Bernie Calvert was the last member to join the Hollies during their classic golden age, coming aboard just in time to appear on the single "Bus Stop" playing bass, and lasting all the way until their Buddy Holly album, 15 years later. Primarily playing bass, with occasional appearances on piano, organ, and harpsichord, he played a role in the group's psychedelic era and was present on such hits as "He Ain't Heavy (He's My Brother)" and "The Air That I Breathe."
Born in Nelson, Lancashire, in 1942, Calvert showed a love of music from an early age and studied the piano for four years between the ages of eight and 12. It was only the arrival of rock & roll in England that caused Calvert to switch to the bass, a more practical instrument in that period, and he ultimately ended up playing in a local band from Nelson called Ricky Shaw & the Dolphins, with Tony Hicks and Bobby Elliott. That group didn't last through 1963, when Hicks and then Elliott were recruited into the Hollies.
Calvert didn't remain in music full-time and indeed, was working at a factory job when he received a call in May 1966 from the Hollies' manager telling him that they had need of a bass player. The group's original bassist, Eric Haydock, was leaving and they needed a replacement on a tour of Scandinavia, which started within days. Calvert did the tour and then returned to participate on a few recordings, one of which was the Everly Brothers' Two Yanks in England LP, on which the Hollies backed the American duo. Much more important to all of the group members' futures was the single "Bus Stop," which became the group's next hit. Calvert wasn't immediately brought into the band as a permanent member, however, and returned to his job, watching as the single ascended the charts to number two in England. It was late summer before he was given a permanent spot in the group's lineup.
Calvert played with the Hollies in September of 1966 and on the five-week tour of America that followed. Those concerts, both in Europe and America, were notably successful, and although no one could have predicted it at the time, the group was about to enter their most fruitful period. The beginning of 1967 coincided with the group's shift into a more experimental brand of music, accompanying the dawn of the psychedelic era; on Evolution and Butterfly, the two albums that followed in 1967, the group would produce some of the most extraordinary, beautiful, polished, and enduring psychedelic music ever to come out of England.
Amid the rainbow of new sounds being generated by Graham Nash, Allan Clarke, and Tony Hicks (whose array of guitars, dulcimers, sitars, and banjos alone were pretty impressive) as composers and musicians, Calvert's bass playing remained somewhat in the background. His work is usually not considered in a league with that of Eric Haydock, whom he replaced, but in fairness, Haydock was a player nearly as distinctive as Paul McCartney. The bass is prominent enough on "Then the Heartaches Begin," however, with Calvert actually playing the primary melody over the chorus in the break; additionally, "Ye Olde Toffee Shoppe" off of Evolution gave Calvert a chance to show off his first musical love, the keyboard, featuring him on the harpsichord, which is the song's lead instrument.
The Hollies had entered what would be their golden era, not only charting records on both sides of the Atlantic but playing on the same bills with acts such as the Spencer Davis Group and the Small Faces. And then it all seemed jeopardized when co-founder Graham Nash announced his exit from the group. Yet they continued on, scarcely skipping a beat, with the addition of Terry Sylvester, a former member of the Escorts and the Swinging Blue Jeans.
The Hollies rolled on and found the biggest hit in their history with "He Ain't Heavy (He's My Brother)." Calvert also found time to play in the Bread and Beer Band, a studio group put together by producer Tony King featuring Elton John, Roger Pope, and Caleb Quaye. They cut an entire album that was never released, plus one single, "Dick Barton" b/w "Breakdown Blues," which was issued on English Decca in 1969.
Calvert's next 12 years were spent in music exclusively with the Hollies, his Rickenbacker Jetglo 4000 bass a reliable part of their sound through more than a dozen studio LPs and one classic live album. He also occasionally switched to keyboards and relinquished the bass parts to Tony Hicks. Although most of the in-house songwriting was handled by Allan Clarke and Tony Hicks, Calvert did write one track, an instrumental entitled "Reflections of a Time Long Past," which was featured on the Hollies Sing Hollies album released in November of 1969. Calvert left the Hollies in May of 1981, 15 years after he first joined them, at approximately the same time that Terry Sylvester (a member since 1968) quit, following the recording of the Buddy Holly album. He hasn't been heard from musically since, although songs and albums by the group featuring Calvert have been reissued steadily over the decades, and an interview with him appeared in the Sundazed Records CD reissue of the Evolution album.