There’s a new book out about Billy Fury and the good folks at the British Music Experience, just up the road from the statue of our boy, are having a celebration to launch it. The authors will be present and the BME have also curated a small display dedicated to the Liverpool singer and songwriter. That’s what we’re interested in: the songwriting. It’s easy to forget about it with Billy. By Alan O’Hare.
When I made a list of Ten Great Songwriters From Liverpool, back in the week this website was launched, I made a mistake and forgot about Billy Fury. It was understandable, I hope. After all, Fury’s greatest hits remain songs written by other people and when tunes as big as ‘Halfway To Paradise’ and ‘Wondrous Place’ cast a shadow over your career, it’s tough for those who come later to spot any rough diamonds shining in the darkness.
‘The Sound Of Fury’, the first album released by Billy Fury in 1960 on Decca Records, is a gem. Containing ten songs, all written and sung by the man named Ronald Wycherley upon his birth in 1940 at Smithdown Hospital, the record is remembered with affection by those who have heard it. But it’s not revered as it should be.
Arriving three years before ‘Please Please Me’ by The Beatles, and featuring the catalytic talents of imagineers such as Joe Brown on guitar and Andy White (yes, that one… Google him) on drums, ‘The Sound Of Fury’ is brimful of bluesy rockabilly and bruised ballads. The songs are good, but it’s the singing that is sublime. You can hear Van Morrison busy being born in the stuttering soul of ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’, trace the arc of sixties teenage regret to come in the Roy Orbison-esque ‘Don’t Say It’s Over’ (listen below) and delight in the fun and frolics of any of the uptempo numbers that come and go in the blink of an eye. That’s not to diminish said tunes, though, Fury had a great songwriter’s sensibility for economy and there’s about as much fat on the record as there is on the beautiful boy featured on the startling sleeve.
“There’s only ever been two English rock ‘n’ roll singers: Johnny Rotten and Billy Fury.” Ian Dury said that and, as ‘Sweet Gene Vincent’ proves, he knew that of which he spoke. Fury spoke to the punks, the same way he got through to the teenagers of the early sixties, and a brooding appearance in cult film classic ‘That’ll Be The Day’ (alongside David Essex and Ringo Starr) also enabled his star to still shine in the seventies, too. Sure, there’s the stories about the farming ornithologist he became, the aborted comebacks and the acid parties with Keith Moon, but it’s the mystery and magnificence in Fury’s voice that sounds louder than all those tall (ish) tales today.
Go back to ‘The Sound Of Fury’ and listen to it uninterrupted. Then, listen to it again, and think about the times it was made in… think about Joe Brown’s guttural guitar sound (made without Pro-Tools), think about Fury’s lyrics and their reluctance to bow to teenage America (‘My Advice’), think about the smoulder and sensuality of a songwriter and singer who knew just where to place the ache (“Someday, I know we’ll make that vow, that’s love… “) and think about an artist so sure and determined that he’d turn down a, erm, fab backing band because they wouldn’t sack the bass player (you can Google that one, too). Think about it all – but make sure you think about ‘The Sound Of Fury’ the next time we’re all blow-harding about great songwriters and albums from Liverpool.
Because Billy was the first.
‘Halfway To Paradise’ – A Celebration of Billy Fury
Thursday April 26th 2018, 7pm
British Music Experience, Mann Island, Liverpool
Further info and tickets
Pic courtesy Heart Throb For Hens Rockabilly