Songwriter tells the story of musical icon’s meteoric rise to fame

Roger Rowley as Buddy Holly
Roger Rowley as Buddy Holly

Roger Rowley performed as Buddy Holly for a week back in school in Leeds; and then all the way through drama school, his Stratocaster was his positive visualisation.

It worked.

Roger graduated from the Guildford School of Acting 2010 and was straight into Buddy throughout 2011; now he’s Buddy again, on tour, taking in the Theatre Royal Brighton for a week long run from April 14-19.

It’s the part he’s always wanted to play – but certainly it’s a part which presents its very own challenges.

“There is very little footage around of him and only a handful of interviews, but I have milked them for all they are worth.

“It’s tough because the existing footage of him is really on national TV on shows that had very, very patriarchal and straight-laced American hosts. You just have to imagine how he would have been in front of thousands of screaming girls.

“You have just got to find a way into how he actually was. I think now he is recognised for having been ahead of his time in that he stayed completely true to how he was, to himself, and that’s something that hadn’t really been offered to the audiences before.

“He sings very basic songs, but I think he really surprised people by the way that he did it. In his day, he sounded alien. People confused him for a black artist, but it was effective. The way he performed came from his body. He just allowed himself to get completely into the words.

“He was the complete antithesis to Elvis. Elvis was all about the show and the spectacle. He was like a polished racing car. He was there to tell people that he was the best and that he was fantastic, whereas Buddy just knew that he was the best. He didn’t need to tell people.”

And that’s precisely what Buddy, celebrating its quarter-century anniversary, sets out to capture.

The show tells the story of the musical icon’s meteoric rise to fame and his final performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, before his tragic death at the age of 22.

In 18 short months the Texas-born boy revolutionised the face of contemporary music influencing everyone from The Beatles to Bruce Springsteen.

The show recreates Buddy’s era across two hours of music with more than 20 of his greatest hits, including That’ll Be The Day, Peggy Sue, Oh Boy and Rave On, with the Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace and Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba completing the line-up.

Maybe surprisingly, Roger doesn’t believe that Buddy would have made it big today, in an era where the X-Factor is shoe-horning performers into a particular vocal style that just wouldn’t have been Buddy’s.

“I think he would have been muscled out of the game. He just wouldn’t have made it now.”

Part of his importance was that Buddy was among the first singer-songwriters: “He did other people’s songs, and he had a good ear for reworking other people’s songs and putting his own radically-different spin on them, but mostly the songs were his own, and I think the clever thing that he did with his songs was that he kept them similar to other lyrics around, but he was just that little bit cleverer. There was always a little bit of an edge. There was a lot of hidden anger. Something like That’ll Be The Day sounds very jaunty and upbeat, but in the lyrics it is quite dark. There is threat there.”

Roger’s own brand of dark and progressive power pop is showcased on a full album of original songs, composed and recorded with a tiny four-track recorder.

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