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In Thoughts Of You

Billy Fury was the UK’s answer to Elvis, but his career was cut short by odd choices, poor health and wayward management. To begin our 20-page celebration, we look at the pros and the cons of being Billy…

Billy Fury

Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Billy Fury was born in 1940, the same year as John Lennon and Ringo Starr, and yet his career was almost over by the time The Beatles were world-beaters. Around 1967 and when only 27, Billy lost interest in performing and concentrated on studying ornithology and supporting sick animals. He made occasional comebacks, recording a K-Tel album to settle his debts, but his health was poor and his return in the early 1980s probably killed him…

We can never say that someone should have done this or should have done that, because everybody has their own priorities, but it’s a shame that Billy never had a compassionate manager who considered both his health and his artistic integrity, and found him projects that were worthy of his talent. Billy Fury’s career was one long anti-climax and it need not have been that way.

The ‘Stable Of Stars’

It all started so well – and so quickly. Down at the Pier Head in Liverpool, there is a statue of Billy Fury, but why has it been placed there? The simple explanation is that there was nowhere else to put it: the young Ronnie Wycherley hardly played any gigs at all on Merseyside, and nobody had heard of him until he passed his audition for Larry Parnes at the Essoldo Theatre in Birkenhead in October 1958. However, he had worked on the tug boats on the Mersey, so let’s put the statue down by the riverside.

Around the same time as John Lennon’s Quarrymen (although he did not know it), Ronnie made a private recording at Percy Phillips’ studio in Kensington in Liverpool. It was solely voice and guitar, and it was his mother who sent the record to Larry Parnes – hence his audition in Birkenhead.

“It is a major asset to have a recognisable voice and young Ronnie had that, even before Larry Parnes got him ”

Despite the crackles, you can still identify that voice as Billy Fury’s. It is not enough to be a really good singer: you need a voice that is immediately recognisable as your own. Nat ‘King’ Cole had that, and so did Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. Sometimes I go to a pub quiz and there is always a round of identifying voices and I’m surprised that I don’t recognise some of them even though they are famous. It is unquestionably a major asset to have a recognisable voice, and young Ronnie had that, even before Larry Parnes got to him.

Larry Parnes signed Ronnie to his so-called ‘stable of stars’, a demeaning expression which indicated how he viewed them. He gave him a new name – ‘Billy Fury’ – and it is said Parnes picked the names to suggest how they would behave in bed: Marty Wilde, Billy Fury, Vince Eager, Duffy Power, Johnny Gentle and perhaps best of all, Dickie Pride (how Russ Conway and Larry must have laughed when they came up with that). As Vince Eager says: “Larry may have picked the names for that reason, but he never got the chance to find out.”

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About Vintage Rock

'Maybe Tomorrow?’ No, the new issue of Vintage Rock is out now and stars... Billy Fury! Our 20-page special includes an interview with his latter-day backing band Fury’s Tornados and Vince Eager recalls his part in the landmark new album ‘The Symphonic Sound Of Fury’. We also hear from The Beach Boys’ Mike Love and Bruce Johnston about how the legendary band made the transition from doo-wop-influenced rock’n’rollers to symphonic pop geniuses. Our Classic Album is ‘In Style With The Crickets’, an amazing triumph following the tragic death of Buddy Holly. We talk exclusively to Gary ‘US’ Bonds about his early days cutting hot R&B in Virginia, his comeback with Bruce Springsteen and his return to live shows. With a new CD and biography released, we revisit the career of Wee Willie Harris, British rock’n’roll’s strangest and smallest star. PLUS! We talk to the folks building and revamping 50s Jukeboxes, we hand-pick Sam Cooke’s Top 20 hits and speak to Jerry Lee’s sister Linda Gail Lewis. In our live reviews, we head to the Wildest Cats In Town weekender where Charlie Gracie reined supreme, plus there’s a memorable doo-wop reunion in London. And we visit the world of Rockabilly-Radio online.