106. The Shadows – Apache (1960)

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From 25 August to 11 September 1960, Great Britain and Northern Ireland competed in the Olympics, held in Rome. It wasn’t a great performance, with only two gold medals, six silver and 12 bronze brought home. On the same day, Cliff Richard and the Shadows were deposed from the top of the charts by… the Shadows (with a cameo from Cliff). This unusual turn of events came about because the Shadows had a recording contract separate to their one as a backing band for the UK’s most popular artist at the time. Their instrumental, Apache, is of course one of the most memorable and evocative pre-Beatles UK singles, and catapulted them to super-stardom, making Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch, Jet Harris and Tony Meeham the first backing band to step out of the shadows (sorry) and become as popular as their frontman.

As previously stated in my blogs for Living Doll and Travellin’ Light, the Shadows were originally known as the Drifters, and none of the original line-up remained by 1960. When Cliff recorded his first hit, the influential Move It, the band consisted of founder Ken Pavey, Terry Smart, Norman Mitham and Ian Samwell. Samwell had written Move It, but only he and Smart were allowed to play on the recording, and that had taken some persuasion. By the time of the recording of Living Doll, the famous line-up was in place. Hank Marvin, the guitar wizard and most well-known band member, had been hired partly due to his Buddy Holly-style spectacles. Originally, Tony Sheridan, who later recorded My Bonnie with the Beatles, had been in the frame. Jet Harris had christened the group the Shadows just before their second number 1,  Travellin’ Light. The four-piece had released a few of their own singles, but none made it to the charts, until they struck gold with Apache.

Singer-songwriter Jerry Lordan’s tune I’ve Waited So Long had been a hit for Anthony Newley in 1959, and his biggest solo hit, Who Could Be Bluer?, was produced by George Martin, and performing well when Lordan was supporting the Shadows early in 1960. He had been watching the 1954 western Apache, starring Burt Lancaster, and was inspired to write an instrumental on his ukelele. He presented the tune to the Shadows on the tour bus. The influential guitarist Burt Weedon had recorded a version, yet to be released, but Lordan wasn’t a fan, and figured the Shadows could make a better job of it. He wasn’t wrong.

Apache begins with foreboding beats, achieved by none other than Cliff himself, banging away on a Chinese drum. This was the first time Cliff had sounded dangerous since Move It. And it certainly makes for a more effective sound than the impressions of Indians that feature on Johnny Preston’s Running Bear. That famous, hazy surf guitar sound that then enters and really makes Apache came about when cockney singer Joe Brown gave away his echo chamber to Hank Marvin, who played around with it and the tremolo arm of his Fender Stratocaster. You can laugh at how nice and polite the Shadows used to look now, with their funny little choreographed walk and beaming faces, but Apache is a hell of a performance, sounding dangerous, modern, and very cool, as well as achieving what Lordan wanted from the track  – namely something that brought to mind the drama, courage and savagery of the Indians in Burt Lancaster’s film. Although the spotlight falls on Marvin, this is a group performance, and the other three really shine too.

Bizarrely, Norrie Paramor, who usually had a great ear for a hit and had produced plenty of chart-toppers, wasn’t that keen at first, and neither were their record label. Paramor preferred The Quatermasster’s Stores, but admitted at 40 he was perhaps growing out-of-touch, and let his teenage daughter decide. She picked ‘the Indian one’, and Apache slowly creeped to number 1 for five weeks, inspiring countless guitarists. Cliff was gracious and found the idea of being usurped by his own band amusing, and no bad blood resulted.

Of course, Apache went further than influencing rock’n’roll. Michael Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band, a project started by MGM executive Viner, released the album Bongo Rock in 1973. The second track was a fantastic cover of Apache, featuring a now legendary drum break by Jim Gordon, formerly of Derek and the Dimons. That breakbeat became as ubiquitous to hip-hop as James Brown’s Funky Drummer, appearing in early DJ sets by pioneers such as Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash. You’ll recognise it from the Sugarhill Gang’s fun version of Apache, from Grandmaster Flash’s The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel (both 1981), and the West Street Mob’s Break Dance (Electric Boogie) (1983), and they’re just the obvious ones. Why is Gordon not recognised for this contribution to modern music? Perhaps because in 1983, he murdered his mother during a psychotic episode. In fact, yes, I’m certain that’s why.

On 15 September, while Apache was still chopping down all competition, an evil scourge began stalking the streets of London, and life for motorists was never the same again. The dreaded traffic wardens were here, for good.

Written by: Jerry Lordan

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 5 (25 August-28 September)

Births:

Actor Hugh Grant – 9 September
Actor Colin Firth – 10 September
Actor Danny John-Jules – 16 September
Race car driver Damon Hill – 17 September 

Deaths:

Actress Amy Veness – 22 September
Suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst – 27 September 

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