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 !


Beatlemania ~ November ’63

August 28, 2011

The Beatles kicked off November 1963 with their Royal Variety performance in the presence of the Queen Mother and  Princess Margaret. This night John Lennon was to announced to the crowd “For those of you in the cheap seats clap your hands to this one:  the rest of you can rattle your jewelry” and then launched into ‘ Twist & Shout ‘ and Beatlemania had arrived in Britain!                           

The Beatles went off on a tour of England and was met by large crowds of female girls screaming and fainting at the very glimpse of the mop tops and most of these shows on this tour were held in cinemas as the boys criss crossed the country for the month getting 300 pounds a night and not being able to hear a thing they were playing!

The single ‘ She Loves You ‘ had been No 1 in the UK charts and would be followed by ‘ I Wanna Hold Your Hand ‘ in late November ’63 selling a million copies before release.

On November 22nd the Beatles second album ‘ With the Beatles ‘ was released with its distinctive black and white half shadow cover and haircuts and I remember the girl who lived across the road Linda coming over to my house with the record and hearing it for the first time. It sounds so fresh and tight,  full of atmosphere and the band deliver a masterpiece with Ringo supplying the back beat for the boys to supply their chunky rhythm and sing their hearts out!. No songs were released as singles in England off this LP but all of the songs are well crafted and are super good !

With the Beatles ‘ was the follow~up to the ‘ Please Please Me ‘ LP which was recorded in one day and this LP had more time spent on it and is well recorded by George Martin and the Beatles sparkle and rock with great playing and harmonies from beginning to end with a few covers, lots of original Lennon and McCartney songs and the first George Harrison composition.      

It Won’t Be Long ‘ starts things off with John on lead vocal and plenty of harmonies then slows with ‘ All I’ve Got To Do ‘ followed by Paul singing ‘ All My Loving ‘ brilliantly. Next up is George with his own song  singing ‘ Don’t Bother Me’ . Then we have the rocker ‘ Little Child ‘  with Paul on piano and Lennon with a great vocal performance. Paul takes the lead on the sweet  ballad ‘ Till There Was You ‘ . ‘Please Mr Postman ‘ ends the side with John delivering again a great vocal performance on this Motown classic by the Marvelettes.

George takes the mike on Side Two with a steamrolling version of  Chuck Berry’s ‘ Roll Over Beethoven ‘ and ‘ Hold Me Tight ‘ rocks along with Paul’s vocal and the boys full of energy. Smokey Robinson’s ‘ You Really Got A Hold On Me ‘ is my personal fave and features George Martin on piano. Next along is ‘ I Wanna Be Your Man ‘ with Ringo taking vocals and this song would give the Rolling Stones their first big hit in the UK! Next is a great song  ‘ Devil In Her Heart ‘ which is a Beatle cover of a group called The Donays which would have probably been forgotten if not recorded by the Beatles. the last Lennon and McCartney song on the album is ‘ Not A Second Time’ with John on vocal and to finish the album another Motown hit ‘ Money ‘ which gave John a chance to show us his raw vocal power one more time.                                    

The world would soon change as the Beatles went on to conquer the globe and like the two world wars the Yanks were late to the party!  Will we ever see the likes again!


Beatles ~ Wow! It’s only the B side

February 18, 2011

Hey Beatles ~ Thanks for changing the world and to George Martin for arranging it!

One of the great things about the Beatles UK 45 rpm single releases  was the classic B sides that would appear on the flip side of their big hits, always different from the previous one and always brilliant songs and some would have been hits in their own write!

Like some of their hits some of the B sides didn’t appear on their LPs and here we will take a look at some of them. 

Let’s get back to 1963 for the fantastic ‘THANK YOU GIRL’ the B side of their third UK single ‘From Me To You’ with that signature John Lennon harmonica and vocal snarl. This track would have been a hit in its own right!

From the same year on the back of their million seller ‘ From Me To You’  we find ‘ I’ll GET YOU’  with the Oh Yeahs instead of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the boys songwriting talents start to shine through.

