The One and Only Billy Fury

November 4, 2011

In the 50’s the arrival of American Rock n Roll had a huge impact on the youth of Britain.

Ronald Wycherley was born in Liverpool on April 17th 1941 and he was one of those teenagers that loved the American rock n rollers! Records by Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent stirred the blood of the young teenage Wycherley as their records raced up the British charts week after week! When it came to British rock n roll there wasn’t much out there and the British imitators were sometimes on the feeble side, but Marty Wilde, Cliff Richard and Johnny Kidd & the Pirates did try and give it a good go!                                                                                              

A lot has been written about how Billy Fury was discovered which was a good bit of PR orchestrated by his manager Larry Parnes, the Brian Epstein of the 1950’s who had an eye for quasi ~ talented, good~looking boys and Billy Fury became the jewel in his pop crown. Billy was the boy pop star with the smoldering good looks and little boy lost look, slicked back hair cut, a cross between Elvis and Eddie Cochran. What teenage girl could resist him with his heavy~lidded vaseline eyes, singing the atmospheric ‘ Wondrous Place ‘. The girls went mad!

Billy’s first three top twenty hits were all written by him which is a remarkable achievement at a time when every singer did cover versions of the big USA hits,long before Lennon & McCartney era came along and made it commonplace for artists to record their own songs!

Billy Fury released the wonderfully authentic sounding 10″ album ” The Sound of Fury. ” A true British rock n roll statement, featuring tracks like ‘ That’s Love ‘ and ‘ Turn My Back On You ‘ which features the storming rockabilly twanulations of that cheeky cockney chappie Joe Brown on guitar.                               

What might have been if Billy Fury had stuck to his rock n roll path.

By the early 60’s in a Presley attempt to make him appeal to a wider audience, his management and Decca record company transformed him with huge success into a clean~cut ballad singer. Billy is best remembered for the song ‘ Halfway To Paradise ‘ with reached No. 4 in the UK chart and was quickly followed by the big melodramatic ‘ Jealousy ‘ and ‘ I’d Never Find Another You ‘. Whatever chance of continuing to write his own rock n roll songs has disappeared and fans of Billy’s brand of rock n roll were left to wonder ~ What if ~ as he was now on the conveyor belt of producing hit records ending up with 26 Top 50 hit singles in the 60’s which is pretty impressive.

At the peak of his career whirlwind tours, radio and TV appearances and his films like ‘ Play It Cool ‘ and  ‘ I’ve Gotta Horse ‘ kept him busy and a couple of his many backing bands were the Beatles who Billy thought would be trouble and the Tornadoes who went on to have an enormous worldwide hit with ‘ Telstar ‘ which was produced by the legendary British producer Joe Meek.

By 1964 with the onslaught of Beatlemania and the Merseybeat, solo singers were all struggling but Billy managed to keep the hits coming and by the end of the 60’s only Elvis, The Beatles and Cliff Richard could claim more UK hits than Billy Fury, but the time they were a changing and the hits started to dry up as Fury was starting to sound as old as his records.                                                                                                           

Lots of personal problems existed at this point but in 1973 Billy was offered a cameo role in the classic British rock n roll film ‘ That’ll Be The Day ‘ starring David Essex and Ringo Starr. Fury played Stormy Tempest a rock singer leading the Butlin’s style holiday camp band in the late 50’s which included Keith Moon and Dave Edmunds. Well worth seeing if you haven’t. With his voice and good looks still intact, Billy steals one particular scene by cradling the microphone in one hand close to his mouth while the other hand steadies the mike stand across his thigh all the time looking and performing to the pretty girls in the audience one by one.

Ronco released an LP for the soundtrack and also a 5 track EP of the songs Billy performs in the film and this EP has become very collectable. Rumour has it that during the filming the entire film crew was banned from every hotel on the Isle of Wight because of Ringo’s and Keith Moon’s high booze intake and the resulting mayhem that followed with everyone involved after the days hard shoot.

