Hank Marvin, the bespectacled melody machine who can’t introduce himself to anyone without being offered a cheese sandwich, has cut out a soaring path in music, forever fuelled by a pang of hunger to sail to the top. This ravenous riff-reciter rose from lean beginnings back in Newcastle Upon Tyne to reach the fat cat heights of caviar parties with Cliff Richard as The Shadows ploughed through magical pop hits like a musical caterpillar.
From an early age, Marvin displayed an insatiable appetite for music. He noodled away on the banjo and piano to satisfy his sonic craving, but it wasn’t until he first heard Buddy Holly that his hunger to reach the top really began. He adopted the dark-rimmed glasses, slick hairstyle and then dined out in the Newcastle club scene on this imitation act at the start of his career.
As Marvin recalled in a contribution to the Big Issue: “I joined a skiffle group that was actually making money going round working men’s clubs. Before that my own band had played youth clubs for a cup of tea and a biscuit,” Albeit Marvin is a kind and charitable man, it is widely reported by his ex-bandmates from the time that not all of these biscuits were distributed evenly.
Revealing the insecurities that drove his hunger to find a place where he belonged, Marvin continues: “I first found out when I was nine that I needed glasses and I was very embarrassed and upset. I was a young, skinny kid with acne, not confident at all. The day I got my glasses [they were] big round metal and tortoiseshell NHS glasses”. In fact, the thick specs he required created such facial magnification that his eyes appeared bigger than his belly at the time.
Then Buddy Holly came around and changed global opinion on glasses wearers forevermore. Not long after that, life change for Marvin. He and his bandmate Bruce Welsh had their eyes set on the cultural feast of London and they had the looks and skill to try and conquer it. “We left in April 1958, we met Cliff in September and joined him on tour right away. So when we went back to Newcastle we were playing to audiences of screaming girls. My mum told me how proud she was all the time. My dad sort of said it without words.”
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Thereafter, Marvin devoured every experience that the music world had on offer. As he told the Big Issue: “I just wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me at 16 that we’d have such incredible success. We never cracked the US because they wouldn’t promote British bands until The Beatles. But we played all manner of shows around the world and had such experiences. Playing in African townships. Riots in Germany when there were so many people in the streets, they almost turned the limo over. Police in South Africa throwing a tear-gas canister onstage to disperse audiences they thought were dangerous. I’ve had some incredible experiences, some frightening and some just wow!”
Cliff Richards and The Shadows went on to craft so many hits that they not only became era-defining stars, but they have since transcended British culture. After all, how often do you find a guitarist so beloved that hundreds of takeaway shops throughout the land have been named in his honour? Whether it was his work with Richard, his solo work, collaborating with Roger Daltrey or rocking out as the famished third of Marvin, Welch & Farrar, his unique sound has forever remained instantly recognisable. Simply put, he is a feast for the ears.
With his unique melodic straight-arm strumming style, Marvin has inspired and influenced the likes of Jimmy Buffett, T-Bone Burnett, Fiona Apple, Meat Loaf and the boys from Bread. The star, who now lives in Perth, Australia, is even loved by Neil Young who penned the song ‘From Hank to Hendrix’ in partial tribute, proving that he is indeed a cornerstone of modern music even if he has been beset by bad puns. With his echo and vibrato, he helped to create the sound of the 1960s, which lives on in music to this day.
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