listened to that intro go on for another ten minutes easily.

Soldier's Song - as much as I love Carl's version with Et Cetera, there is just something special about seeing him do it live with the Hollies.  Watching, not just hearing, him perform this gave me the chills at Manchester, and the next two shows. Carl's vocal was beautiful, and there were two other dimensions that made this song so special live.  One was the lighting which so beautifully complements the sound; at one point one of the red spotlights brought to mind the baleful stare of Mars - the planet, yes, but even more the ancient god of war. Second, Bobby's sensitive percussion work, caressing and powerful by turns, was simply magnificent. The drummer's drummer, indeed.      

Gasoline Alley Bred is on my short list of Hollies songs that should have been MASSIVE global hits.  Tony, Alan and Ray did a wonderful performance on this stripped down, "acoustic" version, with the same gorgeous harmonizing as on Listen To Me. 

Too Young to Be Married was great, as always.  I have never got tired of hearing THE SOLO after 33 years and hundreds and hundreds of listens.  Though Tony should be able to sing his own composition, there is a big part of me that really wants to hear Carl sing it again as he did in America last year.  I'll bet Tony doesn't give it up, though; it's too much of a crowd pleaser and a fine showcase for him!      

Carl returned with the infamous Ozzy shirt for the band's American breakthrough hit Bus Stop. Ian's "squeezebox" and backing vocals are a great addition to the live version. I think we actually got five-part harmonies from the band originally known for its blend of three voices. It was great to finally hear and sing along to Blackberry Way, which I had never even heard until about two or three years ago.  And I sang along with great gusto here, and in Wolverhampton and Bristol!  Roy Wood's anthemic answer to Penny Lane, in my view.  Bobby sure seemed to smile a lot during this tune.

Carrie-Anne featured Carl doing a bit of a samba with Shep the wonder dog over to Ray's portion of the stage.  It also featured Tony's fresh guitar solo not found on the original song.  Ian recreated the steel drum solo so faithfully, but I really have come to love this guitar break.  The Hollies may play all the hits, but they are not afraid to shake them up a bit here and there!            

One of Tony's other "toys", a familiar one - the banjo - came out next. Gee, what song could that mean?  Nothing other than the performance that made me a lifelong fan back in the fall of 1966, Stop! Stop! Stop! Tony's playing seemed even more energetic and enjoyable  than in my previous four shows and on the original recording (is it the Manchester "effect"?), and Carl sang this one with gusto and especially well.  Ray and Ian switched places at one point during Stop!, but Shep generally ignored them as he "assisted" Carl with backing vocals.

The Air That I Breathe - Carl's vocal was superb, Ian's synthesized orchestrations were perfect, and Tony's guitar intro and segues again put to rest some early silliness that someone else had played them on the studio recording.  Carl's assessment that Tony stands along Hendrix and Clapton as a master of his axe is so true.

I Can Hear the Grass Grow, like Fire Brigade, was simply incredible and I marvelled at the way one great 60s band so spiritedly covered another such group.  While I saw the Hollies perform this Move classic at the Baden Airpark this summer, it was just as stunning the second time around.  I try to imagine the 1968 Move covering On a Carousel, and I'm not sure it would work as well.  Carl sang this as only he can, while Ray got to demonstrate his vocal chops on the "can't seem to puzzle out" sections.  Grass, as done by the 2003 Hollies, is much more than a magnetic wave of sound!  

Next up was another song I never heard in America or Germany, as Ray took center stage for Mud's biggie, Tiger Feet.  I picked up a Mud collection in London last summer, so I was familiar with the song - just not with the fun the Hollies and their audiences have with it.  Tiger Feet gets them dancing in the aisles and down to the front.  It's a contagious, natural crowd pleaser and I wait...and wait...and...yes!...I do get the brief bit of headbanging from Alan and Ray that so delights the fans. Carl returned to the stage in time for some  low register "I really love" vocal accents at the end. The fun and intensity of the Mud and Move songs is clearly a reward for the listener when a super group has also become a "supergroup".     

One of the most famous harmonica riffs in music history heralded the arrival of He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother.  I will never get tired of hearing Carl's emotional delivery of this two-time #1 ode to loyalty and friendship.  If anything, he seemed more passionate in his delivery of He Ain't Heavy than I've heard before, but maybe it's just the Manchester effect again. The usual a cappella beauty of the short  It's in Every One of Us ended the show as Carl, Alan, Tony and Ray shared a single mike, while Ian accompanied on keyboards and Bobby looked on approvingly.  It's hard to imagine a more beautiful, meaningful ending to a Hollies concert - it's the only ending I've ever seen - with the possible exception of Amazing Grace.

I was just stunned after this show.  What I saw in Germany and in America last year was a sampler, a teaser. This was the full length UK show. The sound was superb, the song selection brilliant, and the band's performance flawless. The reviews we avidly read during the spring tour didn't do this show justice; mine won't either. I was to see the band two more times that weekend - those shows were like a great movie you've watched before; even though you pretty much know what's going to happen next, the cinematography or acting or dialogue is so well done that it is just as compelling as the first viewing. 

It took Beth and me just sixteen hours to get to Manchester - for the band, really Bobby and Tony, The Long Road Home has been a forty year journey. But considering the impact this show had on me, and the way the Hollies played and sang their hearts out to an appreciative audience, it seems to have been an equally satisfying journey for everyone.         

Review by Bruce Brandt

Photo by Helen Macdonald

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