When Buddy came to London

Exactly 60 years ago today, the world lost an early rock and roll icon: Buddy Holly. 

Buddy Holly (image: Wikipedia)

During his short life, Buddy- who was born in Lubbock, Texas in 1936- made a huge impact on music and left a legacy which would go on to inspire and influence countless future stars. 

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In March 1958 Buddy Holly and his band, The Crickets (who were made up of Niki Sullivan, Jerry Allison and Joe Mauldin) embarked upon a UK tour.

The very first show they played was on the 1st of that month and took place at the former Trocadero Cinema which was located on the New Kent Road, Elephant and Castle. 

Poster advertising Buddy Holly at the Crickets at the Trocadero, Elephant and Castle, 1958

The image below shows Buddy backstage during rehearsals at this now long-lost venue.

Buddy Holly at the Trocadero, 1958

Whilst in London, Buddy and The Crickets stayed at the Cumberland Hotel near Marble Arch. 

The Cumberland Hotel

Apparently Jerry and Joe were so impressed with the service at the Cumberland that they tipped the shoeshine boy £5- a very considerable sum at the time. 

Just over a decade later, The Cumberland would accommodate another American music legend: Jimi Hendrix.

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On the 2nd March 1958 Buddy Holly and The Crickets travelled north of the Thames to play at the Kilburn Gaumont State. 

The former Gaumont State Cinema, Kilburn High Road (image: Wikipedia)

Situated on Kilburn High Road, the building is now home to the Ruach City Church.

On the same day, the band headed into the West End to appear in a live television broadcast of ‘Live at the London Palladium’. Their set included ‘That’ll Be The Day’, ‘Oh Boy’ and ‘Peggy Sue’.  

To hear audio from that performance- along with still images- please click below:

The picture below was taken during the Palladium performance by photographer, Harry Hammond.

Thirty years later, the same image was used on posters advertising ‘The Buddy Holly Story’; a long running stage musical which opened in London in 1989. 

Buddy Holly at the London Palladium, March 2nd 1958

The 1958 UK tour was compared by a then very young Des O’Conner with whom Buddy became friends.

When Buddy said he needed an acoustic guitar for the tour bus, the pair headed to Denmark Street– aka ‘Tin Pan Alley’- where, according to Des O’Conner, the young Texan tried out “about 17 guitars”. 

Denmark Street as seen from Charing Cross Road

Buddy also visited the Whiskey A Go-Go club on Soho’s Wardour Street where the image below was snapped:

Buddy Holly at Whiskey A Go-Go, Wardour Street (image by Bill Francis, Time Magazine)

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After their first stint in London, Buddy Holly and The Crickets headed on to many other towns and cities including Southampton, Sheffield, Newcastle, Nottingham and Birmingham.

On the 12th March they returned to the capital for three shows at the Croydon Davis, the East Ham Granada and the Woolwich Granada. 

The former Woolwich Granada Cinema (image: Wikipedia)

After further concerts across the country, Buddy Holly and The Crickets returned to London on the 25th of March for their final UK concert at the Hammersmith Gaumont (now the Hammersmith Apollo).

The Hammersmith Gaumont (now the Apollo) today

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Less than a year after his visit to Britain, Buddy Holly was back in the USA taking part in the Winter Dance Party Tour.

On the 2nd February 1959 he played at Clear Lake, Iowa.

Shortly after the gig, in the early hours of the 3rd February, Buddy crammed into a ‘Beechcraft Bonanza’ light aircraft alongside Jiles Perry Richardson Jr- aka the ‘Big Bopper’ – and the teenage sensation, Ritchie Valens. 

Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper

The trio had chartered the aircraft after experiencing poor weather conditions and problems with the tour buses and saw it as their best chance of getting to their next destination- Moorhead, Minnesota– as quickly as possible. 

The aircraft took off in light snow at 12.55am but quickly encountered difficulties and plummeted to the ground just after 1am.

All on board died instantly.

