Tour review: Still travelling a long and winding road

By Ross Purdie

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The Hollies return to tour just as one of their best-known songs undergoes yet another revival

The road is long with many a winding turn ..." and so it is for The Hollies' enduring anthem He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother.

Forty-three years after first charting, the song is still going strong with a charity version tipped to be the Christmas No1 in the UK.

The Hollies will play the epic ballad when they tour New Zealand early next year in celebration of their 50th anniversary.

"It is a moving song. It's our anthem and it usually comes towards the end of the show," says drummer Bobby Elliott. "You often see the front rows get a bit emotional and we never get tired of performing it."

Penned by the late songwriting duo Bobby Scott and Bob Russell, the weighty He Ain't Heavy was lucky to make it against the breezy pop template of the late 1960s.

The Hollies had already scored a run of singles before guitarist Tony Hicks stumbled across a dusty Acetate in the publishing bins of London's Denmark Street.

Warned the melody was too swampy for the band's vibrant harmonies, they took a punt. A week later they found themselves in Abbey Road Studios with a shy pianist called Reg - later known as Elton John - who was paid £12 for his services.

The Hollies knocked off He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother on the second take. "We knew it was something special because it was such a departure from the pop sound of the time," says Elliott. "There was a certain apprehension because it was so different but we all liked it."

Peaking at number three in the charts, the song has resonated through the decades.

In 1988, the Hollies re-released the original version following a beer commercial and finally topped the UK charts. For a band who never split, despite several line-up changes, it was a career boost.

"It certainly didn't do us any harm," says Elliott.

"[British music show] Top Of The Pops were on to us straight away asking if we'd perform the song. We'd been on the very first one back in 1964 with Dusty Springfield and the Rolling Stones so there was a welcome sense of deja vu."

The deja vu continues. Last week, Elliott was in London to oversee a charity remake featuring a cast of Britpop performers including Robbie Williams and Mel C.

The single has been re-recorded to raise legal funds for families affected by the Hillsborough tragedy.

"He Ain't Heavy has grown into something bigger than the band," says Elliott. "It's our anthem and now it seems it's become the anthem of Liverpool. Let's hope it brings them the same luck as it's brought the Hollies."

Tour preview

Who: The Hollies

Where and when: Regent on Broadway, Palmerston North, Wednesday, January 30; Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, Friday February 1; Church Rd Winery Napier Sunday February 3; Claudelands Arena, Hamilton, Monday, February 4; Ascension Wine Estate, Matakana, Tuesday February 5.

-AAP

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