Saturday, May 30, 2009

Beatle People: Billy Fury

Billy Fury (born Ronald William Wycherley, 17 April 1940 - 28 January 1983), was an internationally successful British pop singer from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, and remained an active songwriter until the 1980s. Rheumatic fever, which damaged his heart, contributed to his death.

Early years

Born at Smithdown Hospital (later Sefton General Hospital, now demolished), Smithdown Road, Liverpool, Ronnie Wycherley first attended a gig in Birkenhead run by impresario Larry Parnes, in the hope of interesting established artiste Marty Wilde in some of the songs he had written. Instead, in an episode that has become pop music legend, Parnes pushed young Wycherley up on stage right away. He was such an immediate success that Parnes signed him, added him to the tour, and renamed him "Billy Fury."

He released his first hit for Decca, "Maybe Tomorrow," in 1959. By March 1960, he hit UK Number 9 with his own composition "Colette," followed by "That's Love" and his first album The Sound of Fury (1960), which featured a young Joe Brown on lead guitar, with backup vocals by The Four Jays.

After further hits and sacking his band The Blue Flames—which included keyboardist Georgie Fame—auditions were held for a new group and held by Parnes in Liverpool. Among those who failed were the pre-fame Beatles, who for the first time called themselves The Silver Beetles. They were offered the job for £20 a week on condition that they sacked bass guitar player Stuart Sutcliffe. John Lennon refused and the band left after Lennon had secured Fury's autograph. The Beatles were salvaged, however, by being sent on a tour of Scotland with Johnny Gentle and Duffy Power, who were a couple more of Parnes' acts.

UK chart and film success

Fury concentrated less on Rock 'n' Roll and more on mainstream ballads, such as "Halfway to Paradise" and "Jealousy" (both 1961, each of which reached number 2 in the British Singles Chart). This was Decca's decision to mould Fury into a teen idol after his last self-penned song, "My Christmas Prayer," had failed to chart. 1962 and 1963 were Billy Fury's best years chart-wise. However, he was not a typical teen idol; there was too much sexuality in his performances and his renditions were never lightweight in the mold of some singers like Craig Douglas or Jimmy Justice. Fury's fans and contemporaries in music knew he was a rocker and the real thing musically.

In 1962 Fury appeared in his first film Play It Cool, modeled on the Elvis movies. It featured Helen Shapiro, Danny Rivers, Shane Fenton (aka Alvin Stardust) and Bobby Vee who appeared with the Vernons Girls. The hit single from the film was "Once Upon a Dream." In the film Fury did not get the girl but stayed with his friends. There are notable performances by many well-known British actors and performers such as Richard Wattis, Lionel Blair and Dennis Price. The music highlight of the film is Fury's singing of the title track.

Fury's We Want Billy (released 1963, with The Tornados) was one of the first live albums in British rock history and featured renditions of his major hits and covers of several classic R&B songs such as "Unchain My Heart" by Ray Charles. "Turn Your Lamp Down Low" (recorded in 1965 with backing band The Gamblers) was one of the earliest examples of a British act recording a track in the reggae style (with the emphasis on the second and fourth beats of each bar).

In 1965 he appeared in the film I've Gotta Horse, which featured the band The Bachelors. Appearing in minor roles were Michael Medwin, and Jon Pertwee of Doctor Who fame. The album from the film is available in stereo.

Having had more UK hits, such as "It's Only Make Believe" and "I Will" (written by Dick Glasser, not to be confused with the Paul McCartney song), both in 1964, and "In Thoughts of You" in 1965, Fury began a lengthy absence from the charts in 1967, and underwent surgery for heart problems caused by rheumatic fever which led to his abandoning touring. Despite spending many weeks on the charts, Billy Fury never achieved a number one single, but he remained popular even after his hits stopped. Fury's song "I Will" became a US hit for Dean Martin in 1965 and for Ruby Winters in 1977.

Later years and death

In 1973, Fury came out of retirement to play rock 'n' roller "Stormy Tempest" in the film That'll Be The Day. The film, starring David Essex and Ringo Starr, was roughly based on the early days of The Beatles. Ringo Starr was from the same Dingle area of Liverpool as Fury and had originally played drums for Rory Storm & The Hurricanes, who the Stormy Tempest group were said to be modeled on.

