REVIEW: Buddy, The Buddy Holly Story, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday ****

Christopher Weeks’s Buddy Holly in Buddy, The Buddy Holly Story

IT feels like Buddy, the forerunner to so many jukebox musicals, is always playing the Grand Opera House. Not so! Once there was a 12-year gap, and this week’s run is the first since 2017.

What is true, nevertheless, is that it deserves to keep coming back with its sad but joyous celebration of the geeky, bespectacled boy in a hurry, the revolutionary rock’n’roll rebel from Bible-belt, country-fixated Lubbock, Texas.

As heard in concert at York Barbican last autumn, Don McLean’s letter to the heart of American culture, American Pie, is cryptic in its lyrics. Except for its clarity in recalling “the day the music died” as McLean shivered with every paper he delivered that February 1959 morning after Holly and fellow singers J P Richardson (aka The Big Bopper) and Ritchie Valens had perished in a plane crash in the Iowa snow.

“Something touched me deep inside,” sang McLean in his eulogy, and Alan Janes’s musical has carried that torch through 27 actors playing Buddy, 414 pairs of glasses and 3,326 pairs of trousers – those figures no doubt still rising – since its August 1989 debut at the Plymouth Theatre Royal.

So many short, sharp songs from a brief but brilliant life cut short still rave on, never to fade away, as Janes crams in Holly hit after Holly hit, and plenty more besides with long concert sequences at the climax to both halves.

Indeed, unless your reviewer’s memory is playing tricks, there seems to be less detail of the story these days (in particular about the split from Buddy’s increasingly truculent band The Crickets and old-school producer Norman Petty as Holly (Christopher Weeks) swapped New Mexico for New York. This fracture is now mentioned only in passing by Thomas Mitchells’s narrator, Lubbock radio show host Hipockets Duncan, pretty much with a shrug of the shoulders).

That said, The Buddy Holly Story does answer McLean’s question, “Now do you believe in rock and roll?” with an emphatic ‘Yes’. But “can music save your mortal soul?” The inevitability of death would say ‘No’, but hey, it makes you feel good to be alive, whatever your age, how often you hear those Buddy songs.

Hipockets Duncan’s homespun narration begins at the very end ofthe story, before Holly’s 18-month rise and crash landing is charted chronologically. The teenage rebel with a cause in Buddy bursts through the gingham niceties of the opening number as he dupes a country radio station in deepest redneck 1956 Texas into letting him play on air, only to switch mid-song to that new interloper, rock’n’roll. Rip It Up is the song and rip it up is exactly what rule-breaker and innovator Buddy does.

A Nashville Decca producer may dismiss him with a “Can’t sing, can’t write” jibe, but Holly’s big specs appeal, silver tongue and golden arrow to the melody bullseye will triumph: no time to eat, but always feeding the beat as he writes restlessly and records relentlessly.

Directed by Matt Salisbury, rock’n’roll history in motion is a delight – the where, when and why it happened – as Petty’s wife, Vi (Stephanie Cremona) swaps tea-making for playing the celeste in a key contribution to Everyday; Buddy adapts the drum warm-up of The Crickets’ Jerry Allison (Josh Haberfield) for the opening to Peggy Sue, and Buddy refuses advice to remove his glasses, instead switching to thicker frames.

Such is the energy and joy, the love of life and wonder of love in Holly’s songs that this musical and its cast of multi-talented actor-musicians refuses to let the music die.

Cheeky humour and romance, innocence and defiance play their part, as Weeks’s Holly leads the show in all-action style, his singing and guitar playing top notch, while Joe Butcher’s constantly on the move stand-up bass player Joe B Mauldin and Haberfield’s drumming delight too. Look out too for Thomas Mitchells, taking on no fewer than six roles, count’em. That’s why his surname sounds plural!

Through the second half, the love-at-first-sight story of Buddy and record company receptionist Maria Elena (Daniella Agredo Piper), with her premonitions of Buddy’s fate, tugs at the heart strings like a Buddy Holly ballad.

Both concerts are choreographed superbly by Miguel Angel, whipping up the audience to the max; first, the remarkable night when the mistakenly booked Crickets found themselves playing at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York.

Then, the fateful last night of a badly organised tour at the Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa, as Christopher Chandler’s Big Bopper and Miguel Angel’s hip-swivelling Ritchie Valens share the spotlight with Weeks’s inexhaustible Holly.

The tears will always flow at the sudden curtain fall to announce Holly’s passing, but every performance is a resurrection, a chance to shout Hollylujah.

