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Tiny Dynamite

Wee Willie Harris never had hits, but was a cult hero on the nascent 50s British rock’n’roll scene. As a new book and CD toast his quirky talents, Vintage Rock finds his music is still a reason to be cheerful…


At the 2is fooling around – that’s The Vipers’ Wally Whyton on the right
Photographs from the Wee Willie Harris Collection and the Rob Finnis Archives, unless stated

For a fleeting moment in the late 1950s, Wee Willie Harris shaped like one of Britain’s hottest homegrown performers in a still evolving rock’n’roll scene. He was a genuine dynamo, a 5ft 2” pink-haired pocket rocket – and cheeky with it. When an edition of the BBC’s Six-Five Special was broadcast live from the 2i’s Coffee Bar in London’s Soho in November 1957, Willie, one of the star turns, was filmed casually leaning against the bar, calling the stuffy broadcaster Gilbert Harding “Daddy-O”.

For reasons unknown, the old boy had been invited onto the show and the irreverent remark – playfully delivered as it was – reflected the shifting of cultural tectonic plates as the country’s youth movement gathered pace.

With his outrageous antics, Willie could captivate an audience, but goofing around diluted a genuine talent. Later arguing that fame came too soon in his development, Willie’s period in the sun passed before he could cut a big-selling single to stamp his name indelibly in the annals. When the story of early British rock’n’roll is told now, it is the more groomed or teen-friendly names who came up behind him and enjoyed real chart success – such as Marty Wilde, Cliff and the Shadows and Billy Fury – who get all the accolades.

So it’s great to herald Rollercoaster Records’ publication of a new biography by Rob Finnis – I Go Ape! The Wee Willie Harris Story – along with the release of a complimentary 30-track CD (I Go Ape!), featuring his best recordings, that includes several unissued songs. As Willie himself has been heard to say: “It’s about time”.

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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.