In 1981 while I was working for Polydor Records in London I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to sign Billy Fury to a new recording contract and reach the lower reaches of the UK chart with the 45’s ‘Devil or Angel ‘ and ‘ Love or Money ‘ and we was recording an album with producer Stuart Coleman ( Shakin’ Stevens) and a great studio band which featured  Terry Williams (Rockpile and Dire Straits) on drums, Pete Wingfield on keyboards, Billy Bremner (Rockpile) on guitar, and Mick Green (Johnny Kidd & The Pirates) on guitar. The album was only released after Billy’s untimely death at the age of 42 in 1983.                                                                             

Two things I personally remember about Billy is one time being in the studio with him to record a vocal track and we had to turn down the lights in the studio very low because of his shyness but when he started singing out came this perfect voice which even after twenty years he had not lost! and also a Buddy Holly night at the Lyceum Ballroom in London which was put on by Paul McCartney which I attended with Billy’s manager Tony Read. When Billy Fury was introduced to the crowd he nearly brought the house down with his many fans that were there that evening. Fury also showed great respect to his excited  fans by taking the time to talk to them and to sign every last autograph for then. A true star!

I got really close to Billy Fury in his last years of his life and we became good friends. I remember him as a shy guy almost unsure of himself and his talent. A singer who had been totally ripped off and mismanaged in his career, but his time spent on his farm in Wales in his later years was where he was most contented, there he bred horses and spent a great deal of time bird watching of the feathered kind ~ two of the great loves of his life, far removed from the Fury and bright lights of the music business.                          

I still miss him ~ like many others.

If you visit Liverpool then don’t forget to see the beautiful bronze statue of Billy in the city.

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The Faces ~ Had Me A Real Good Time !

September 8, 2011

After the demise of the Small Faces in 1969 with Stevie Marriott leaving to form Humble Pie, the three surviving members Kenny Jones ( Drums ) Ian McLagan ( keyboards ) and Ronnie Lane ( Bass ) hooked up with Ron Wood and Rod Stewart fresh evacuees from the Jeff Beck Group, and named their new band The Faces.                      

Jeff Beck is quoted as saying that “Wood and Stewart were like a couple of little schoolgirls always giggling and laughing together” and that he was pleased to get rid of them.

The initial Faces albumFirst Step ‘ was released in 1970 and had the name the Small Faces on the front cover. The album features lots of  great charm but is slightly untogether with songs such as ‘ Three Button Hand Me Down ‘  and Dylan’sWicked Messenger ‘ pointing the direction the band would take in the future, but it was really the folky Ronnie Lane song ‘ Stone’ that captured my ear!

I saw the Faces play on the release of their second album ‘ Long Player ‘ at London’s Chalk Farm Roundhouse and what a show it was with Rod and the boys kicking soccer balls out into the audience and all of them drinking wine and brandy on stage. It was a real party atmosphere with the audience joining in for a sing~a~long at every opportunity.                

The second LP ‘ Long Player ‘ once again is a bit messy but with the Faces becoming a great rock n roll live act at this time. Two tracks on the album are live ‘ I Feel So Good ‘ and a brilliant cover of Paul McCartney’sMaybe I’m Amazed ‘ and the party theme of ‘ Had Me A Real Good Time ‘ is great, but once again it is the folk songs supplied by Ronnie Lane that also stand out!

Album No. 3 ‘ A Nod’s As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse ‘ with it’s great sleeve artwork would be the break~through album for the band . Outstanding songs on this album include ‘ Miss Judy’s Farm ‘ and the funny ‘ Your So Rude ‘ and ‘ Stay With Me ‘ .Every song is a winner and  the band really gel and the songwriting had reached a high point.

Finally the band made the UK chart with the 45 ‘ Stay With Me ‘ which exploded out of the radio helping to propel the album and 45 into the Top Ten. However this was followed closely by the solo success of Rod Stewart with the 45 ‘ Maggie May ‘ and the LP  ‘ Every Picture Tells A Story ‘ with the rest of the Faces feeling like they where his backing band. That wasn’t what the Faces was about with their motto being ‘ All For One and One For All ‘ but the damage had been done within the group, most critically with Ronnie Lane who was very unhappy with the situation as some shows were billed as Rod Stewart & The Faces.                                             

By the time the final album ‘ Ooh La La’ hit the streets it was clearly all over but this LP had some high points with ‘ Cindy Incidentally’ making the pop charts and the title track becoming a fitting finale to a great group and with Ronnie Lane leaving the Faces to join the circus with his new ‘ The Passing Show ‘ band of musicians, big top, clowns and all!

Ronnie Lane was the heart of the band and things were never the same after he left and today Ronnie is sadly no longer with us. Kenny Jones joined the Who for a short while as replacement for Keith Moon. Ian McLagan would tour with Bob Dylan and the Stones and fronts his own Bump band,while Ronnie Wood joined the Stones as Mick Taylor’s replacement.

