Billy Fury (real name Ronald Wycherley), born 17 April 1940, became arguably the best rocker that Britain produced in the early 60s.
He wrote his own songs and benefited from unusually skilful and sympathetic production. Margot, Maybe Tomorrow and Colette catapulted him to prominence in spring 1960.
The search for a British Elvis had long preoccupied pop svengalis like Larry Parnes, and Fury – despite the popularity of Cliff Richard – was as close as they got.
Fury – a Liverpudlian deck hand – swung his hips like he meant it. He even got banned in Ireland. On self-penned blues/rock tracks like Since You’ve Been Gone, Fury’s sound was reminiscent of Elvis’s Sun sessions.
His first album, The Sound Of Fury (May 1960), featured a young Joe Brown on lead guitar, with backup vocals by The Four Jays. Andy White, later to notably appear on The Beatles‘ first single Love Me Do, is the drummer on the LP
He was also a classy pop crooner: witness Wondrous Place, a mysterious number which belongs in a David Lynch movie. And Halfway To Paradise (#3) – written by Carole King and originally a hit in 1961 for Tony Orlando – is a classic sulky rock ‘n’ roll love song, sung with real urgency and played with a staccato rhythm reminiscent of Johnnie Ray.
Hits like Jealousy (#2) and Like I’ve Never Been Gone (#3) kept him in the spotlight until 1966.
Ironically, four Liverpudlians who once tried to serve as his backing band would end his reign as king of the charts.
Naturally moody and reticent (which added enormously to his appeal), Fury didn’t like people much, preferring birds and horses – he even co-starred with his own racehorse in the movie I’ve Gotta Horse (1966).
Poor Billy didn’t have the best of luck either. Eddie Cochran had pledged to help him tour America but then died in a car crash.
Around 1967 aged only 27, Billy lost interest in performing and concentrated on studying ornithology and supporting sick animals. He underwent heart surgery in December 1971 at London’s National Heart Hospital to repair two valves in his ticker.
He made occasional comebacks, recording a K-Tel album to settle his debts, but his health was poor and his return in the early 1980s probably killed him.
He made a cameo appearance as Stormy Tempest in the David Essex film That’ll Be The Day (1974) and then returned to the fray with two minor hits in 1982.
On 28 January of the following year, he died in Paddington, London of a heart attack. He was 42 when he died – the same age as Elvis.
His premature death was commemorated in 2003 by a bronze statue at Albert Dock in his home city of Liverpool.
- Georgie Fame‘s band, The Blue Flames, backed Billy Fury for a while, and John Lennon famously asked for his autograph.
- Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones described the 1960 album The Sound Of Fury as “one of the pivotal rock ‘n’ roll albums”.
Memorial service for Billy Fury