Up Close And Personal with

Peter Howarth

Manchester’s very own The Hollies visited Norway last year and I was lucky enough to
get an interview with Bobby Elliot, drummer and one of the original members of this
amazing band, for LTW. The promoter responsible for booking the Hollies to Norway
every year, Knut Skyberg, is an avid supporter of his favourite charity Bayalpata
Hospital in Nepal, which is run by Nyaya Health. He mix
’s his musical pleasure with the
pleasure of helping others, by donating the profits from the concerts to this charity every
year. Knut
s wife Borgny has a birthday in September and Knut and Borgny wanted to
mark the occasion with something special and a little different. Peter Howarth, lead
singer of the Hollies, was therefore promptly booked for his first ever acoustic concert,
supported by Hollies/Clannad keyboard player Ian Parker.

Several hundred people attended the concert that was opened by the support group,
4Gig. These are a local band that played well and had us in high spirits awaiting the
main attraction. Their set consisted of covers, but they were much appreciated by the
audience that varied in age, but I do believe there was a majority of fabulous looking 50-
something females there, eagerly awaiting the main star, Peter Howarth.

Peter enters the stage to enthusiastic applause and looks disarming and charming all in
one go. He starts by talking to the audience whilst tuning his guitar and tells us that he
just changed the strings and it would probably be all right tomorrow, which makes us
laugh. He goes straight in to Shotgun Down the Avalanche followed by You Are Going
To Make Me Lonesome When You Go. Peter tells us how nervous he is at being so up
close and personal and alone on a stage. He banters with the audience between each song
and it
’s both entertaining and interesting and if he was nervous I certainly wouldn’t
have guessed.

Ian Parker soon joins Peter on stage, and their first song together, Sandy, works
fantastically well. They take us from one great hit to the next. We are treated to several
Hollies songs, as well as some of Peters own music. I especially enjoyed Peter
’s new
version of Psalm 23 Evermore, which he performed live for the first time. I thoroughly
enjoyed myself and it was over all too soon.

I caught up with Peter at his hotel the day before the concert and we had a little chat.
This is some of what we talked about.

Teddie: Welcome to Oslo. You are here to play an acoustic gig with Ian Parker, your
band mate from the Hollies. Tell me how that came about.
Knut (Skyberg, promoter) came to a sound check I was doing in England a while back,
when I was doing my acoustic thing that I do with the Hollies. They have been very kind to let
me play versions of their songs that I sort of cover and do slightly differently. I was going
through a few new ones that Knut hadn
’t heard and he said it would be lovely to do an
acoustic gig. I said “you sort it out and I
’ll come…absolutely”. I think that’
s how it came
about, unless you know different, Teddie ?

Knut told me it was his wife’s birthday and that’s why they got the concert together.
Oh, I forgot to mention about Borgny’s (Knuts wife) birthday. (laughs..)

Don’t worry I wont tell him. It’s a good way for your fans to see you up close and personal
as opposed to on a larger stage with the Hollies, hiding behind the speakers and stuff.
Yes it is. I was just saying to Knut that it would be interesting to see who would want
to see it really. It
’s alright coming out with the Hollies and doing the Hollies thing, but if you
are just coming out with the guitar, then how many people would be interested in seeing that?
m pleased for Knut that people are actually going to turn up and see it, which is great.

Even looking in to the whites of the audience’s eyes.
Well I do enjoy it, but I think you are right; it’s more of a nerve-wracking business. It’s
harder to play to one person than it is to play to 10 000 or 80 000, because they are so far
away. Not that I
ve ever played to 80 000 people.


