|On October 11, 1998, the feature shown left, written by Ian Dury, was published in the Sunday Telegraph, but it did not subsequently appear on their web site. I felt it would be sad if this contribution was not preserved.
On October 2, 1958, the 19-year-old Ronald Wycherley from the Dingle in Liverpool found his way backstage at the Essoldo in Birkenhead, where Marty Wilde was topping the Rock Extravaganza show.
Rock impresario Larry Parnes heard some of Ronnie's songs, renamed him Billy Fury and shoved him out on stage. A star was really born. Parnes became his manager and booked him for the rest of the tour, and by the time the package reached London, he was signed to Decca.
Billy's golden looks, voice and suit, combined with his membership of the Parnes stable of stars, soon opened all the doors. His first single was produced by Harry Robinson, famous on television as Lord Rockingham, and by February 1959 the self-penned Maybe Tomorrow had entered the British charts, helped by an appearance in Ted Willis's TV play, Strictly For Sparrows.
In April 1960 be joined forces with TV and record producer Jack Good of Oh Boy! fame. Rediscoverer of Gene Vincent and mentor and saviour to most of Britain's rockers from Cliff Richard to Cuddly Dudley, Jack was the single most forceful personality in British rock television. He
had often given Billy slots in his shows and now it was decided that he would produce his first long-player, The Sound Of Fury.
"I would never overwork anyone with a heart defect," said Larry, "I am the last person in the world to do that."
Jean Wycherly, Billy's mum, remembered asking Mr Parnes to cut down his work rate for the sake of his health, and drummer Clem Cattini described Parnes as a ruthless taskmaster. This lack of control over his own career was seen in the choice of some of the recorded material. Billy often recorded covers that were far below his own writing abilities, and he never seemed able to break Parnes' Svengali grip.
Billy Fury's next Top 20 hit was his biggest.
Written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and a hit in America for Tony Orlando, Halfway To Paradise reached Number 3 and stayed in the charts for 23 weeks. It began a four-year run of hits for Billy, which included such great songs as Jealousy and Goffin and King's I'll Never Find Another You, but sadly never included another of his own compositions.
Powered by Ivor Richmonde's mighty string arrangements and backed by great musicians and the wonderful Vernons Girls, Billy Fury's records still represent the peak of British rock singing. There simply isn't anybody who can touch him.
Along with fame and fortune came the usual couple of dodgy movies and even a spot of panto. He recorded the semi-live album We Want Billy in front of a few hundred fan club girls screaming their heads off. In August 1963 he topped the bill on the first broadcast of the famous TV show Ready Steady Go. He had his last Top 10 in June 1965 with In Thoughts Of You.
Heart operations led to his early retirement, and apart from a few tickles here and there he never resumed a full time career. He spent his time on his farm with his animals and birds.
In 1973 he made a classic appearance in the David Essex movie That'll Be The Day as a singer Stormy Tempest, ably and wonderfully supported by drummer Keith Moon.
I was lucky to meet my hero shortly before he died, aged 42, on January 28, 1983.
"Buy yourself a farm, and dig a few holes," he said. "It's very good for you."
He told me he couldn't do a lot of digging because of his heart. There are plenty of us out there who will dig Billy Fury for ever.
(Ian Dury died of liver cancer on 27 March 2000.)
In July 2004, I came across this song by Stefan Murphy, who told me:
This song was written by me and originally performed by an unsigned band from Dublin, Ireland, called Miles Judge, of which I was the lead singer and songwriter.
It was later recorded and carried on by my current incarnation, The Might Stef.
The title of the song is basically a tribute to two of my great heroes.
It's a dirty rock 'n' roll song that uses the name of two of music's late greats to create a hook line, I guess.
A Swallow Flyin' In
Bob Taylor takes the credit for the discovery of this curiosity.
A French rock 'n' roll group called Long Black Jackets recorded an album called Definitely Teds in 2000, and Bob came across a copy five years later.
On it is a track called A Swallow Flyin' In The Sky, and near the start of the song, there's a reference to Billy Fury. I tracked down a copy through the internet at a retailer in Spain.
If you can make out much of the lyrics, you've a better ear than I have.
|Billy Fury Is
Hardly a tribute in the normal sense, but for the sake of completism, I just had to include it somewhere.
This was composed and recorded by Devilish Presley, a duo called Johnny Navarro and Jacqui Vixen, who describe themselves as a alternative Gothic rock band,
Johnny told me: "Devilish Presley tend to
use a lot of rock 'n' roll imagery and puns in our lyrics, 'Disgraceland',
'Memphisto', 'Viva Lost Vagrants' and so on. This is all done with
"When I was younger I had a Billy Fury
type hair-do but sadly I am now sans-hair - so it could also be about how
age takes away image and all that this means if you are a performer. But
because rock 'n' roll is still the most important thing in our
lives, we carry on 'cos that is the 'attitude' that the baby boom generation
had and still has."
WALL, ENGLAND'S GLORY
Ian Dury also wrote and recorded a song called England's Glory, in which Billy Fury is named as one of the "jewels in the crown".
As we already have a contribution from Ian, I've added instead the cover version by comedian Max Wall.