Buddy Holly was 22 years old. The Big Bopper was 28 and Ritchie Valens was just 17.

Please click on the clips below to hear these three musicians in their prime….

The Big Bopper: Chantilly Lace (broadcast autumn 1958)

Ritchie Valens: La Bamba (released October 1958)

Buddy Holly: It Doesn’t Matter Anymore (released January 1959)

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Be sure to visit my new website; robslondon.com! And don’t forget to check out my YouTube Channel, where you’ll find exciting videos all about London’s history and hidden stories.

9 responses

  1. Great memories for me. My Dad was working for Pye Records at the time, so was involved with that tour, because of Gary Miller. I was too young to go, as I was only 6. Years later, I went to the Trocadero more times than I can recall, as it was one of the nearest cinemas to where we lived. (Always called ‘The Troc’) And I even got over to the Kilburn State, once I had a car when I was 17. I mostly went to watch films in those cinemas though. In my late teens, I also visited the Whisky A Go-Go club, though we preferred The Marquee.
    I remember when they were killed in the plane crash too. I was 8 years old by then, and it was all over the news.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. Thanks Pete, those are wonderful memories

  2. […] To read more about Buddy Holly’s time in London, please click here. […]

  3. Nicki Sullivan left the Crickets at the end of 57 and was not on this tour.

  4. Great summary of a true legend. Thank you so much.

  5. Michael hampton | Reply

    I vaguely remember being told of the plane crash .I was only 9 at the time

  6. Very interesting footnote to also add here…
    Seeing the fascinating poster you showed…
    It jogged my memory back to a famous British TV show.
    “Today With Des & Mel” was a lighthearted current affairs & music artist generated show, which was often re-screened/repeated very late at night.
    Melanie Sykes was gorgeous (!), I liked Des (platonically), but whilst I wasn’t a “fan” of his singing, I liked his presentation-style, hence I’d watch it frequently.

    8th December 2004 ; Des had invited Bryan Adams onto the show.
    Bryan Adams, Canadian Rock star & multi-platinum seller/artist.
    I was a huge ‘fan’ & had seen him twice (Wembley & Blickling Hall)
    I was also an owner of multiple Fender Stratocasters (Electric-guitars)
    Now, it WAS Buddy Holly who had ‘world-popularised’ the Stratocaster.
    (it can be seen, in your photo’s, above).

    Imagine my shock when Des told Bryan this…
    “Yeah, I was on tour with Buddy, way-back-when”
    Then, he follows up with….
    “Buddy GAVE ME one his guitars, before he flew home”
    Bryan Adam’s interest was clearly piqued !!!!
    “Yeah, it’s always hanging on my wall, unplayed”
    Bryan jokes “That’s a terrible wicked-waste” (laughing !)
    But after laughing, admits it’s a FANTASTIC story/tale.
    Des told him “It’s a Red 1950’s Fender Stratocaster”
    to which Bryan adds “Those things ARE worth a fortune”
    (Des replies), “Even more so, that Buddy played it, here” (UK)
    Des then, off the cuff, unrehearsed, says to Bryan….
    “Why don’t YOU come round MY house & play it sometime?”
    (Bryan), “Yeah Des, I just think I might have to take you up”
    (on that offer) – The exchange had me laughing & intrigued.
    Plain ordinary ‘PRE-CBS-ERA’ Stratocasters are 5-figure guitars
    The Des/Buddy one with provenance, even more so.

    Noteworthy too, that during the ‘interview’, that Bryan said this..
    “Both My Mum & Dad ARE ENGLISH” (both born in UK Coast towns)
    One was from Folkestone & the other from Lyme Regis (IIRC, from 2004)

    But the Buddy Holly Stratocaster was & is STILL owned by Des !
    (one of, or ‘the’ one that Buddy used on this U.K tour)
    Back then, stars were NOT as ‘loaded’ as they are, today.
    Many WOULD tour with just one or two guitars to hand…
    That rather than 10-12-15 that some pretentious types do today !

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