Is this something you and Ian both do on a regular basis.
Me and Ian do gigs together, but the acoustic gigs have come about from playing the
Hollies acoustic songs. I really enjoyed the moment that is just the guitar and me. I
’ve gotten
addicted to it and I want to do it more. I don
’t know how you can sustain it for that long
though, so I thought it would be good for Ian to come along and play a few keyboards, just to
give your ears a rest from just the guitar and voice. I was a bit concerned about coming out
here and doing it completely on my own. It
’s all right for half and hour. But the whole
dynamic of it worried me. It
’s an experiment for me because I’ve never done it before. But
from doing this, I am building quite a repertoire of the Hollies stuff, and I
’ve just started an
album project with a friend of mine. We are doing an album of songs for occasions. I
’ve got
one coming out on Sunday. It
’s being released on Sunday and it’s a version of Psalm 23,
which is The Lord is my Sheppard Prayer. There is a program on TV in England that
’s called
Songs of Praise. A lady called Pam Rose comes to see the Hollies. We were talking afterwards
and she
’s a presenter of the program and she said to me “Have you ever thought of doing
Songs of Praise?” And I said “..not really..” She just liked the acoustic guitar and thought it
would be great to do something and asked if I had any inspirational songs. I haven
’t really, but
there is a song I wrote for a girl about 5 years ago that is a version of Psalm 23. So I told her I
had this one song that I
’d have to dig up and change the key. That week I got together with
some friends and recorded it and sent it off to Songs of Praise and they loved it and wanted
me to go on and do a video and all that. I thought , brilliant ! I did that about 3-4 months ago
and it
’s on this Sunday. Aled Jones has a program on Sunday mornings and he’s picked up
that song for his program. Songs of momentum and this acoustic kind of thing is taking me in
a nice direction. I can just go with a guitar. I don
’t have to worry about a band. I don’t know
where it
’s going to go, but I’m really enjoying it. Oslo is my first proper acoustic gig. I’ve
done a few shows at art galleries for friends of mine. I sneak down there and play. Just wonder
around and play. Playing to just one person is the hardest. If you can do that, I figure I can
play for a couple of hundred. I
’m really looking forward to it. But it’s very lonely out there if
it goes wrong. That
’s what I learned from doing the Hollies gigs. I do ‘Sandy’ alone, but Ian’s
on stage. But I always do one completely on my own, mainly for the reason; I find it a
challenge. It
’s scary, but I love it. When it goes well you think “Yeah !!!” There is a real
sense of achievement of trying to bring everything together; the guitar, the singing and trying
to create that moment, and battling the nerves. I
’ll never forget when The Hollies did the
Royal Albert Hall
. It
’s a kind of venue where everybody comes to see you; your friends and
your family. I don
’t mind if I’m playing to 4000 people and I don’t know who they are. It
’t matter. But when you have your wife and your kids there and everybody who’s known
you over the last 20 years, come to the Albert Hall to watch you do the show and it was
absolutely nerve-wracking. For 2 weeks I couldn't sleep for the fear about doing the gig. But the
gig wasn
’t too bad. When I actually got on there I was fine and I really enjoyed every minute
of it until I got to the solo acoustic spot, which was in the second half. I started playing the
introduction to
‘Here I Go Again’, which I was doing on the tour at the time. I started playing
and I suddenly had this little voice inside my head that was saying; “You are at the Albert Hall!”
and I was thinking “I know I
’m at the Albert Hall. Get lost and leave me alone!” And then
the little voice went “You
’d look a real idiot if you messed up now. If you forgot all the words
and you stopped. You
’d look a real idiot!” And I was thinking “I know. Thank you very much.
Thank you. Go away!” I
’ll get comfortable and suddenly I’ll drift off and think “where am I?
Is that the chorus?” You are either enjoying it too much or it
’s that fine line and you go on
auto-pilot. With any performance there is that fine balance of being relaxed but concentrated.
If you
’re not concentrated you’ll be singing out of tune and forgetting the words. If you are too
relaxed you can make a mistake or you get too emotionally involved, or what ever it is. It
’s the
concentrated experience. Singing with a band is like having a great couple of beers, but when
you are on your own it
’s like a really good Brandy. It’
s more concentrated. I found it a very
enriching experience.

Don’t you get nervous when you start thinking about….
Yes! Yes! I do get nervous!...

(laughs) I mean don’t you get nervous when you start thinking about the fact that
people might not turn up.
What, you mean nobody there?

Like you enter the stage and there’s about 6 people and a dog in the audience..
Again, that’s what I was worried about with Knut and this gig, because I didn’t know
if anybody would come. I told him if nobody comes it would be fine. I will play to two people.
I don
’t care who it is and I really don’t mind. But I’m glad people have turned up. I wasn’t
going to charge anything if nobody turned up. I
d just do it for the laugh.

Tell me about those early days in your career in Blackpool. Was it hard to get noticed?
My dad got me a job with some people that he knew. Three 60 year old blokes playing
in a hotel band. It was the Queens Hotel in Blackpool. I was about 15 or 16 and doing it just to
get some experience playing. I was playing Jambalaya (Carpenters). I
’d learned this guitar
solo and as it come to the solo I was so nervous I couldn
t play it. (laughs)

