Buddy Holly: Rave On review – oh Peggy Sue, these old dudes still love you

Among vintage music documentary cliches there’s plenty to fire the pulse as Brian May, Don McLean and Robert Wyatt remember Holly’s music and legacy

Brian May is talking about the seventh record he ever bought. It’s by Buddy Holly, unsurprisingly, as this is Buddy Holly: Rave On (BBC4). Here it is, That’ll Be the Day, in Brian’s box of singles, all numbered, catalogued and filed in order of purchase. “It comes in something that looks like a piece of old paper, as it did at the time, very basic,” he says, removing it from its sleeve. “And it’s on Coral, a record label I hadn’t heard of until that point. And there’s your record. So I took it home and put it on the player I had at the time …”

Brian! You’re just describing buying a record. This is a very Friday night BBC4 music doc. It wouldn’t be hard to parody: get a bunch of grey-haired old fellas, put them in front of their record collections, or in a studio, get them to talk about the old days, drop a few names, perhaps pick up a guitar and pick out a few notes.

There’s generally a story about messing about in the studio when so-and-so came in and said: “What’s that? Quick, record it!” … and the rest is history. Here we go then – Crickets drummer Jerry Allison was just slapping his thighs in the little New Mexico studio when producer Norman Petty heard it, put a mic to it and that led to Everyday.

To be fair to Brian May, when he does pick up his guitar to demonstrate Buddy Holly’s dampening technique, it does get a lot more interesting (than the record-buying anecdote). And to be fair to this programme, it may have a lot of those elements but some of these dudes are pretty cool. I enjoyed Don McLean – “the 50s started around 1956, 57” – and Robert Wyatt’s rapid drumming on the kitchen table, like Jerry Allison’s in Peggy Sue. And how they have some great stories, about Buddy’s glasses and his strange hiccuping style of singing. The fact that it’s about Buddy Holly, basically.

And because of the tragic way the story ends: way too soon. Barely 18 months from That’ll Be the Day to the day when he died, in a plane crash in Iowa. The day the music died, sang McLean famously, poetically – though perhaps not accurately. Buddy Holly’s music, and his influence and legacy, live on.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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