Saturday, September 17, 2016

Sound of Fury and Harmonies From Heaven

BBC4 was back on top form last night with a documentary on Billy Fury, accurately described by one of the contributors as not just Britain's greatest rock and roller, but Britain's only genuine rock and roll star. The programme was called Sound of Fury, the name of his ten inch LP which was easily the best home grown album of the era, with ten songs written by Billy himself which still stand up today. Born Ronald Wycherley in Liverpool in 1940, he was given his stage name by impresario Larry Parnes, who also gave pet names to Tommy Steele, Johnny Gentle, Marty Wilde and Vince Eager among others. Billy came from a working class family and had tremendous talent, as his early records showed, but his career went down a dead end when he was forced to record covers of American ballads. Larry Parnes was only interested in money and the programme made it clear that his artists, including Billy, were treated badly, with little or no royalties from their record sales.
British rock and roll was a pale imitation of its US counterpart and weak attempts to copy the likes of Elvis, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis were well represented on the programme, with some good early film footage of the originals in their prime. There were some interesting contributions from his mother and brother, Vince Eager, Clem Cattini, Joe Brown, Ray Connolly, Alvin Stardust, John Leyton and Amanda Barrie. There was also clips of interviews with Billy himself, Parnes and Adam Faith. But the film clips of Billy in action were disappointing. Those of us who were around at the time know that his stage act was exciting, considered lewd by some, but here was Billy singing a virtually static rendition of I'd Never Find Another You and a couple of standards. Is there no other original footage left?
Billy was a chain smoker - in fact just about everyone on film from the era had a ciggie in hand - and was passionate about animals, But he seems to have been quite a shy and withdrawn individual. There was little in the programme that was terribly revealing, although Vince Eager's contribution, including visits to the site of the 2Is and the Freight Train club in Soho, was telling. Billy died in 1983 aged just 42. His early success was over shadowed by his more successful near neighbours the Beatles and he never had any success in the States, unlike the Tornados, with whom he recorded a live LP. But compared with other British rock and rollers Billy was in a different league, and his first LP is one of the very best there is.
BBC4 came up trumps too with another documentary last night called The Everly Brothers: Harmonies From Heaven. It traced the rise of the greatest harmony group of the fifties and early sixties from their early radio appearances with dad Ike Everly through their sublime recordings for Cadence and, later, Warner Brothers. The relationship with Chet Atkins and songwriters Boudleaux and Felice Bryant was explored, with film clips of classics like Bye Bye Love, Wake Up Little Suzie, All I Have To Do Is Dream, When Will I Be Loved and Cathy's Clown. Their decline post 1962 was caused partly by the British invasion, but also by the ban, following their move to Warner,  by former manager Wesley Rose on them recording any songs written by the Bryants or, indeed, themselves. The later years, when the two brothers didn't talk to each other for ten years, were skipped over somewhat but Don Everly's contribitions were interesting, as were Felice Bryant's. Some of the other contributors had little of interest to say. Tim Rice was an exception to this, but who the hell is Jake Bugg?
The Everly Brothers reached the pinnacle of their craft, combining rock and roll and country in a way which very few if any others did. I saw them top the bill in 1963 with Bo Diddley and a new band called, I seem to recall, the Rolling Stones low down on the bill, and in my personal top ten, from 1960 to 1965, they had more chart entries than any other act. A truly great act, and an interesting, if slightly disappointing programme.


At 5:17 pm , Blogger Nick said...

Garth Cartwright commented on FB: The documentary was very flawed, quite amateurish - obviously made by fans not the Beeb. After watching I got out my CD of Sound of Fury and had a listen and I am not convinced of the claims you and others make - he's an OK Elvis impersonator but nothing outstanding. Cliff, Johnny Kidd, Vince Taylor all made far superior rock n roll records during that era. I have a suspicion that a lot of the attention given BF by serious music nuts is more to his amazing looks - he was certainly the handsomest British rocker (maybe ever) - and rather sad, brief life. But an artist on the same scale as his US contemporaries?
To which I replied: I agree about it being flawed. Quite confused, particularly early on. You're probably right about Cliff and, to some extent Johnny Kidd and Vince Taylor, but the thing about Fury was that he wrote his own songs, until the record company and Parnes took over. A talent unfulfilled I think, but in 1960 he was the best we had (Cliff having lost his edge by then). Never on a par with his US contemporaries of course, but nobody was.

At 5:19 pm , Blogger Nick said...

A couple more comments on Facebook:
John Spencely: If he looked like a toad, the Sound of Fury would still be a great album.

Tony Rounce: Quite right, Mr. Spencely. None of the people Garth cites could hold a candle to Bill back then. 'The Sound Of Fury' defines rock 'n' roll for me. Not just British rock 'n' roll - ALL rock 'n' roll. Beautifully produced and the singing and musicianship is phenomenal. And the fact that Bill wrote every songs on his own - no co-writes - was just unprecedented then, and still is...our most credible rock 'n' roller, and a most incredible album. To say otherwise is, well, nonsense, really..

At 8:45 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Billy Fury programme was OK and nothing more. A tad too long possibly. Interesting that Reg Dwight was the pianist on "The Sound of Fury". Whatever happened to him?
Everly program was a lot better, I especially liked the clip from the Australian night the whole show around?

At 9:49 am , Blogger Lee said...

The pianist on The Sound of Fury was actually Reg Guest, not Reg Dwight.


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