‘Looking After the Liver Birds’
“A Liverpool lad named Ronald Wycherley has just Fury’ously knocked Ed Sheeran clearly off his feet – and off the Christmas No1 spot. The 2017 Christmas number one is-the last of the great rockers, he’s Halfway to Paradise, he’s from a Wondrous Place, Ronald Wycherley, known as the wonderful, ‘Billy Fury’ with his Christmas hit‘ I’m going to Matthews for Christmas dinner “
We can but dream, and that was certainly a dream. Waking up, recalling the dream, I searched for the name of the song in my mind. It remained sketchy–so I’ve added the (un)imaginative title. But, the sentiment is strong, very strong. Over the last 20 years, I add his name to the top of the charts, whether it was a chart filled with Kajagoogoo, Level 42 or U2, Billy Fury joined my very own hit parade with other important vinyl friends; The Smiths and Elvis Presley.
Liverpool has naturally produced bands from the working classes. For me, working class music has always produced the best or most important music. It stems from the maze of societal streets, the struggles and traps that rap the knuckles-daily. Expression and creativity fights struggle and some struggle free. Working classes musicians stimulate and captivate the working classes into escape and out of reality. Fury joined others from Liverpool – singing their escape route, but for me, Fury surpasses them. Yes, I know that may make people spit out their roast dinner in disgust. But those working class lads did shake the world, but it was someone else’s world, not mine.
In my mid-twenties/the mid-nineties, a repeat of ‘Ready, Steady, Go’ ignited my love for Billy Fury. His hunched-shoulder stance style, his gentle but crisp voice, a striking quiff and carved cheekbones stole the night. A powerful, extrovert on stage, but I found out, off stage, he was modest, shy, and insecure. He found peace in the countryside with his beloved wildlife. His vulnerability increased the attraction, he once said, due to shyness, he had emotionally built four walls around him, each day he had to knock them down. I totally understood, and understand. Billy was natural, naturally gifted and naturally brilliant.
In 1940, Billy Fury was born Ronald Wycherley to parents Albert and Jean, in Smithdown Hospital. Ron attended St Silas’s infants’ school. At 12, a second bout of rheumatic fever confined him to hospital; he overheard a doctor inform his mother–Ron may not live till to be 30. His illness kept him away from school, he once said “he never knew the kids he went back to, he felt like he was always the stranger”
Piano lessons at 11, and at 14, his parents bought him a guitar from Frank Hessy’s shop-, he became skilful in a few chords-but a specialist in vocal chords. Ron’s father found him a job on the tugboats which had perks- listening to the influx of new country and western music brought on by sailors from New York. He would entertain singing- guitar playing. Billy said he admired “country and western singers, they were singing about real life, how it feels when you get let down, so I kind of tagged on to their stuff.”
From tugboats, he then sailed to Joshua Harris’s department store, inspired by colleague Margo King-he penned Margo (Don’t Go). He cut his first 78rpm at Percy F Phillips studio, and sent a tape/letter to impresario Larry Parnes. But no reply. Ron knocked at the stage door of Essoldo Theatre-Birkenhead with his guitar ready to impress Marty Wilde, but witnessing Ron playing songs, Larry Parnes thrust the youngster onto the stage. Ron played, ‘Margo / Maybe Tomorrow’ in the interval-it went down a storm. Ron immediately joined the tour. His life changed, his name changed. Ronald Wycherley become Billy, (after band leader Billy Cotton) Fury (to compensate for his shyness). He went home to pack and to wave goodbye to one world-for the pop world
‘Maybe Tomorrow’ (1959) went Top 20; he signed a seven year deal with Decca. The spectacular ‘Sound Of Fury’ album was released (1960). A collection of self-penned numbers still remains fans favourite recording. Recorded in minimal time –it lasts the tests of time, with ‘That’s Love’ and ‘You Don’t know’ still essential part of my iPod-playlists.
