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Addresses: Record company--EMD Music Distribution, 21700 Oxnard St., Suite #700, Woodland Hills, CA 91367.

The Shadows achieved renown as the best-selling British instrumental group of all time, and their career as a musical act is one of the longest--though perhaps also most cataclysmic in line-up--in British pop annals as well. Led by guitarist Hank Marvin, a well-known personality in British rock circles, the Shadows hit the charts in the summer of 1960 with a catchy instrumental called "Apache," and recorded numerous other singles and albums over the next three decades--some successful, others less so. Still, Marvin is considered one of the most distinguished of guitarists of the pre-rock era, and is credited with being the first musician in England to popularize the Fender Stratocaster electric guitar. Virtuosos such as Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Pete Townsend--each of whom arrived later on the rock scene-- usually cite Marvin and his Stratocaster as a profound influence. In 1996 several noted contemporary rock guitarists appeared on Twang! A Tribute to Hank Marvin and the Shadows.

Almost all of the members of the Shadows, like those of other influential rock bands in the British wave, were born during the World War II era. Marvin was grew up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and played the banjo as a teenager. In 1957, he joined the Railroaders, a skiffle group formed by fellow Newcastle teen Bruce Welch, and the following year the band journeyed to London to enter a talent contest. They took third place, and Marvin and Welch decided to stay in the capital. The pair lived in London's Soho area, both nearly destitute. For a time, they formed a band called the Five Chesternuts with some other musicians they had met in the contest, but the group had little success.

Marvin and Welch were discovered by the manager for Cliff Richard, then an up-and-coming British pop singer, in a Soho coffee bar. He asked them to join a band then forming to back Richard in a tour, and to record with him as well. The band would be called the Drifters; within a few months its line-up was fixed with the addition of bassist Jet Harris and drummer Tony Meehan. It was Harris who came up with the name "The Shadows" when a change was deemed necessary because of an American band called the Drifters. At first, the Shadows were simply a standard pop-rock act of the era, similar in style and vocals to the Everly Brothers. Instrumental tunes were tried out only during Richard's performance breaks. Meanwhile, Marvin was finessing the guitar style for which he would gain renown. It was a sound crafted with the legendary American-made Fender Stratocaster guitar, and it wasn't until he finally obtained one in 1959--they were difficult to come by in England, and Richard had to bring him one back directly-- that his playing began to take a new turn.

Marvin's sound was epitomized in the Shadows' 1960 single, "Apache," an instrumental piece with an irresistible hook and otherworldly vibe. It spent twenty-one weeks on the British pop charts, six of those at number one--a success the result of "a stirring combination of Welch's acoustic strumming and Marvin's economical, echo-drenched picking," wrote Dan Epstein years later in Guitar Player. Marvin had bought an Italian-made echo-box device for his guitar and used it on the song that would become a trademark of the Shadow sound. Unfortunately, the success on the U.K. charts was not replicated in the United States; their label at the time, EMI of England, failed to promote it favorably overseas, and a cover version of "Apache" by a Danish guitarist soon made the U. S. charts.

For the next several years the Shadows continued to maintain dual careers as Richard's backing band as well as their own efforts as a separate act. The latter forays were increasingly successful, though Richard himself was an extremely popular pop idol at the time--at times he and the Shadows even competed for chart space. Under Marvin's guidance, the band would njoy several other Top-20 hits with the instrumentals that put his guitar virtuosity at the forefront of the mix. These hits included "Kon-tiki," "Atlantis," and "Shindig," among others. The group remained intact during this era, but Jet Harris suffered from alcoholism, and in 1962 he and Meehan left the Shadows to embark upon a joint solo career that achieved modest success. They were replaced by Brian Bennett and Brian Locking.

As the decade progressed, however, immense changes took place in the British music scene. The light, pleasing virtuosity of the Shadows, anchored by Marvin's guitar abilities, gave way to a more "rock" sound typified by the Beatles and then the Rolling Stones. Teenagers allied themselves with the new groups to a frenzied degree, and the more pop side of British music began to be cornered by groups like Gerry and the Pacemakers, who typified the "Mersey" sound. Soon, the Shadows and Richard were not performing as well on the charts. They attempted to change along with times--adding vocals in 1965 to some songs, such as "Don't Make My Baby Blue," another Top-20 success. They also branched out into film, appearing in a number of comic films with Richard, such as Expresso Bongo and Summer Holiday, for which they also recorded songs.

The Shadows continued as a solo act and Richard's backing band until 1968, when they officially parted ways. The breakup of the band itself came soon after, when Welch left. Yet the split was far from final--though Marvin and Welch's friendship suffered many ups and downs over the years--and after Marvin took Bennett and two other new members to Japan as the Shadows in 1969 for a tour, Welch rejoined Marvin to form a Crosby, Stills & Nash-inspired group they named Marvin, Welch & Farrar. It was less than successful. In the early 1970s, Marvin converted to the Jehovah's Witness faith, while Welch and John Rostill--the bassist on the Japan tour--began working with an up-and- coming Australian singer named Olivia Newton-John. Welch wrote and produced her hit "Please Mr. Please," while Rostill, who had played with Tom Jones, wrote another hugely successful single for her, "Let Me Be There." Tragically, in one of the strangest deaths in rock history, Rostill was electrocuted by his own guitar in his home studio in 1973.

The Marvin, Welch and Farrar lineup continued until 1973, and then Marvin and Welch officially revived the Shadows in 1973. Their sound evolved once more with the addition of keyboards, and some successful tour dates led to an invitation to represent Britain for the annual Eurovision song contest. Their entry, "Let Me Be the One," was only the runner-up, but it was their first Top 20 hit in a decade. When the Shadows compilation 20 Golden Greats was released in 1977, it effectively revived their career and launched a retro resurgence on the part of both old and new fans. Though they continued to record, they achieved only minor successes and officially played together for the last time in 1990. Marvin moved to Australia in 1986 and owns a recording studio in Perth. His legendary talents with his trademark Stratocaster was honored in the late 1990s when Fender brought him in as a consultant for a special 40th anniversary issue of the guitar. Welch continues to work with Cliff Richard and wrote an autobiography in 1989, Rock 'n' Roll: I Gave you the Best Years of My Life. The Shadows' history is also chronicled in The Story of the Shadows, penned by Mike Read. Their U.S. compilation arrived with Shadows Are Go! on the Scamp label, its title a homage to a movie they once appeared in. Thunderbirds Are Go. Twang! A Tributeto Hank Marvin and the Shadows, released in 1996, honored Marvin and his cohorts with cover versions of their most well-known hits by Peter Frampton, Mark Knopfler, Neil Young, and Andy Summers, among others. Marvin sometimes tours with his son Ben, a guitarist.

by Carol Brennan

Shadows, The's Career

Famous Works

Recent Updates

November 28, 2005: Group member Tony Meehan died on November 28, 2005, in London, England,from head injuries sustained from a fall in his home. Source: Independent, November 30, 2005, p. 36.

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