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This article was originally published in issue #28
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When it comes to improving on one’s chosen instrument, many musicians want to know how much other musicians (of the same discipline or even more generally) practice and how; and at what point (personal) practice needs to become (communal) rehearsal. I put all of this to Hank in the interview and his response was enlightening.
What made an entire generation in the 1960s pick up the guitar and learn to play? Well if you ask the likes of Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Brian May, Pete Townshend, Ritchie Blackmore and Mark Knopfler, they'll tell you it was at least in part down to one man - Hank Marvin. Lee Hodgson meets the guitarist who stepped out of the Shadows, thrilled the world and is still making music today.
It's a story many GI readers will know. How Hank Marvin, along with school friend Bruce Welch (together they were briefly called The Geordie Boys), moved to London in 1958, where they were soon recruited by one of Britain’s hottest young Rock’n’Roll singers, Cliff Richard.
Sir Cliff (he was later knighted) of course went onto have a successful pop career that has spanned over five decades and not many artists can match such a remarkably lengthy career, but Hank Marvin can, having just released a new album in June this year, simply entitled Hank!
After playing piano and banjo as a youngster, Hank moved onto electric guitar. He discusses the details of these formative elements (not mentioning the piano as it happens) in our video interview while clearing up a few details along the way.
Because he only makes a passing comment about it during our interview, I thought I’d like to highlight quite an important bit of guitar/pop history, that is, that the very first Fender Stratocaster brought into the UK was bought by Cliff Richard for Hank, the guitar-hero-in-the-making for Cliff’s new band, The Shadows (they were forced to drop the name the Drifters for legal reasons). The story goes that Hank admired the guitar playing [and sound] of the young James Burton, but [Cliff] had no idea what kind of guitar it was, assuming it to be likely the most expensive one, that is, the Fender Stratocaster. These are not Hank’s words, rather, a commonly reported story.
As was later to become common knowledge, James actually played a Fender Telecaster. As an aside, here is a controversial thought: was Hank perhaps trying to make his Strat sound like a Tele (the sound he had in his head)? As far-fetched as that might seem, I’ve heard stories that the late, great Danny Gatton could make his Tele sound like a Les Paul and vice versa - it’s all in the fingers!
Anyway, back to that iconic Strat of Hank’s. This historical guitar is now in the possession of Bruce Welch and can be seen up close in my Bruce interview (Guitar Interactive issue 4). Oh, and you can argue about precisely what shade of red it is at your leisure. It’s clearly Fiesta Red you may assert. Or maybe that red herring, Salmon Pink? (And many people will protest that such a colour never really existed at all, at least not officially.) Yet The Shadows 50th Anniversary Limited Edition Stratocaster is referred to as “Flamingo Pink”. Rave on!
When it comes to improving on one’s chosen instrument, many musicians want to know how much other musicians (of the same discipline or even more generally) practice and how; and at what point (personal) practice needs to become (communal) rehearsal. I put all of this to Hank in the interview and his response was enlightening. Curiously, his recollection of where the Shadows “rehearsed” differed from where Bruce had told me that they used to “practice” (“at the 2i’s” [the famous London coffee bar where British Rock 'n Roll as more or less born - Ed]), but Hank gives his version of events on camera, so there you have it. It really doesn’t matter what the perceptions once were, or reflections are today, all that matters is that some of the greatest instrumental music ever made came from those young ones!
Following the disbandment of The Shadows in 1968, Hank soon made his first solo album (1969) and went on to make many more, right up to the present day. His new release was recorded at his home studio: Nivram - I’ve not quite been able to work out its meaning, so perhaps I should ask Anna Gram?
Some of Hank’s fans have wondered about how he feels about making guitar-centric collaborative albums and in the interview he talks about an session project in the '70s, a twangsome duo with Duane Eddy in the '90s, while contemplating the future in that respect. One thing’s for sure, Hank doesn’t remain static. As you may know, he has a keen interest in, and a genuine dedication to Gypsy Jazz - something that you don’t learn overnight or dabble in lightly.