Rod Stewart would do his Atlantic Crossing to the USA and his many blondes girlfriends, but never had another band to match the Faces. Blessed with a great voice maybe he sometimes reflects on the time when he had major solo and group success all in the space of one year with ‘ Maggie May and ‘ Stay With Me ‘ in the singles chart and ‘ Every Picture Tells A Story ‘ and ‘ A Nod’s As Good As A Wink ‘ in the album charts.                        

So far Rod has resisted calls from Ronnie to sing with the band again ~ so the three remaining Faces ~ Ron, Kenny and Ian have played some live shows with Glen Matlock on bass and Mick Hucknell on vocals. Very good indeed !

Last Orders Please !


The Who Sell Out ~ Not Likely !

February 3, 2011

I have always been a big Who fan from the first time I heard them in my cousin’s bedroom in Dagenham, Essex at the age of 12. He had just bought a copy of the Who 45 ‘ My Generation ‘ which became one of the defining songs of  the 60s.                                                                                                                       

I love the power and the violence bursting out of that song and the stuttered voice only added to the tension. It shot up to the top of the charts in England and around the world and became an anthem for the young.

Earlier that year 1965 the Who had released two other singles ‘ I Can’t Explain ‘ and ‘ Anyway Anyhow Anywhere ‘ both explosive songs with memorable Townsend guitar parts. The classic My Generation album was to follow with brilliant cover versions and Townsend originals like ‘ A Legal Matter ‘ and ‘ The Kids Are Alright ‘ This was the first of a long line of important rock albums from the band.

The group in England always had a big mod following and were always a great live band with members Keith Moon on drums who was in a class of his own and totally irreplaceable just like Zeppelin’s John Bonham. On guitar Pete Townsend was to turn into a great songwriter but not the greatest lead guitarist in the world like Hendrix or Clapton but was completely locked into Keith Moon on each Who song and was exciting to watch. They would both smash~up their guitars, speakers  and drums at the end of each live performance and would both leave the stage in chaos and destruction.

John Entwistle on bass also known as ‘ The Ox ‘ was the glue which kept this group in time a very talented bass player who played his instrument like a lead guitar and was very loud with the treble control full on! On vocals ace ~ face Roger Daltrey was full of aggression and attitude having many famous fallouts with Townsend along the way but as a singer he just got better and better as the years when on especially live.

The Who would become one of the best live bands around in the late 60’s early 70’s and I love their performance on the Stones Rock & Roll Circus ‘ where their stole the show with their mini opera ‘ A Quick One While He’s Away ‘ and let’s not forget the stunning Woodstock performance.

 Back to the singles and next up in the British charts was ‘ Substitute ‘ which I think is a  brilliant bit op pop with the lyrics.

 I’m a substitute for another guy, I look pretty tall but my heels are high,  the simple things you see are all complicated, I look pretty young but I’m  just backdated “

My favourite Who album is their third ‘ The Who Sell~Out ‘ from 1967 featuring the top ten hit ‘ I Can See For Miles ‘ and pirate radio jingles in between the tracks.                                                                   

The biggest album that the band ever had ‘ Who‘s Next ‘  from 1971 which doesn’t have a bad track on it! but well worth a listen is the 1967 release ‘A Quick One ‘

After the huge success of ‘ Tommy ‘ probably the most overlooked album is the double ‘ Quadrophenia ‘ from ’73 with great songs like ‘5:15 ‘ ‘ The Real Me ‘ and ‘ Love Reign Over Me ‘ and don’t  miss the movie if you haven’t seen it with a young Sting in a starring role,  made in mod heaven Brighton.

The group was never the same after the album  ‘ Who Are You ‘ and  the death of Keith Moon but Kenney Jones was brought in to fill the drum spot and the group made a spirited go of things in the 80’s and the hits kept on coming.

In the later years Ringo’s son Zak has been a good substitute laying down a rock steady drum beat, you can see him on the excellent Royal Albert Hall DVD which is highly recommended.

In 1990 The Who was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame and following the sad loss of bassist John Entwistle in 2002 the band is down to two original members Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend who have admirably soldiered on and I am just putting this suggestion out there that maybe one day we might see Townsend on guitar and Daltrey on vocals join forces with Paul McCartney on bass and vocals and Ringo Starr on drums to record an album from a band that would be worth waiting for!                                                                                                              

Meet the new boss ~ same as the old boss


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