Sir Cliff Richard and The Shadows were “all spots and greasy hair” when they first met as teenagers, guitarist Bruce Welch has recalled.
Welch, 79, co-founded the pioneering rock and roll band with fellow Newcastle native Hank Marvin, also 79, in 1958 and they quickly became household names backing Sir Cliff, 80, on tour and in the recording studio.
The Shadows’ creative partnership has lasted more than 60 years with five number one singles, inspiring stars including Pete Townshend, Brian May and Eric Clapton.
Despite their later clean-cut image, Welch told the PA news agency the trio were “greasy” teenagers when they were first introduced at Sir Cliff’s tailor.
He and Marvin were recruited by Sir Cliff’s manager at the popular 2i’s Coffee Bar in London’s Soho, where many rock and roll acts honed their craft.
Welch, who was made an OBE in the 2004 Birthday Honours list, said: “We went around the corner up a flight of stairs in a tailor’s workshop and there was Cliff standing being fitted in his famous lurid pink jacket.
“Of course, Hank and I were 16 and he was 17. We looked each other up and down, all spots and greasy hair and all that stuff, teenage spots.
“He said: ‘Will you come back to my house?’ I guess it was an audition really and we went back to his council house in Hertfordshire and we sat for a couple of hours and played in his front room.
“We played all the songs of the day – The Everly Brothers, Elvis, Buddy Holly, all the early stuff. He said ‘Great, I love it, the tour is in three weeks’ and of course three weeks has turned into 60 years. It’s amazing.”
Welch, songwriter and rhythm guitarist in The Shadows, praised Sir Cliff’s early look which featured flamboyant clothing and sideburns inspired by Elvis.
He said: “Up the flight of stairs and there he was. He looked great. He had the sideburns like Elvis and he was dark skinned because he was born in India.
“It’s just been an amazing journey. I have said this many times, there was never any Cliff the star and you are just the band. There was never any of that. It was always the five of us.
“Obviously, he was the star but he never treated us any different. It’s the way it’s been all my life.
“The Shadows were lucky because we started to write songs very early and we were backing the biggest rock and roll star in the country.”
In 1960, The Shadow’s song Apache went to number one in the UK, displacing Sir Cliff who had been at for three weeks with Please Don’t Tease.
However, Welch said there were no hard feelings because they had featured on one another’s tracks.
“It was really weird,” he said.
“Cliff and The Shadows were number one with a song called Please Don’t Tease, which I actually wrote, and then Apache came and knocked ourselves off.
“I wasn’t sure which camp to be in – so happy that Apache was number one in case Cliff got upset for knocking him off.
“But he was thrilled. He always said, ‘This is my band’. He was great. He was such a massive help in the really early days in terms of publicity.
“He played a little Chinese drum at the beginning of Apache so we could always say Cliff was on the record.”
Welch has collected 40 tracks from across The Shadows’ career for a new compilation celebrating their 60 years in showbusiness.
Dreamboats & Petticoats Presents The Shadows: The First 60 Years is out now on Decca Records.