Buddy, The Buddy Holly Story, Grand Opera House, York, 7.30pm tonight and tomorrow; 2.30pm and 7.30pm, Saturday. Box office:

More Things To Do in York & beyond as everyday Buddy’s a gettin’ closer, goin’ faster than a roller coaster. Hutch’s list No. 12 for 2023, courtesy of The Press, York

Rave on: Hannah Price, left, Harry Boyd, Christopher Weeks, Rhiannon Hopkins, Joshua Barton and Ben Pryer in a scene from Buddy, The Buddy Holly Story

THE return of Buddy, Stewart Lee and English Touring Opera, a dream of an exhibition and a vintage DJ night of song top Charles Hutchinson’s diary highlights for the week ahead.

Musical of the week: Buddy, The Buddy Holly Story, Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees

HOLLYLUJAH! Rock’n’roll musical Buddy, The Buddy Holly Story returns to York for the first time since 2017 with “The day the music died” tale of the bespectacled young man from Lubbock, Texas, whose meteoric rise from Southern rockabilly beginnings to international stardom ended in his death in a plane crash at only 22.

Christopher Weeks’s Buddy leads the cast of actor-musicians through two hours of music and drama, romance and tragedy, driven by all those hits, from That’ll Be The Day, Peggy Sue and Rave On to Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace and Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba. Box office:

Michael McGoldrick, John McCusker and John Doyle: Playing The Crescent on Sunday night

Folk gig of the week: Michael McGoldrick, John McCusker & John Doyle, The Crescent, York, Sunday, 8pm

THE Black Swan Folk Club and Please Please You present the powerhouse triumvirate of musical magpies McGoldrick, McCusker and Doyle in a Sunday session of traditional, contemporary and original jigs, reels and ballads, as heard on their two albums, 2018’s The Wishing Tree and 2020’s The Reed That Bends In The Storm.

Their paths first crossing as teenagers before they joined separate bands (Lunasa, The Battlefield Band and Solas respectively), they line up with Mancunian McGoldrick on flute, whistles, Uileann pipes, bodhran, clarinet and congas; Glaswegian McCusker on fiddle, whistles and harmonium; Dubliner Doyle on vocals, guitar, bouzouki and mandola.

“The whole thing’s great fun,” says McCusker. “We have no agenda other than having a nice time and playing music. That’s the way we tour as well – we throw ourselves in a little car, instruments on our laps, and off we go. And the records? Well, I hope it’s the sound of three old friends, having a great time, making music together.” Box office:

Stewart Lee goes back to basic Lee at York Theatre Royal, but sold out, basically

Comedy at the treble: Stewart Lee: Basic Lee, York Theatre Royal, Monday to Wednesday, 7.30pm

AFTER recording last May’s brace of Snowflake and Tornado gigs at York Theatre Royal for broadcast on the BBC, Stewart Lee returns for three nights of his Basic Lee show.

Following a decade of high-concept shows involving overarched, interlinked narratives, Lee enters the post-pandemic era in streamlined stand-up mode. One man, one microphone, and one microphone in the wings in case the one on stage breaks. Pure. Simple. Classic. Basic Lee – but sold out, alas.  

Navigators Art collective explores the subconscious mind in Dream Time at City Screen Picturehouse

Exhibition launch of the week: Navigators Art, Dream Time, City Screen Picturehouse, York, on show until April 21

YORK collective Navigators Art’s Dream Time exhibition takes inspiration from dreams, visions, surrealism and the mysteries and fantasies of the subconscious mind. The official launch event will be held tomorrow (19/3/2023) in the café bar from 7.30pm to 9.30pm.

This mixed-media show features painting by Steve Beadle and Peter Roman; collage, prints and drawing by Richard Kitchen; photography and painting by Nick Walters and textiles by Katie Lewis.

The tour poster for Sounds Of The 60s with Tony Blackburn as host

Nostalgic show of the week: Tony Blackburn: Sound Of The 60s Live, York Barbican, Wednesday, 7.30pm

BBC Radio 2 disc jockey Tony Blackburn hosts an evening of 1960s’ classics, performed live by the Sound Of The 60s All Star Band and Singers. 

Listen out for the hits of The Everly Brothers, Dusty Springfield, The Kinks, Elvis Presley, Diana Ross and The Supremes, Otis Redding, The Beatles, The Who and many more. Box office:

Paul Smith: Playing the Joker at York Barbican

Liverpool lip of the week: Paul Smith: Joker, York Barbican, Thursday, 7.30pm

JOKER is Paul Smith’s biggest and funniest tour show to date, wherein the Scouse humorist mixes his trademark audience interaction with true stories from his everyday life.

