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28th January, 2020

Billy Fury and The Beatles

Billy Fury (Ronald William Wycherley) was a successful actor and musician, cementing himself as an ever-present feature of the UK charts during the early 1960s.

Born on 17 April 1940 and growing up near Ringo Starr in the Dingle area of Liverpool, Fury was literally thrust into showbiz when he arrived for a meeting with music manager Larry Parnes during a gig at Essoldo Theatre in Birkenhead.

He somehow instead found himself onstage and performing to an audience of screaming fans. Parnes signed him straight away, added him to the tour, and renamed him 'Billy Fury'. This signalled the start of his career as an artist.

Paul McCartney called Fury ‘A sweet Liverpool guy – the first local man who made it, in our eyes’, and he released his first hit, ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ in 1959.

The track sold steadily, reaching #18 in the UK with a nine-week stay. This posed similarities to The Beatles’ first single, ‘Love Me Do’ which peaked at #17 in the UK.

‘Maybe Tomorrow’ was released in America, a rare accolade for a British artist at the time, but it failed to make a significant impact. Unlike his Liverpool counterparts, Billy Fury was never quite able to crack the US market.

 

Billy Fury | Image courtesy of Allan warren


Meeting The Beatles

His first meeting with the Fab Four came at an audition following the sacking of Fury’s band. In an attempt to replace ‘The Blue Flames’ ahead of a tour of Northern England and Scotland, Fury and Parnes invited local bands to showcase their talent at the Blue Angel, a club on Seel Street, Liverpool.

Among those to audition on Tuesday 10th May 1960, were Cass and the Cassanovas, Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Silver Beetles.

Despite not playing together for several months, The Silver Beetles were hopeful, putting together a uniform of matching black shirts and shoes with what George Harrison called, ‘little white bits on top’.

However when drummer Tommy Moore failed to show up, the band were forced to draft in Johnny Hutchinson of Cass and the Cassanovas. Stuart Sutcliffe was also still learning to play the bass guitar and in an attempt to hide any shortfalls, the band asked that he turned away from the crowd and in Paul McCartney’s words, ‘do a moody – do a big Elvis pose’

Unfortunately their trickery did not go unnoticed. They were offered the job for £20 a week on the condition that they parted ways with Sutcliffe. John Lennon refused and The Silver Beetles left, only after Lennon had secured Fury’s autograph! 

Ultimately the band were later offered a lifeline with a seven-date tour of Scotland supporting another of Parnes’ acts, Johnny Gentle.


 


Billy Fury Career

Fury went on to enjoy a successful career in his own right. He equalled the Beatles' record of 24 hits in the Sixties and spent over 330 weeks on the UK chart, despite never having a number one single or album. Billy himself wrote 10 songs for his first album ‘The Sound of Fury’, which was rare in the pre-Beatles era.

In the summer of 1964, Fury revived ‘It’s Only Make Believe’, a hit previously for Conway Twitty. This peaked at 10 in the UK charts but did give him his first and only international number one, in Singapore. 

  

Juke Box Jury

In December 1963, The Beatles appeared on Juke Box Jury, a popular TV hosted by David Jacobs in which panellists voted on whether new singles would be ‘hits or misses’. 

One of the songs to be scrutinised was Billy Fury’s ‘Do You Really Love Me?’.

The band had mixed responses, with Ringo declaring it ‘not for him’.

George pointed out similarities to a Cliff Richard track and called it ‘Okay, but not for him’.

John said, ‘The tune’s not bad’, but he didn’t like gallop tunes. 

Paul simply, ‘quite liked it’. 

'Do You Really Love Me?’ reached #13 in the UK charts. 


That’ll Be The Day

In 1973, Fury came out of retirement to play rock 'n' roller ‘Stormy Tempest’ in the film ‘That'll Be The Day’, a production roughly based on the early days of The Beatles, featuring David Essex and Ringo Starr.

Starr had originally played drums for ‘Rory Storm & The Hurricanes’, who the ‘Stormy Tempest’ group were said to be modelled on.

 Billy Fury Statue | Image from Pexels

Billy Fury Statue | Photo courtesy of Pexels.


Remembering Billy Fury and The Beatles

Fury died ten years later in 1983, suffering a fatal heart attack following a recording session. He’s remembered in his hometown of Liverpool with a sculpture made by Tom Murphy, just a 5 minute walk from The Beatles statue.

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