I’m perfectly aware that Gypsy Jazz should be, as purists might assert, an entirely acoustic affair and that it might be sacrilegious, or at least irreverent, to try it on an electric guitar (although Django went electric in the late '40s). Still, I happened to be sitting beside Hank Marvin with a guitar in his hands and it seemed opportune to ask him to jam, as you do - I know you’re not jealous!
So, totally unrehearsed, and with Jazz on my mind, I prompted Hank to play whatever he felt like, in order to see how he responds to musical stimuli - improvisation no less! (Hank discusses the subject of past improvisation, or the lack thereof, elsewhere in the interview.) To be perfectly clear, I was not trying to catch Hank out in any way: I was not even trying to test his theoretical knowledge - how crass, superficial and disrespectful would that have been? No, I was merely trying to let you gain an insight into how Hank thinks of music and how he might react to it. I wanted to get inside his mind or at least see the expression of his musical thoughts.
By the way, if you want to be shown how to actually play some famous Shadows tunes then - shameless plug alert - Lick Library has some relevant products on offer. Anyway, I did actually pose a few leading questions to Hank and you can see his responses, both verbal and playing wise, in the video footage.
As a professional teacher, I couldn’t help but spontaneously go into teacher mode, albeit quite briefly. Please forgive me, but I couldn’t help but be analytical just for a few moments, not as self-indulgence, but rather for the benefit of you, the viewer. May I add one further slight apology after the event to Hank for not making it perfectly clear that I was going to play an A7 when he thought I was going to play an Am. Apart from that easily forgettable small misunderstanding, Hank played flawlessly, first time, on camera. Now I realise that might appear to be rather patronising, but I don’t mean it to be at all. How many of us can play flawlessly to an unrehearsed bit of music? And how few of us play musically and without hesitation if put on the spot? Hank Marvin performed as only a legend can, without batting an eyelid, and I was honoured and privileged to be able to instigate it and immediately witness the results, albeit far too briefly. Believe me, I’d have loved to play guitar with Hank all afternoon - did I mention that I got to jam with Hank Marvin? Oh, I did? Sorry, I won’t mention it again.
I would like to make an announcement: there has been a delay… …on every Hank Marvin recording and live performance! Well, on the electric guitar side of things at least. Hank discusses his discovery and subsequent use of echo towards the end of the interview and he focuses on what he is currently using: a TVS.
I know that you will probably be one of Hank’s countless fans who wants to know everything about Hank’s echo units and, indeed, I pushed Hank for a referral to somewhere where obsessive types could head, but he politely yet assertively said that he couldn’t help at all in that respect. You can’t really talk about sounds can you? Words may possibly be found to describe something, but all you’re usually left with is just that: words. And I believe that you can’t talk knob settings either - it’s all meaningless unless you have a specific device in front of you and adjusting parameters in accordance with a specific musical context.
However, trying to be as helpful as I can, totally unsolicited by Hank, I believe Charlie Hall, who created Echoes From the Past (a set of painstakingly researched programmes as built into the electronics of certain devices such as the Alesis Quadraverb - which Hank was using during our interview - or the Zoom RFX-2000 or G2) has created a sheet which lists what type of echo was used on which Shadows recording, yet I understand that, as you’d expect, it’s all copyrighted.
I can’t emphasise this enough: Hank Marvin gets his sound because he is Hank Marvin. I forget who told me the story, it might have been Denis Cornell, about how a guitar playing fan was somehow granted permission to play Hank’s gear prior to a concert performance and, guess what? That person didn’t sound that much like Hank Marvin at all, despite having all of Hank’s tools at his disposal. Still, we can dream can’t we?
I’ll leave you with a couple of thoughts: firstly, that a colleague of mine, who is extremely fussy, shall we say, as both a musician and a producer, remarked that he’d travelled around the world and seen a great many “top guitarists”, but only a precious few had, in his opinion, the “perfect sound”. I won’t name the players in question, suffice to say that a certain man individually and collectively influenced them, that man of course being Hank Marvin! My final statement might at first appear rather bland and unexciting, but please read these words carefully: when I went to see Hank live I noticed that he played (passionately of course) in time, in tune and with, as my friend says, the “perfect” sound. What more could you ever ask for?