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The Shadows have often been described, somewhat erroneously, as the "British Ventures." While each band established a standard within its own nation for producing consistently high quality guitar-dominated, instrumental recordings, the Shadows actually began producing hit singles one year before the Ventures. Furthermore, they doubled as a backing band for England’s premier rock star of the day, Cliff Richard, and released a considerable number of their own recordings with vocals.

The two musicians with the Shadows from start to finish, guitarists Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch, met in school at Newcastle and formed a skiffle group, the Railroaders. In April 1958, they began playing in a Soho (London) coffee bar, the Two I’s. By summer, they’d met Richard, who invited them to join his backup band, along with Jet Harris and Tony Meehan (who would remain members until the mid-1960s). While playing in London area clubs, Richard and his group, then known as the Drifters, submitted a demo disc to EMI. Securing a contract, they quickly became the most successful recording act in Great Britain on the strength of such hits as "Living Doll" (ABC-Paramount 10042; 1959; #1 UK, #30 US) and "Travellin’ Light" (ABC-Paramount 10066; 1959; #1 UK). Marvin’s dazzling technique would inspire a generation of British rock guitarists, including Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Pete Townsend.

By 1960, the band—now called the Shadows—was releasing its own records including "Kon-Tiki" (Atlantic 2135; 1961; #1 UK), "Wonderful Land (Atlantic 2146; 1962; #1 UK), and "Dance On" (Atlantic 2177; 1962; #1 UK). Unlike other British instrumental acts (e.g., Mr. Acker Bilk, the Tornadoes), the group was never able to make chart headway stateside. Their signature hit, "Apache" (Columbia; 1960; #1 UK), was successfully covered by Danish guitarist Jorgen Ingmann in the U.S. market (Atco 6184; 1961; #2). They also composed the music for a series of London Palladium pantomime shows—Aladdin (1964), Babes in the Wood (1965), and Cinderella (1965)—in addition to scoring and performing in the 1964 film, Rhythm & Greens. The group also continued to collaborate with Richard on stage, television, and the movies.

After the departure of bassist John Henry Rostill and drummer Brian Bennett in 1968, the band was officially dissolved. Marvin and Welch continued to work to Richard for a time, but joined forces with Australian guitarist John Farrar to form the Crosby, Stills and Nash-styled band, Marvin, Welch and Farrar. The trio released two commercial unsuccessful LPs, Marvin, Welch and Farrar (Capitol 760; 1971) and Second Opinion (Sire 7403; 1972), that nevertheless featured an exquisite blend of accomplished songwriting, close-harmony singing and acoustic guitar textures. A final project, Marvin & Farrar (EMI 11403; 1973), appeared while the group was in the process of disintegrating. Farrar would gain immediate fame for his production work with Olivia Newton-John in the early 1970s.

All ex-Shadows have remained active in the music business, with various members re-forming many times over the years. Despite efforts to succeed with newly recorded material, fans both in England and abroad have shown a distinct preference for the classic 1960s tracks. Numerous anthologies have been released since the 1970s, the most comprehensive being the six-CD set, The Early Years, 1959-1966 (EMI 7971712; 1991).