Buddy Holly and the Crickets were an American pop group of the late 1950s who made a remarkable contribution to the development of popular music, producing a series of records that were new, exciting, full of energy and joyous enthusiasm. Works like 'That'll be the Day' and 'Peggy Sue' are instantly recognisable to us all, even after a period of over fifty years has past.
Along with performers like Elvis Presley, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper they helped set the scene for the explosion of pop music during the 1960s. Without Buddy Holly and his 1950s contemporaries there would have been no Beatles, no Rolling Stones - at least not in the form we know them.
It is a sad fact that Buddy Holly had a short career of just about twenty months, between 27th May 1957 when he released his first hit record 'That'll Be The Day' and 3rd February 1959 when he was killed in an air crash in Iowa. He was taking part in an exhausting tour of America, and, together with two other stars of the time, Ritchie Valens and Jiles Perry Richardson, known as The Big Bopper, he chartered a light plane to take them from Mason City in Iowa to Fargo, North Dakota. Holly was worn out travelling from city to city in a freezing bus, so took the decision to hire a plane for this leg of the tour. But the plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza, ran into a blizzard just outside Mason City and crashed into a frozen snow-covered field, killing the three passengers and the pilot.
The shortness of Buddy Holly's career makes it all the more special that he had time to undertake a tour of Britain, which happened during the month of March 1958, less than a year before his death. He visited nineteen cities throughout the country, and it is a wonderful fact that the tour opened on 1st March 1958 with two shows at The Trocadero at The Elephant and Castle, which had 3,400 seats and was the largest cinema in Britain.
The Trocadero at the Elephant and Castle, pictured in 1963 shortly before it was demolished. Note the presence of Alexander Fleming House in the left background, newly built by Erno Goldfinger and now known as Metro Central Heights.
The Trocadero was one of the last surviving relics of the pre-war Elephant and Castle, which was once so rich in theatres, cinemas, pubs and shops that it was known as the Piccadilly of the South. Instead of being merely the brutal traffic roundabout it now is, the Elephant and Castle once had a strong cultural identity, rough and ready throughout, but vibrantly alive, and Buddy Holly's British debut at The Trocadero indicates the way it could capture contemporary trends and introduce the country to new and exciting movements in popular culture.
Buddy Holly, backstage at The Trocadero, Elephant and Castle, in March 1958. Photo by Bill Francis (1930 - 2012)
Buddy Holly with The Tanner Sisters backstage at The Trocadero, Elephant and Castle, 1st March 1958. Stella Tanner (1925 – 2012) is at the left, Francis is at the right. Photo by Bill Francis (1930 - 2012)
Here is the itinerary of Buddy Holly's Tour of Britain. It gives an idea of just how exhausting tours like this were, two, sometimes three shows per day, seven days a week, for almost a full month.
Buddy Holly tour of Britain, March 1958