Tuesday, 20 November 2018

The night I met Mr American Pie

FOR a 15-year-old boy who aspired to be a rock star it was an evening he would never forget.

FOR a 15-year-old boy who aspired to be a rock star it was an evening he would never forget.

Mike Hurst had travelled across London to see his favourite singer, Buddy Holly, in concert at the Gaumont State Theatre in Kilburn, and he stood at the stage door clutching his programme and a pen, hardly daring to believe that he would actually meet his hero in the flesh.

But not only did he get Holly’s autograph, he also managed to exchange a few words. It was a conversation that was to change his life.

“I just told him that I was learning to play the guitar, and he was so nice,” said Mike. “He said, ‘Go on doing that, boy, and you will get to be a star’.

“It was amazing to have met somebody like him at that stage of my life. Like so many people in the music business I wanted to be like him. He was the reason I wanted to be a rock ’n’ roll star.

“He died young like a lot of rock ’n’ roll stars, so that’s one of the reasons he has become a legend. But if he hadn’t written the songs he would have just faded away like anyone else.

“He played his own guitar on stage, but more than anything we admired him because of the songs he wrote. He was a really good song writer. Nowadays I lecture about rock ’n’ roll music in schools, and I meet kids of 10 and 11 years old who are aware of his music. That’s quite extraordinary. Then he was immortalised in the song by Don McLean, American Pie, and there’s the stage show Buddy. It’s an amazing legacy.”

The year was 1958, and Holly was playing the 3,000-seat venue — at the time the biggest cinema in Europe — as part of a world tour which was to be his last.

The following year, he died in the fateful plane crash that has immortalised him and his music forever.

Hurst, who moved to Henley a few years after this encounter and still lives here, said the meeting was inspirational, and Buddy Holly’s kind words of advice helped him on his way to becoming a successful musician.

Within a couple of years of that meeting, he was playing with The Springfields, with Dusty Springfield on lead vocals and her brother Tom on guitar. The trio had several hits — they were the first British band to get to number 10 in the US charts — before Dusty went solo and Hurst went on to become a successful record producer.

Next month, as a tribute to Holly, he is staging a one-night gig with his band at the Kenton Theatre, When Mike Met Buddy!

The line-up includes Hurst on lead vocals and guitar, Ray Fenwick, formerly of the Spencer Davis Group, on lead guitar, Robert Henrit of Argent on drums, and Colin Farley on bass.

The first half of the show will be dedicated to playing Holly favourites, including That’ll Be The Day, Peggy Sue and Rave On, while the second half will be a compilation of Fifties numbers including songs by Eddie Cochran, Little Richard and Chuck Berry.

Hurst, who has been playing one-night rock gigs at the Kenton for the past 15 years, said the house is always packed and there are always people dancing in the aisles.

He is 70 this year, but there is no sign that his energy is abating. This week he has been producing a television series on music from the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies for Sky. He also tours around the country lecturing in schools on rock ’n’ roll music, as well as playing gigs.

After his spell with the Springfields he went on to start his own record production company, signing stars such as Marc Bolan, Cat Stevens, Shakin’ Stevens and Showaddywaddy.

In 1966, he married Marjorie and on the back of his first big deal with Cat Stevens they decided to move out from London.

He said: “We were living in St John’s Wood and desperate to move to the country, particularly as my wife was starting to produce hordes of kids.

“I was in the studio with Cat Stevens when Marjorie rang me up and said, ‘I’ve found our home. It’s in Henley’. She’d found a house on the Fair Mile called The Grove, and that’s where we brought up our family.”

The couple, who have been together for 47 years, have six children and 17 grandchildren.

He said: “My wife keeps telling me I look old and tired but I just say, ‘Look, just shut up!’ I don’t feel old, I still feel about 50.”

lTickets for the show at the Kenton on Saturday, February 9 are £16. Box office: (01491) 575698 or go to www.kentontheatre.co.uk

Singer, guitarist and record producer Mike Hurst has lived in Henley most of his married life. Next month he will play a tribute to Buddy Holly at the Kenton Theatre, and he told LESLEY POTTER all about the night he met his hero at a stage door.

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