Rock 'n' Roll Wiltshire
Buddy Holly and the Crickets
Buddy at the Gaumont
On the 50th anniversary of his tragic death, read the story and hear the recollections of Wiltshire people who saw Buddy Holly play at the Gaumont Theatre in Salisbury back in 1958.
In the top ten of musical greats who have played Wiltshire over the years, Buddy Holly must surely be near the top spot. It is now 50 years since his untimely death.
The American singer-songwriter tragically lost his life in a plane crash on February 3rd 1959 - which has become known as 'The Day the Music Died' - because the crash also claimed the lives of fellow popular singers Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper.
Eleven months prior to the accident, Holly - who was memorably described as 'the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll' by music critic Bruce Eder - was on a tour of the UK.
The tour which also included Gary Miller, The Tanner Sisters, Des O'Connors and Ronnie Keene & His Orchestra, stopped in at the Gaumont Theatre in Salisbury on March 22nd 1958.
Buddy Holly and the Crickets
The Gaumont, with its impressive Tudor facade was, along with the City Hall one of the top Salisbury music venues in the fifties and sixties, and acts such as Cilla Black, Adam Faith and The Everly Brothers also appeared there. The building is now an Odeon Cinema.
The night before the band had played one of several dates in London and stayed at their 'base' hotel in Marble Arch. The whole company had been travelling the country together on a coach and after leaving London after breakfast, they arrived in Salisbury around lunchtime.
Buddy, The Crickets, manager and recording-engineer Norman Petty and his wife Vi and road-manager Wally Stewart were all booked into probably the best hotel in the City in those days - The Old George Hotel, on the High Street. Conveniently just a two-minute step from where they would be playing that day.
Crickets drummer Jerry Allison told me they marveled at the grandeur of The Gaumont, and also the genuinely historic Old George Hotel and thought Salisbury looked like something from the days of King Arthur!
They didn't have long to look around as immediately after arrival at the hotel and checking in, they were back to the Gaumont to get ready for their first show.
The tour was playing two houses a night, but on Saturdays they also had a matinee performance. Promoters Lew and Leslie Grade sure got their moneys-worth!. This meant shows in Salisbury at 2.30pm; 6.20pm and 8.30 pm.
After the matinee show, whilst Norman Petty went off to film around Salisbury with his new colour cine-camera, Buddy and Jerry headed out to try the new American Soda-Bar which had just opened around the corner, in Woolworths.
They were spotted by fan Diane Fishlock who remembers: "My friend and I were in Woolworths before attending the early evening concert when we saw Buddy and Jerry Allison.
"We just followed them round, watching as they purchased some pens, managed to get their autographs and had a short chat."
Buddy and The Crickets in the Old George Hotel
At the Old George, Buddy also chatted with receptionist Margot Warrender, giving her two free tickets for the show for the late show that night. She said: "I wasn't really a rock'n'roll fan and must admit I didn't really know who Buddy Holly was. I was bemused at the crowd of fans who were waiting for autographs."
The photo of them that appears here, was taken by Norman Petty in the restaurant of the Old George Hotel. I would guess it was taken whilst they were having their tea, before heading back to the Gaumont for another show.
Compared to today, when if you pay to see a band as huge as The Crickets were then, you expect them to be on stage for at least an hour or more, Buddy and the guys did around 25 minutes. But that's how it was in those days and nobody felt short-changed.
However, Jerry and fellow Cricket Joe B. Mauldin have both told me how they and Buddy loved playing in England as they had 'so long' on stage, as opposed to the USA, where they were on huge package shows, with sometimes 15-20 other acts and would be limited to just a couple of their hits.
At Salisbury, they played their four big hits - 'That'll be The Day', 'Peggy Sue', 'Oh Boy' and 'Maybe Baby'. plus 'Everyday' and covers of a couple of recent Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis hits.
After seeing the 8.30 Show, Andy Henchy and his friends were heading home along Catherine Street, when they stopped to talk to a group of girls gathered by the alleyway that runs down the side of the Gaumont.
The girls were waiting for autographs. Andy remembers: "After a few minutes a man opened the door and said we could go in.
"We went in with the girls and were shown into a room where we found Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin and Buddy! I got my programme signed.
"My lasting memory is of Buddy leaning against the wall looking shattered!"
Back at the Old George Hotel after the shows, Buddy wrote a letter to his parents back home in Lubbock, Texas…using his new Woolworths pen! It read:
Sat Mar 22
Dear Mother & Dad
I thought I would drop one more letter to you before we leave England
and I figured it had better be now or we would get to the states before
the letter. We probably will anyhow but…there you are.
After Salisbury, the tour moved on to Bristol Colston Hall on March 23rd, Cardiff Capitol 24th and concluded at London's Hammersmith Gaumont on March 25th. Immediately after which, the party headed straight to Heathrow for the long flight back to the USA.
Buddy Holly and The Crickets' historic gig at The Gaumont was witnessed by Tony West from Salisbury who was just 12 at the time.
Talking on BBC Radio Wiltshire, he remembers: "It was disappointing really because it wasn't full up by any means. Looking back you'd think they'd have had full houses. Later when I'd heard he'd died I cried into my pillow."
Dave from Trowbridge also saw Buddy Holly at the Gaumont and he remembers that night fondly: "It was an evening to remember. You couldn't compare it to anything in those days."
John Gribbon, author of the book Not Fade Away: The Life and Music of Buddy Holly said: "I'm very jealous of those who saw him play live in Salisbury.
"What you have to remember is it wasn't just a music show, it was a variety show - they had jugglers and musicians and a very young Des O'Connor who compered it.
"The audience would sit through it all and Buddy Holly would come on at the end."
A short 11 months after the Salisbury concert, Buddy Holly was dead, but on the anniversary of his death it's clear that local people's memories of the time he visited Wiltshire are as strong as ever.
last updated: 11/03/2009 at 09:48
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