Resident compere at Liverpool’s Hot Water Club, Smith has made his mark online as well as on the gig circuit with his affable nature and savvy wit. Box office:

Roddy Woomble: Songs old and new at Selby Town Hall

Indie gig of the week: Roddy Woomble, Selby Town Hall, Thursday, 8pm

RODDY Woomble, Scottish indie band Idlewild’s lead singer, is now a leading voice in the British contemporary indie folk scene. In Selby, he is joined by Idlewild band mate Andrew Wasylyk for a duo show of Idlewild favourites and solo works.

“This is a tour in between records, so a tour for exploring all the songs,” says Woomble. “Lo! Soul is going on two years old now, and although the songs still sound fresh to me when I play them, it’s time for something new – which there is. We’ll definitely be including some new material in the set.” Box office:

Paula Sides’s Lucrezia in English Touring Opera’s Lucrezia Borgia, on tour at York Theatre Royal

Two nights at the opera: English Touring Opera, York Theatre Royal, in Lucrezia Borgia, March 24, and Il Viaggio a Reims, March 25, both 7.30pm

LUCREZIA Borgia, Donizetti’s tragedy of a complex woman in a dangerous situation, is making its debut in the English Touring Opera repertoire in Eloise Lally’s ETO directorial debut production of this thrilling and moving meditation on power and motherhood.

Valentina Ceschi directs a cast of 27 in Il Viaggio a Reims, Rossini’s last Italian opera, in which intrigue, politics, romance and lost luggage all play their part as a group of entitled guests from all over Europe is stranded in a provincial hotel on the way to a great coronation. Period-instrument specialists The Old Street Band play for both operas. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Gig announcement of the week: Steve Earle, The Alone Again Tour, Grand Opera House, York, June 9

Steve Earle: Heading from New York to York in June for solo show

AS his tour title suggests, legendary Americana singer, songwriter, producer, actor, playwright, novelist, short story writer and radio presenter Steve Earle will be performing solo and acoustic in York: the only Yorkshire gig of a ten-date itinerary without his band The Dukes that will take in the other Barbican, in London, and Glastonbury.

Born in Fort Monroae National Monument, Hampton, Virginia, Earle grew up in Texas and began his songwriting career in Nashville, releasing his first EP in 1982 and debut album Guitar Town in 1986, since when he has branched out from country music into rock, bluegrass, folk music and blues. 

His colourful life prompted Lauren St John’s 2003 biography Hardcore Troubadour: The Life And Near Death Of Steve Earle, written with the rebel rocker’s exclusive and unfettered cooperation. “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself,” he once said.

Earle, 68, has been married seven times (including twice to the same woman) and been through drug addiction and run-ins with the law, serving a month in prison in 1994 for heroin possession. “Going to jail is what saved my life,” he said, after he was sent to rehab.

A protege of Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, Earle is a masterful storytelling songwriter in his own right, with his songs being recorded by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, The Proclaimers and The Pretenders, among others.

Since the Millennium, he has released such albums as the Grammy-awarded The Revolution Starts…Now (2004), Washington Square Serenade (2007) and Townes (2009).

Restlessly creative across artistic disciplines, Earle has published a collection of short stories, Doghouse Roses (2002) ; a novel, I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive (2011), and a memoir, I Can’t Remember If We said Goodbye (2015).

He has produced albums for Joan Baez and Lucinda Williams, acted in films and on television, notably in David Simon’s The Wire, and hosts a radio show for Sirius XM.

In 2009, Earle made his off-Broadway theatre debut in the play Samara, contributing the score too. In 2010, he was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Music and Lyrics in the drama series Treme.

In 2020, he wrote music for and appeared in Coal Country, a docu-play by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen that shines a light on the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine explosion, the most deadly mining disaster in United States history. A nomination for a Drama Desk Award came his way.

In 2020 too, Earle released the album Ghosts Of West Virginia and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. His 21st studio album, J.T. in January 2021, was an homage to his late son, singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle, who had died from an accidental drug overdose in August 2020. In May 2022 came Jerry Jeff, Earle’s tribute to cowboy troubadour Jerry Jeff Walker.

Tickets go on sale on Thursday morning (23/3/2023) at

The artwork for J.T., Steve Earle’s 2021 album of covers of songs by his late son, Justin Townes Earle

All in a Weeks’ work in York as Christopher plays Buddy Holly at Grand Opera House

Oh Boy! Christopher Weeks as Buddy Holly in Buddy, The Buddy Holly Story, on tour at Grand Opera House, York

CHRISTOPHER Weeks will be in York all week, playing the lead role as Buddy, The Buddy Holly Story returns to its regular nesting place of the Grand Opera House from Tuesday for the first time since 2017.

