Interview with AJ Jenks, who stars in Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, coming to the Mayflower Theatre

Interview with AJ Jenks, who stars in Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, coming to the Mayflower Theatre

by Joy McKay.

February 3rd 1959 was immortalised by Don McLean when he described the tragic death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson in a plane crash as ‘The Day The Music Died’ in his 1971 hit American Pie. Exactly 64 years later, in memory of these great artists, I was honoured to be able to chat to AJ Jenks who is playing Buddy Holly in Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story which is currently on tour and coming to the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, in June. He spoke to me about the show, being an ‘actor musician’ in a world of musical theatre, what makes the short musical career of Buddy Holly endure to this day and what makes playing The Mayflower so special. 

It was a performance of Buddy AJ saw as a teenager which sent AJ down his amazing career path. 

“I was always an actor when I was a kid and had music on the side, I always enjoyed music and playing different instruments, but I never put them together. And then in 2009 I saw Buddy in Cornwall and saw that they played the instruments live and acted and danced and sang and thought ‘That’s more talented than anything I’ve ever seen! I want to do that!’ So then I went to drama school and amazingly, at Mountview, there was a course called Actor Musicianship,” he says.

“So from Buddy these shows which aren’t traditional musical theatre, shows like Jersey Boys, The Commitments, Sunny Afternoon and the new one, Fisherman’s Friends, with all of these actor musicians on stage playing instruments, all completely live, have developed. No need for a pit band or click tracks or anything like that.”

It’s clear that AJ is still passionate about the music in the show. 

“Buddy had eighteen months, that was it, the Beatles had seven years, you can see bands now that have been around for thirty, forty years and are still going. I think it was one of those little pocket of genius, they are always going to be celebrated, it’s always going to be ‘wow, these people made this music in such a short period of time'” he says. 

“Looking at when Buddy first recorded That’ll Be The Day to a year after recording a song like Raining In My Heart or True Love Ways, which has all these jazz chords and completely different melodic rhythms than any normal rock ‘n’ roll song and obviously he wrote them himself. I think that genius can’t be forgotten really. Rock ‘n’ roll has really had a revival in the last couple of years because I think people just look back at that time and realise how good that music is, how raw it is, there’s no overdubbing or pitch correction. It’s just four people in a room. It’s the same when you listen to all the Motown classics like The Supremes. That just won’t go away because that’s three women in a room around one microphone just singing. They haven’t added anything, those people could just sing like that.”

The story of the show really sends the audience on an emotional rollercoaster AJ explains how the cast witness this every night. 

“Buddy is really different to your traditional musical,” he says. “The story starts when Buddy is 19 and he passed away when he was 22. So it’s a very short period of time that we go across and tonnes happened; he falls in love, gets record deals, has number ones, has falling outs. But it is hard because the audience already know the true story, they know what’s coming. Sometimes I think ‘why would you make a musical out of that because it’s so sad?’ But you want to witness that big explosion of Buddy’s life before it all disappears into nothing. 

“It’s really odd as we go into the final few songs looking at the audience seeing how sad they are whilst clapping, well this just doesn’t happen with any other show. They are trying to get back into that rock ‘n’ roll mood but, as our director says “you’ve just hit them with a train, now let’s see if you can revive them.” It’s so weird to look at, but it’s amazing because if you can do a show that inflicts that many emotions on an audience you’ve done your job. It’s a really lovely thing to see in an audience, especially at The Mayflower when you’ve got 2000 people doing it, it’s a real shocker!”

The connection that AJ and the rest of the cast and crew have with the audience is obviously strong and they are building on that by offering a Dementia Friendly performance when the show comes to Southampton. 

“For several shows I’ve done over the past couple of years we’ve been doing relaxed performances, not just for people with dementia but people with different needs or disabilities and people from care homes. We’ve been trying to push that more and more as an industry,” he says.  “

Knowing what it was like for people in care homes, and for care workers, during the pandemic, how badly they were treated, we just wanted to make theatre as accessible as it can be to get people out, to get people enjoying theatre. The dementia friendly idea came out of thinking about the people in care homes, because a lot of these people would have been around when Buddy was, and how music can induce memory triggers in people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. So if there’s any possibility of getting an audience member to spark something which opens their eyes and brightens them you have to do it really as a company and as a show, that’s a huge excitement for us. The way we do it is backing off from lighting, backing off from anything that could possibly trigger a bad reaction, turning the music down, turning off smoke machines and haze. Just stripping it back to the essentials of the story and the music.”

AJ has been with the show for six years now and has great experiences being Buddy on stage, especially at The Mayflower.

“It Doesn’t Matter Anymore is my favourite song to play, that’s because you’ve got the whole band, everyone is playing their instruments,” he says.

“But I think my favourite song to listen to is either True Love Ways or Raining In My Heart. I love rock ‘n’ roll but those songs I just think if someone released them now no one would bat and eyelid and they’d go ‘Wow, what a beautiful song’. I don’t think they are set in the 50s, those two songs could have been released at any time and people who say ‘oh yeah, that’s the music of now’. I think that’s how timeless those songs are. Whereas something like That’ll Be The Day you hear, oh that’s the 50s. But there’s certain songs that you think that could be any moment in time, and I love that. I don’t understand how someone like Buddy a year before can write That’ll Be The Day which is three chords and then can write Raining In My Heart where half the chords are jazz chords and just weren’t being used at that time unless you were a crooner. Then a rock ‘n’ roll guy comes along and writes a beautiful song. Although playing them is different, I get a bit bored playing those tunes because they’re slow,” he admits.

“I like the fast ones to play and see the audience reaction, especially in The Mayflower. Because that’s a place where it’s scary, playing that place isn’t like playing any other theatre, I remember the first time I played there;  When Buddy first comes on stage I’ve got my back to the audience, I’m getting my guitar on, I’m getting ready to play the first song. The boys (The Crickets) and standing with me and they usually tell me what the audience is like and give me a whisper. So they all just said to me “good luck,” and so I was thinking ‘oh ok there’s no one in the audience, we’ve got a battle on our hands’. Then I turned round to see 2000 people just sitting there staring at me and I knew Buddy Holly himself had actually played The Mayflower, so there’s even the possibility some people were there and saw him, they saw Buddy. It’s ‘whooah!’ And that’s a weird thing and lovely thing to play someone who was real.

“Last year I finished the Saturday Night Fever tour and I was Barry Gibb and before that I did Million Dollar Quartet and I was Elvis. So there’s having that weight on your shoulders. It’s already stressful enough and then turning around in The Mayflower and seeing that many people you’re like ‘Oh My God’ it’s a whole different thing. Especially when we play some of the bigger songs and then they all clap and sing along, it’s like ‘goodness me’ it just gets you a little bit, it catches you out. It’s overwhelming. But it’s beautiful to see so many people come out for this one guy who had a career which lasted a year and a half. The Mayflower is a theatre place, they sit there and listen to everything you say, they’re not just here for the music, they care about the story. You know when you’ve done well at The Mayflower. It’s just one of my favourite theatres in the country“.


  • AJ and the rest of the cast of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story will be returning to The Mayflower from the 20th -24th June. For details about the dementia friendly show, tickets and more information, visit
  • Photos: Rebecca Need-Menear


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