Viv Hardwick asks Simon Fielder why the silver sound of Buddy Holly continues to attract audiences across the UK

TWENTY-FIVE years seems a long time in terms of musical touring, but this landmark for Buddy Holly and the Cricketers was never the intention of Simon Fielder when he set out to create a tribute to one of the landmark performers of modern pop music.

“I started out at Lincoln Theatre Royal in November 1992 and although it hasn’t continued with the same five people, I never thought I’d be producing it some 25 years later,” he says.

So what has been the secret of 25 years of touring success? “First of all it’s got to be the music. Buddy Holly remains a name that the British public love and partly because he toured here from the US, and was only the second artist of kind to do so in March 1958. Bill Haley being the first. People always appreciated this because Elvis never toured here. The music itself is wonderful and has stood the test of time. I think it has a freshness about it that people love and each generation discovers Buddy Holly for themselves. People pass him on from parents to children and we have noticed this with people bringing along their families to watch our shows.

“It’s phenomenal the amount of music he produced in such a short space of time and not all of it was released in his lifetime. People covered his songs like The Stones and The Beatles and they said how they were influenced they were by his guitar playing.

“The first recording The Beatles ever did was That’ll Be The Day at a Liverpool studio. If you look at the name chosen by The Beatles, it’s a play on Crickets. They looked at an insect name that they thought would work and you’ve got that kind of history there.”

With Fielder’s show, three of the cast were already in the West End version of Buddy and when they got an opportunity to stage their own version they wanted to make the performance more theatrical.

“We didn’t want it to be just us getting up to play the songs, we found out that when Buddy Holly first toured it was as part of a variety show. Des O’Connor was the comedian ‘with the modern style’ according to be poster and the headliner, and there were Ronnie Keene and his orchestra, and a singing act of sisters because the producers didn’t know how to package Buddy. They did 25 dates back-to-back and we found out that Buddy wrote home to his mother that the comedian had given him a joke and ‘I got a bigger laugh than him’,” says Fielder.

He liked the fact that comedy was a strong part of Holly’s act and helped add to the performer’s infectious personality.

“Everyone told us what a gentleman he was and people really liked him. So it became important that we had five people with good personalities on stage. We went for actor-musicians and we started with me coming out and then a chum would come out, a bit like Eric Morecambe, and we’d do the thing of ‘So, you’re not Buddy?’ with the answer, ‘Well, they don’t know that you fool’. And that kicked off the style of it. We improvised that kind of thing on stage to make the audience laugh and the stuff that worked we kept in as a kind of notional dialogue and with subsequent casts we’ve allowed them to make the script their own. We play it as though Buddy Holly is alive and back touring with a modern band. We don’t have the idea of someone playing Buddy, getting in the way of the audience enjoying the fact that he’s alive today.”

Fielder was pleased when TV presenters like Richard Madeley went along the script and interviewed Buddy as though he was back from the grave. “We had a researcher who told us that it just wouldn’t work and I felt it would... and it did and was very funny. Richard sang along with the hit Every Day and that was really good publicity for us,” he says.

Although people are now used to the trend of the tribute show, Fielder feels that his version was “before all that because there were only Bjorn Again and the Bootleg Beatles at that time doing the same as us: one act, one-night music shows representing artists. We pre-dated the artists who played in pubs and theatres and giving the audience five good actor-musicians making them laugh and getting them on their feet. Nearly always, they went away having had a better night than they thought they were going to. The truth is that a lot of ticket-buyers have come back year on year as part of something like an annual celebration.”

Fielder thinks that people are morecagey now about spending money on a good night out with stand-up comics from TV dominating demand. “I think it’s important that people know they’re going to have a good time. Reputation is everything,” he says.

The Cricketers part of the title came from the original band meeting the well-known 1950s cricket stars of Godfrey Evans and Denis Compton. “Because we all played cricket, we changed the band’s name. I thought it was important to differentiate from Buddy The Musical, so that people didn’t come along and think we were the same. I wanted a very distinct brand with our own logo and an endorsement from the British Buddy Holly Society. If people know who Buddy Holly is they know what happened to him. So you’re not pretending to be something that you’re not. It was a nice way to introduce ourselves as cricket-playing UK performers.”

The tour cast has ended up playing in charity cricket matches including the famous Bunbury Cricket Club, which is the world’s largest celebrity team.

Fielder halted the performing side of the show when other productions required his attention.

“After a while, I just didn’t want to be on the road all the time. It got to the time when I could be more effective doing other things and it made it more stressful being in the show. I’ve always tried to do what I enjoy, but things like Chris Difford and Norman Lovett doing It’s all About Tea was fun to because it played Edinburgh and toured with an odd combination of people. Stepping Out was great and now I also produce a show with Geoffrey Boycott, Jonathan Agnew and Phil Tufnell,” he says.

Sunjay Brain, a young folk artist, is the current Buddy, although for the tour’s Durham performance Jamie Newman is returning to don the thick-rimmed specs. “It’s also important for me to put on a good show for Durham because I went to uni there. I was at Grey College between 1980 and 1983.”

Buddy Holly and the Cricketers, Sunday May 28, Durham Gala Theatre. Box office: 03000-266600 or