After the 30th anniversary travels were stalled by Covid, writer-producer Alan Janes’s musical is back on the road at last, adding to the record-breaking 4,668 performances over 580 weeks on tour in Britain and Ireland (alongside 5,822 performances over 728 weeks in London’s West End since 1989).

Buddy tells the “day the music died” story of how bespectacled Buddy Holly, from Lubbock, Texas, rose from southern rockabilly beginnings to international stardom in only 18 months before his untimely death in a snow-shrouded plane crash at the age of only 22 after playing the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Christopher, a 33-year-old southerner with northern connections, has been a Buddy fan since childhood days. “The show has been around for more than 30 years, and I first saw it in High Wycombe when I was seven or eight,” he recalls.

“I grew up with the show soundtrack, before I knew Buddy Holly’s own versions, and  it’s always been on the list of shows I wanted to do, but I never thought I’d get to play Buddy as it’s top of the tree, a pipe dream, the biggest show of its kind around.”

Nevertheless, Christopher knew members of the previous Buddy cast of actor-musicians, having worked with Josh Haberfield, his “go-to drummer”, who played The Crickets’ Jerry Allison in the show, and Joe Butcher, Buddy’s double bassist Joe B Maudlin.

That affiliation provided his inroad. “I was in a group called The Runaround Kids, a four-piece with a flexible line-up [including Haberfield and Butcher, sharing drumming duties], and we played Buddy Holly and other rock’n’roll songs.

“I played piano and fronted the band on cruise ships and we did it all over the world, playing with headline acts like Chesney Hawkes and Gareth Gates. We once shared a cab back with Chesney!”

Haberfield and Butcher mentioned Weeks’s enthusiasm to play Buddy to director Matt Salisbury. “I then went through an audition process that was very vigorous,” says Christopher.

“That was in 2019, when they were casting for the 30th anniversary tour in 2019/2020. I got the part, and everything was rolling along nicely, six months or so into the tour, when we had the dreaded ‘We’ll keep you posted’ meeting and the pandemic lockdown soon followed.

“They were great with us, very upfront, and gave us some financial support, but it’s such a big show that the tour has only been back up and running for three weeks.

“You couldn’t have done it for the previous two years, as it just wasn’t possible, and then the venues had to play catch-up with all the shows that had been booked in.”

Rave on: Hannah Price, left, Harry Boyd, Christopher Weeks, Rhiannon Hopkins, Joshua Barton and Ben Pryer in a scene from Buddy, The Buddy Holly Story

Has resuming the tour after such a long hiatus been akin to climbing back on to a bicycle? “Well, I did as much work on it as I could at home. The songs never leave you, and because we’ve played them with all those different groups, The Crickets came together a few days before rehearsals resumed to refresh ourselves,” says Christopher.

“Once you get back in the rehearsal room, you start finding yourself instinctively back in the same positions on stage. It felt like a shadow was there from what I’d done before.”

Driven by the truncated arc of Holly’s story – the candle snuffed out so soon – as much as by such songs as That’ll Be The Day, Peggy Sue, Oh Boy, Everyday, Rave On, The Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace and Ritchie Valens’s La Bamba, Buddy adds up to much more than the raft of jukebox musicals it inspired.

“In terms of drama, it’s a tragedy,” says Christopher. “Jukebox musicals have their place, but this is different. It’s a play with songs and it’s not rose-tinted, showing a lovely guy who nevertheless wanted to get things done his way and didn’t have time for any nonsense.

“There’s so much drama, and it’s a true telling of how the songs came about, rather than just singing because that’s what the emotion demands. They’re playing music because they’re musicians.

“It’s the rawness and simplicity of those songs that still appeal to people. Music has gone through so many turns and changes, like my father growing up listening to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. He’d probably look back at rock’n’roll as simplistic, whereas I see it as simple but vibrant and thrilling.”

Christopher admires Holly for his “creativity, passion and drive, and unimaginable talent”. “He was in the business for only 18 months, and I do wonder if he somehow knew what was coming. He was always on the clock, always in the studio, always up at night writing, and his wife [Maria Elena] had that dream of what might happen,” he says.

Naming Raining In My Heart, Early In The Morning and True Love Ways – the song that accompanied his walk down the aisle on his wedding day – as his Holly favourites, Christopher will be on tour until October.

Next week he will tread the Grand Opera House boards for the first time since playing The Big Three bassist Johnny Gustafson in Cilla, The Musical in January 2018, as he heads north once more.

Should you be wondering about his northern connections: “My mother’s side of the family is from Ilkley. Do you know my uncle?” he enquires. Who? “Mike Laycock!”

Mike Laycock, soon-to-retire chief reporter of The Press, no less.

Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, runs at Grand Opera House, York, March 21 to 25, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees.  Box office:

Copyright of The Press, York