October 1963 sees the release of the fifth Beatle single ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ and Beatlemania is changing the world as we know it! and tucked on the B side is ‘THIS BOY’ with a superb three-part harmony from the boys and showing the softer side of the Lennon & McCartney partnership.

Christmas 1964 and ‘I Feel Fine’ hits the top of the charts and the Beatles are experimenting with the guitar feedback at the start of the song but equally as good is ‘SHE’S A WOMAN’  on the flip side with McCartney delivering a fine vocal performance and the whole band in rocking  form.

Next up issued on the B side of ‘Ticket To Ride’ on April 9th 1965 with another fine three-part harmony is ‘YES IT IS’ which was followed up in July ’65 with Paul McCartney’s blistering vocal tribute to Little Richard on ‘I’M DOWN’  which became a crowd pleaser on their live shows with John Lennon hamming it up on the keyboard in the solo at Shea stadium. Great stuff!  B side of ‘Help’.

Released the same day as the ‘Rubber Soul’ LP in December ’65 the classic ‘Day Tripper’ delivered a heavier sound from the Beatles as their music started to change, their hair is getting longer and they are spending more time in the EMI toilets! As a (joint) double A side release the other song to hit the ears of the world that month was ‘WE CAN WORK IT OUT’  which features a great vocal from Paul in the verses and together with John in the choruses.

My favourite Beatles 45 single is ‘Paperback Writer’ with ‘RAIN’ on the  B side the first Beatles song to feature a backward guitar effect , this record was released on June 10th 1966 one year before the Sgt. Peppers album. ‘RAIN’ is probably the Beatles at their best, the song has great interactive playing by the band and great words and vocal from John.

February ’67 and the start of the psychedelic period has arrived  and there is no going back now for the Mop Tops as they introduce us to ‘STRAWBERRY FIELDS’ a very delicate layered song with an amazing arrangement from George Martin. The start of the Pepper sessions. On the other side of the record ‘Penny Lane’.

‘BABY, YOUR A RICH MAN ‘ is full of eastern promise but you hardly ever hear this record today and it’s so good. Released in July 67 the B side of ‘All You Need Is Love’ which became the anthem for the summer of love and maybe should have been the world’s anthem as well!

Classic Lennon lyrics and vocals appear on ‘I AM THE WALRUS’  the Beatles at their best and didn’t they take us on a trip! I wonder if this one would have made number one, sure it would have been banned by the BBC. B side to ‘Hello Goodbye’ from November ’67.    

Step into the limelight Mr George Harrison with his first composition to appear on a Beatle 45 ‘THE INNER LIGHT’ was recorded at EMI studio in Bombay, India with Indian musicians under George’s guidance while the Beatles were there studying Transcendental Meditation . Issued March 15th 1968 with ‘Lady Madonna’ on the top side. A great  version appears on the DVD ‘Tribute to George’  which came out after his death and with Jeff Lynne doing the honours . Well worth seeing all the performances on this emotional night which are superb.

Swiftly released after ‘Get Back’ on May 30th 1969 ‘THE BALLAD OF JOHN & YOKO’ only featured two of the Beatles on this record, John on acoustic guitar, lead guitar and vocals and Paul on bass, drums, piano and backing vocals and it has a great live feel about it! This is John in his godly white period with  full beard, grannie glasses and madly in love with Yoko. 

Another George song ‘OLD BROWN SHOE’  appears on the B side with a great guitar solo from Mr Harrison not unlike his playing and sound on the Cream single ‘Badge’.

‘YOU KNOW MY NAME (LOOK UP THE NUMBER) was issued on March 6th 1970 as the B side to the glorious ‘Let It Be’ . Lasting more than four minutes this comedy number shows how much the Beatles were influenced by the Goons who were also produced by George Martin at EMI.

And in the end

The love you take

Is equal to the love

You make!

 

 

 


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