Billy Fury's health deteriorated and he underwent heart surgery notably in 1976 and later. In 1980 he was declared bankrupt and it is possible this forced him out of retirement against medical advice.

In 1981 and 1982, Fury was signed to Polydor Records by A&R man Frank Neilson and recorded a comeback album, The One And Only (released posthumously) with Shakin' Stevens' producer Stuart Colman and several singles. Because of his health, Fury did little touring to promote the new album. His last public appearance was at the Sunnyside, Northampton, in December 1982. He recorded a live performance for the television show Unforgettable featuring six of his old hits. At the request of his mother, only four were transmitted, however, as the two others had such great emotional attachment for her.

Fury lived with Lee Middleton from 1959 to 1967, married Judith Hall in May 1969 and lived with the property heiress Lisa Rosen from 1971 until his death on 28 January 1983 at Paddington, West London.

The song "A Wondrous Place," a great favorite of Fury's (so much so that he recorded it at least four times during his career) later received much airplay on British television when it was used as the theme for a Toyota Yaris car advertisement in 1999 and 2000.

Billy Fury was a keen amateur birdwatcher.

He is buried at the Paddington District Cemetery, Milespit Hill, Mill Hill, London NW7. His grave is always well maintained, with fresh flowers and messages from fans.



* 1960: The Sound of Fury
* 1960: Billy Fury
* 1961: Halfway to Paradise
* 1963: Billy
* 1963: We Want Billy!

Year Title Highest UK Chart Position Label
1959 "Maybe Tomorrow" #18 Decca
1959 "Margo" #28 Decca
1959 "Angel Face" - Decca
1959 "My Christmas Prayer" - Decca
1959 "Colette" #9 Decca
1960 "That's Love" #19 Decca
1960 "Wondrous Place" #25 Decca
1960 "A Thousand Stars" #14 Decca
1961 "Don't Worry" #40 Decca
1961 "Halfway to Paradise" #3 Decca
1961 "Jealousy" #2 Decca
1961 "I'd Never Find Another You" #5 Decca
1962 "Letter Full of Tears" #32 Decca
1962 "Last Night Was Made for Love" #4 Decca
1962 "Once Upon a Dream" #7 Decca
1962 "Because of Love" #18 Decca
1963 "Like I've Never Been Gone" #3 Decca
1963 "When Will You Say: "I Love You"?" #3 Decca
1963 "In Summer" #5 Decca
1963 "Somebody Else's Girl" #18 Decca
1963 "Do You Really Love Me Too?" #13 Decca
1964 "I Will" #14 Decca
1964 "It's Only Make Believe" #10 Decca
1965 "I'm Lost Without You" #16 Decca
1965 "In Thoughts of You" #9 Decca
1965 "Run to My Lovin' Arms" #25 Decca
1966 "I'll Never Quite Get Over You" #35 Decca
1966 "Don't Let a Little Pride Stand in Your Way" - Decca
1966 "Give Me Your Word" #27 Decca
1967 "Hurtin' is Loving" - Parlophone
1967 "Loving You" - Parlophone
1967 "Suzanne in the Mirror" - Parlophone
1968 "Beyond the Shadow of a Doubt" - Parlophone
1968 "Silly Boy Blue" - Parlophone
1968 "Phone Box" - Parlophone
1968 "Lady" - Parlophone
1969 "I Call for My Rose" - Parlophone
1969 "All the Way to the U.S.A." - Parlophone
1970 "Why Are You Leaving?" - Parlophone
1970 "Paradise Alley" - Parlophone
1972 "Will the Real Man Stand Up?" - Fury Records
1974 "I'll Be Your Sweetheart" - Warner Brothers
1981 "Be Mine Tonight" - Polydor
1982 "Love or Money" #57 Polydor
1982 "Devil or Angel" #58 Polydor
1983 "Let Me Go, Lover!" - Polydor
1983 "Forget Him" #59 Polydor

References in Popular Culture

His life was dramatized for BBC Radio in 1994, in a play called The Sound of Fury, with Anton Lesser playing the singer.


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