The Silver Beetles auditioned for Billy’s backing group and offered the job, but as Stu Sutcliffe left–John Lennon walked away to support his friend, but only after retrieving Billy’s autograph. Imagine the Silver Beatles and Fury working together – Beatle’esq numbers with Billy Singing? mind-blowing to think of the ‘could haves’- but maybe, just maybe, it worked out right, for them, for Liverpool, for us.
A young John Lennon gets Billy’s autograph
1960-63, a career peaked, but style changed. Pushed from a Wondrous Place to the mainstream ballads,but it was still powerful and evidently Fury. He reached numbers 2/3 with ‘Halfway to Paradise and Jealousy’. In the 1960s, Billy had more entries in the Top-Selling, Singles, Ep and Lp charts than the Beatles. The hits continued to hit–but never hit number 1. Billy went from singer to movie star; ‘Play it Cool (1962)’, ‘I’ve Gotta Horse’ (1965) and later ‘That’ll be the Day’ (1973)’. Just like Elvis movies, I was never impressed with the storylines, just happy to see my hero delivering their lines. (Fury once presented Elvis with Gold/Silver discs for UK sales–Elvis reported, Billy was shy, not overwhelmed with Elvis, just shy).
‘In Thoughts of You (1965), hit top ten, but Billy’s health deteriorated. He spent time, at peace with wildlife-but had two open heart surgeries in 1972/76. The release of; ‘Be Mine Tonight’ (1981), ‘Love or Money” / Devil or Angel (1982)’, missed/or only dented the charts. A comeback was planned, but, sadly on 28 January 1983, Billy was found unconscious in his flat in St Johns Wood- Billy passed away on arrival at St Mary’s Hospital, London.
Billy Furys legacy is beautiful songs and memories of a beautiful man, shy, caring, and devoted to animals. Billy wanted the limelight, but not too bright. His story continues, from the Last Shadow Puppets covering Wondrous Place, to Camden Council naming a pathway after Billy-near the Decca studio he recorded in.
Matt with treasured vinyl
I also celebrate Billy’s work at fan club event(s) in Liverpool. Tribute singers, fans, sing and dance the afternoon away. Billy’s wonderful Mum, Jean used to attend, but sadly Jean passed away this year. Jean is now in the loving arms of her sons Billy and Albie. I met Albie once, also a talented singer, he had the quiff and the chiselled Wycherley look, and he asked me to keep the rock n roll dreams alive. Albie – I promise I will.
Recently I discussed the fan club events with singer Michelle Nova who has regularly attended events-and also mounts the stage to sing Billy’s songs to the Fury faithful. Michelle said “the Billy Fury ‘In Thoughts of You Fan Club’ meetings take place twice a year at Blundell Street Supper Club in Liverpool, normally around April and October. Fans from all over the UK get together to celebrate Billy’s life and music with a Billy Fury disco and live music’
I asked Michelle, about the bond between fans, “There’s a fantastic bond between fans young and old. The older fans who were lucky enough to see Billy Fury sing live recount their experiences with younger fans. We all talk about our favourite songs and the films Billy made”.
I also asked about, how it was to sing in front of Billy’s Mum and Billy’s family over the years, “Jean attended as many Billy Fury events as her health would allow. It was an honour and a privilege to sing with Jean in attendance and I feel immensely proud to sing at these events and to be in the company of fellow fans”
I agree, it’s great to be amongst those close to Billy -or celebrating Billy. I recall, at one fan club event, I asked Billy’s Mum to sign my treasured Billy Fury album. I told her, Billy’s statue at the Albert dock deserves, to stand in-between the Liver birds, she smiled, held my hand and replied,‘how sweet of you-thank you’. To this day, I remember I could see the love and loss in her eyes.
But Jean, I look at a thousand stars in the sky and say, no, I thank you for bringing Billy Fury into our world.
In Thoughts of You – Fan club event, 08 Oct 2017 1pm – 5pm, Blundell Street Supper Club