“We’re all going on a summer holiday No more working for a week or two Fun and laughter on our summer holiday No more worries for me or you… For a week or two.”
Someone once said that there are only three types of popular song - songs about love, songs about summer and songs about everything else.
There have certainly been enough songs written about the pleasures of summer to make the point, from the 13th century ditty ‘Sumer is icumen in’, with its charming couplet - ‘Bullock starteth, buck farteth’ - to “Summerboy” by Lady Gaga…
Don’t be sad when the sun goes down You’ll wake up and I’m not around I’ve got to go, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh We’ll still have the summer after all.
In between there have been a myriad summer songs with endless references to “hazy, crazy days”, “kisses that make your flat top curl”, “congressmen who say, ‘I’d like to help you son, but you’re too young to vote’”, and “summer heat, boy and girl meet, but oh oh those summer nights” and on and on – even for those who want it to rain until September – images of beaches and cars and sun and surf and boys that want and girls that won’t… endless summer.
But probably the most popular summer song of them all was written not under a palm tree on a sun kissed beach or in an open top car on its way to a drive-in but in a dusty theatre in Stockton-on-Tees on a freezing January afternoon in 1962… and its writers were not practised Tin Pan Alley songsmiths but two young men trying to find their way in the newly established business of rock ‘n’ roll.
Following the Shadows memorable appearance in Cliff Richard’s 1961 feature film “The Young Ones” the group had been booked to appear in his next film, “Summer Holiday” , due to go into production in the summer of 1962. While they waited for the scripts to be written the group were starring in “Dick Whittington” at the Globe Theatre in Stockton-on-Tees. With regular afternoon matinees and shows 6 nights a week the boys spent more time in the theatre than out of it.
One afternoon Bruce Welch, the group’s rhythm guitarist, and Brian Bennett, the drummer, were in the theatre preparing for their afternoon performance when they received the synopsis of “Summer Holiday”. Looking back the storyline now reads as predictable teen fodder - a group of “young people” headed by bus driver Don (Cliff Richard) persuade London Transport to lend them a double-decker bus which they convert into a mobile home and drive across Europe to Athens. On the way, they are joined by three girl dancers and a runaway singer who is being pursued by her mother and her agent. The Shadows appear in various cameo roles including French cyclists (with berets) and traditional Greek musicians (with bouzoukis).
For all its corniness the storyline of a summer adventure across Europe was enough that freezing January afternoon to inspire Bruce Welch to pick up his guitar and start strumming. The words followed without any apparent thought…
‘We’re all going on a summer holiday, No more working for a week or two…’
Below him in the orchestra pit Brian Bennett picked up the chords on a piano and followed the tune, adding his own chorus on the way…
‘We’re going where the sun shines brightly, we’re going where the sea is blue. We’ve seen it in the movies, now let’s see if it’s true….’
Twenty minutes later the song was finished. Just over a year later - on February 21st 1963, with a memorable introductory ‘lick’ added by lead guitarist Hank Marvin, the song “Summer Holiday’ topped the U.K charts and sold over a million copies. It continues to sell today. The film was also a huge box-office success and voted the most popular movie of 1963. It still remains in the list of “Top 100 Family Films.”
Nearly 50 years later and “Summer Holiday” lives on. Although Bruce Welch O.B.E, who now lives in Richmond, thinks that the song he wrote with Brian Bennett O.B.E is “of its time”, suggesting perhaps that it is approaching its ‘sell-by’ date, it is determined not to go away. “Summer Holiday”, featured on holiday programmes and TV commercials, played on the radio and still regularly performed by Cliff and the Shadows, remains one of the most popular summer songs of all time. It is the song we all sing as the car climbs the last hill and we get our first glimpse of the sea. It is the song we hum as we put our tray tables into the upright position and fasten our seatbelts as the plane descends towards a foreign airport. It is the song that school children sing on their last day of term. It is our song of summer.
Its success lies in the fact that it is essentially British. It is not about drive-ins or surfing or open top cars or “flat top” hairstyles or congressmen that refuse to help. “Summer Holiday” is an iconic take on a summer that we all understand - two weeks in the sun, fish ‘n’ chips and flamenco, sand, sandals and sangria, señor and the eternal hope that the sea will be as blue as it appears in the brochure. Fun and laughter is all we are looking for - and that surely is enough for anyone.
Anyway - whatever you do, wherever you go - even if it is nothing and nowhere - do have a great summer….
Now. altogether, one - two - three…..
Cliff Richard and the Shadows in “Summer Holiday”
– from Martyn Day