My Mum was in love with Billy Fury. My Dad didn’t seem to mind this but, from an early age, my brothers and I knew that if a gaunt looking man with a blond quiff and a gold lame jacket came to the door we should let Mum know immediately to give her time to pack. Funnily enough, despite the constant threat Billy posed our happy home, I always felt sympathetic towards him, liked him, felt a bit sorry for him, as for all his outward glamour he always seemed a tragic, seemingly unfulfilled figure that perhaps needed our Mum just as much as we did.
Born in Liverpool as Ronald Wycherley, he contracted rheumatic fever as a child which weakened his heart and left him with serious health issues that culminated in his death at the pitifully early age of 42. His instant rise to fame was the stuff of fairy tales (or publicity agent hype) – attending a Marty Wilde show to try and sell some songs that he had written, good looking Ronnie was spotted in the crowd by legendary impresario Larry Parnes who pushed him onto the stage to perform a couple of songs before changing his name and signing him to his stable of pretty rockers with dramatic pseudonyms like Vince Eager, Dickie Pride, Lance Fortune and Duffy Power.
Initially committed to writing and performing his own hard edged rock and roll material, Billy soon found himself recording ballad after ballad in search of a hit, and his own style and own songs were relegated to b-sides and LP’s (not a particularly popular medium at the time). His live LP ‘We Want Billy!’ and 10” ‘The Sound Of Fury’ (great title) still sound exciting today, pulsating with a raw energy sadly missing from his single releases. For those, Billy seemed to choose (or have chosen for him) songs that emphasised his brooding, melancholic qualities, building a catalogue of material that is, at best, filled with desperate longing and, at worst, downright bloody depressing.
Loved by the girls, admired by the boys, hair teased high, Billy was a constant chart fixture in the early sixties, and although he never had a number one single he was famous enough to star in two films: ‘Play It Cool’ (1962) and ‘I Gotta Horse’ (1963), both of which concentrated on Billy the happy go lucky all-round entertainer rather than Billy the edgy rocker and miserablist sex symbol.
Like many teen idols, Billy’s career slowed down after the arrival of The Beatles (ironically, they had unsuccessfully auditioned to be his backing band a few years earlier) and, by the late sixties, tired, ill and washed up, he more or less retired, with the seventies bringing only a few flop singles, a telling cameo as a washed-up rock star in seminal British Rock & Roll film ‘That’ll Be The Day’ (1973) and several operations on his ailing heart. Bankruptcy in 1980 forced an attempted comeback but this was thwarted first by his inability to tour and secondly (and finally) by his untimely but not unexpected death in 1983. My mum was devastated. An album ‘The One & Only’ was released posthumously, but was not a great success, a suitably downbeat coda to the short, downbeat life of Billy Fury.
Three examples of Fury’s work: ‘Last Night Was Made For Love’ a big hit from 1962, 'In Thoughts Of You', a single from 1965 that turned out to be his last Top 10 hit and, finally, 'Suzanne In The Mirror', a 1967 attempt at psychedelic pop which failed to chart at all.
There is a great statue of Billy Fury on Albert dock in Liverpool. Do go and see it if you’re in the area, if only as an antidote to the city’s all-pervading Beatles industry.