You co-wrote a musical with your old band mate Rick Fenn (10CC.) -
Robin Prince of Sherwood. How did that come about?
When I was working as a guitarist in the theatre I did Joseph and the Amazing
Technicolor Dream Coat.
That was 1981. This was a long time before this show became
famous. It was a small touring show at that time. Bill Kenwright was the producer of the
show This was one of the oldest shows that he had. He
’s a big producer now, but this was
when he was starting out. It was doing well. It was a tiny little cheap show to put on, and it
was doing very well and became popular with schools. He built it up in to what it has become
today and it coming to the West End with Jason Donovan. The background for how it became
so popular was Bill touring it for years. I did it for about 2 years and my wife did it for about 8,
but that
’s another story. Bill had the rights for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream
Coat for about 10 years, probably more and he made it famous. Andrew Lloyd Webber said
it had become so popular that he
’d like to bring it to the West End. I’m not sure exactly what
happened, but I think Andrew Lloyd Webber cut Bill out of the deal. So when it went to the
West End with Jason Donovan, Bill was supposed to get a share of the production because
he built it up and he was really cheesed off. So what he wanted to do was write another one.
He wanted to do his own, with anger really. So he was looking for somebody to write another
Joseph. The choreographer knew me and asked if I fancied writing a few songs. If Bill likes
the stuff then you could write the musical. I knew Rick (Fenn, 10CC) at the time and I
’d done
a few sessions with him and I asked him if he fancied having a bash at it. We wrote a song
called I believe in My Dreams, which is about Joseph and his dreams and all that stuff. It
turned out really well and we sent it in. Bill, he said “Fantastic! Write a musical!” We got
about 5 songs in, and Bill realized it was a stupid idea and that he was going to get sued for
doing it. He was doing it out of anger anyway, so he decided to turn it into Robin Hood. We
just written 20 minutes of lyrics for his new Joseph musical and Bill said “change them all!”
And that
’s how we ended up writing the musical Robin Prince of Sherwood. We toured the
UK and about 1991 it went on the West End. Later Bill had this bloke over from Canada
doing Roy Orbison in the musical Only The Lonely. The guy did it for a year and then I think
he lost his voice, because he was doing eight shows a week. He exploded and couldn
’t do it
any more. I was on a walking holiday in the country with my wife and Bill phoned me up and
asked if I could sing like Roy Orbison. I told him I couldn
’t but I could hit all the notes and he
asked me to come and see him the next day. I was in the Cotswolds on holiday with my wife,
but I owed him a favour because we probably lost a little on Robin Prince of Sherwood.
Anyway, I went to his office in London. I
’d actually had a role in Robin Prince of Sherwood. I
’t mean to do it, but the guy that was playing the Sheriff left. I was asked to do it. I’d
never been on a stage before in the theatre. Anyway I said I
’d do it if I looked any good. I said
d audition for it but not to let me do it if I looked like a tosser.
Anyway I came round to the theatre where they were auditioning people for Orbison. They
had a guy on stage singing and they asked me what I thought of him and I said he was good.
When it was my turn I was told to sing Only The Lonely, but I didn
’t know it. So I stepped
aside and learned the first bar and where it goes up high. Anyway I sang it and then he came
up to me and asked if I could do an American accent. Of course I didn
’t know if I could do it.
He gave me the script and he played the part of the wife and I tried my best with the American
accent and after about 5 minutes he said “Right your on, on Monday!” This was Thursday. I
had 30 songs to learn that I didn
t know and the script. That was a great experience and I did
that show for a long time. We did about 18 months in the West End and 2 or 3 years on tour.

So are the theatre and musicals close to your heart, or was it just something
you thought you
’d give a try for fun?
It is close to my heart. My first big experience was of touring as a guitarist in a theatre
show. Theatre shows are funny things. I was about 20 years old. It was my first experience of
being in a group of people, not misfits, but you get a lot of people in the theatre who do this
because normal jobs don
’t suite them. Obviously, a lot of gay guys there. The whole cast was
gay apart from the band, and the dancers in the show always made a move for all the
musicians. As soon as a new musician came in, you
’d get pounced on by the dancers. Which
is great. I thought “what the hell is going on here?” I was going to do it for 2 weeks and I
ended up getting accostered by a dancer, and I thought it was fantastic. I remember it being a
magical time with a great bunch of characters. When you tour around you become like a big
family. We
’d do the show and then go out for a drink together. I was only young, but the
whole experience left a big imprint on me. Those people I met at that time, I am still friends
with now. You make a connection. When I did Orbison it was magic again. People ask me
how I can do the same thing 8 times a week for 3 years, but it
’s never the same. I’d go on, and
for me it became a bit obsessive-compulsive. Every time I wanted to make it perfect, but I felt
I hadn
’t done something right. So next time I would get it right and there would be something
else. When I did Orbison it was a bit different because then I had all this responsibility and I
had to keep myself a bit to myself. When you are in the band you can go out and have a beer.
But being Orbison I had to take it much more seriously because I had the leading role. It
s a
good thing and you get all the attention until you take the wig off and nobody knows who you
are, nor do they care who you are.

Do you have anything exciting in the pipeline?
The most exciting thing I’ve got going on is the single I have going out on Monday
Psalm 23 Evermore. It
’s available for download from Sunday. The reason for that is; through
doing this thing for Songs of Praise which is on TV and gets seen by a lot of people, it
stupid not have it available if somebody wanted to download it. And the acoustic shows
m doing is quite exciting too.

Well I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about your solo work as well as your role in
the Hollies. Good luck with all that and thanks for the chat.


Shogun Down the Avalanche
You Are Going To Make Me Lonesome When You Go
Here I Go Again
Throw Your Arms Around Me
Listen To Me
Psalm 23, Evermore
I Can
’t Tell The Bottom From The Top
Blues Machine
Heart of Saturday Night
Too Soon To Know
A Love That Lasts Forever
Bus Stop
The Air That I Breath
Do Not Stand At My Grave
He Ain
’t Heavy, He’s My Brother


Jennifer Eccles


Photographs: JBD

Interview by Teddie Dahlin, November 2012.

The Hollies 50th Anniversary Tour 2013, Norwegian dates:

April 25th - Skien Ibsenhuset +47 35 90 54 90
April 26th - Oslo Sentrum Scene +47 815 33 133
April 27th - Bergen Grieghallen +47 815 33 133
April 28th - Stavanger Konserthus +47 51 53 70 00

The Hollies Official Website