The Buddy Holly Story King’s Theatre

It can’t be the easiest gig in the world, playing one of the most iconic figures in rock’n’roll history. Especially when the late, great Buddy Holly hailed from Lubbock, Texas, and you were born and raised in Newcastle upon Tyne. But Glen Joseph proved at the King’s last night that he most definitely is the man for the job. This “jukebox musical” is a stormer of a show, and surely guaranteed to please every fan of Holly’s music. As someone who grew up loving these songs, I approached last night a little hesitantly – I’ve seen too many “tribute” bands who are anything but a tribute to the originals, and too many guys in white suits that should have stayed working in the chip shop instead of impersonating Elvis Presley.

And for the first 20 minutes I was still unsure; it seemed a little too formulaic in approach. Until the band, and the songs, became the focus of the night and the whole thing just took off. It’s astonishing just how many hits he had in a career that lasted less than two years. I could fill this review with song titles: Peggy Sue, True Love Ways, That’ll Be the Day, they’re all there, and all performed superbly well.

The story, as you would expect, takes us from the early days in Lubbock to the fateful night of the final concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. From having the contract with Decca torn up because the label wanted a country act, as rock’n’roll was a passing fad that wouldn’t last, (I believe the same label told Brian Epstein a few years later that guitar bands were on the way out) to Norman Petty’s studio in New Mexico where they cut their hits, Buddy’s marriage to Maria Elena and to international success, at one time having three singles in the US top 10.

There are no surprises, the story ends as it must. But it covers their many career highlights, including the fact that they were the first white men to play the Harlem Apollo (nobody knew they were white when they booked them) and they got a rousing reception for Not Fade Away – a clever choice of opener, given that it used the rhythm made famous by Bo Diddley.

Glen Joseph receives great support from the band and the entire cast, but special mention must be made of Jason Blackwater and Will Pearce as The Big Bopper and Richie Valens, their performances helped give the Clear Lake concert an air of authenticity. And the interlude from Shaun Hennessy as the MC and Sarah Mahoney as Mary Lou was much more than just a filler. Having the staff hand out flyers for the concert was a nice touch, too. It helped the audience realise they were an active part of the show, as the King’s became the Surf Ballroom for the night.

I’m not given to handing out advice, but here’s two pieces for you: 1) go see this; and 2) don’t forget to eat…

Jim Welsh