Stepping out of the shadows

By Graham Reid

Graham Reid talks to a legendary guitarist playing a different tune

Former Shadow Hank Marvin has always had an affection for the gypsy jazz music of the likes of Django Reinhardt.
Former Shadow Hank Marvin has always had an affection for the gypsy jazz music of the likes of Django Reinhardt.

Britain's first guitar hero, Hank Marvin - admired by Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, Ritchie Blackmore and others - knows the problem he has. He's lived with it for more than 50 years. Even though he's now 74, for many people he will always be the beaming, besuited and bespectacled 20-something peeling off classic instrumentals such as Apache, FBI, Kon-Tiki, The Rise and Fall of Flingel Bunt and others in the Shadows, Cliff Richard's backing band but a hit-spinning group in their own right.

And that's why he's keen people know his forthcoming tour is a new project and something he's always felt affection for: the gypsy jazz music of Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli.

Ironically this is full circle for Marvin who, before moving to London in his mid-teens and falling into rock'n'roll, had been trying to emulate jazz guitarists such as Barney Kessel and the great gypsy player Reinhardt (1910-53).

"It's surprising how many [guitarists] will mention Django," says Marvin from Perth where he has lived for many decades. "B.B. King said Django was an influence, Jeff Beck is a big Django fan, so is Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath. They recognise how innovative he was. You think of some of the techniques he used, like the use of octaves which Wes Montgomery and George Benson have used also. Joe Pass, Barney Kessel and Les Paul all recognise his legacy."

Marvin acknowledges that legacy with his new album Django's Castle and that is the concept he is touring, knowing the Shadows cast a long shadow.

"Obviously some in the audience are Shadows fans but they think it's fantastic because they'd never heard it before. It is difficult because I'm not going out to do half the show as Shadows material. We've been very firm with the promoters that this is a gypsy jazz evening. We don't want people fooled."

This is the battle Marvin has had all his life, even when he formed the harmony vocal, folk-rock band Marvin, Welch and Farrar (with former Shadow Bruce Welch and singer/guitarist John Farrar) in the late 70s.

"We were getting very good critical reviews, but people would say, 'Play Apache, play FBI' so we had to incorporate some big Shadows tunes into the show. A few years later, when we put the Shadows back together, we thought we should put some vocals of MW&F songs [into the set] and it was bizarre. In that context of the Shadows doing them they went over big with the audience. It's funny how the way you package things can have an effect on people's response."

In a further irony, the Shadows became an instrumental group by accident. When Marvin and Welch arrived in London from Newcastle they were singers as much as players. But two instrumentals on Richard's first album were lifted for a single, then while touring the opening act Jerry Lordan played them one of his tunes on a ukulele and they loved it. It became their first hit single, Apache.

"It's funny though, that little introduction is often sampled but was not actually part of the tune, that was just my introduction."

Instrumental groups were popular at the time - the Ventures, the Tornados who had the hit Telstar - and the sole Harrison-Lennon writing credit in the Beatles is the instrumental Cry for a Shadow recorded in Hamburg in '61 when the Shadows' influence was at its peak. Marvin counts many musicians among his admirers.

"I know I developed a style and a particular sound but I still get people who say, 'Ah, he just plays the tunes'. That sort of thing. I guess they want to hear flashy heavy metal-type runs or blues stuff.

"I remember John Peel, who was very into indie music, in the early 70s got us to do a live session for his radio show and said, 'I gotta tell you, I was a huge fan in the early 60s but when the late 60s came along it because very uncool to say you were a Shadows fan'. He said he was ashamed to say he wouldn't own up to it.

"It was interesting to hear someone voice how fickle people can be. But I'm glad to say when you have big names in the guitar world owning up to it people can say, 'Well, I can own up now as well because Brian May and Pete Townshend have'."

But that lifetime of experience has made him wary: "I know there's resistance to this [gypsy jazz] thing because I'm doing something people don't expect. They want me to do Apache and Flingel Bunt.

"We hope we get some jazz fans who admire the Grappelli and Django legacy, and some Shadows fans who are more broad-minded and tolerant. But we'll see."

Who: Hank Marvin
What: Former Shadows guitarist playing gypsy jazz with Nunzio Mondia (accordion) and Gary Taylor (guitars)
When: Bruce Mason Centre, Takapuna, Oct 17; Clarence St, Hamilton Oct 18; Baycourt, Tauranga, Oct 19; Opera House, Hastings, Oct 20; Opera House, Wellington, Oct 22

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