British Bopper Billy Fury would’ve been 73 today, if he was still around. He was about as prefab as prefab could be, so if that’s not your bag, Billy’s not for you. Or is he?
Part of a stable of British blokes given corny aliases by impresario, Svengali, and promoter’s promoter Larry Parnes, Billy Fury joined such lusty and rebellious teenaged men as Tommy Steele, Vince Eager, Georgie Fame, Lance Fortune, Duffy Power, and Johnny Gentle in crooning, twitching, and shaking to the best of their abilities for the benefit of girls and certain boys of a susceptible generation. Designed to imitate and recreate the spark of Rock & Roll of the United States for the United Kingdom, the Parnes stable made a splash and, for a brief late 50’s moment, loomed large, defining the British scene…until Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran showed up.
I read about Billy Fury in Jon Savage’s excellent and life changing book (for the 16 year old me, anyway) England’s Dreaming, in which a straight line was drawn from Larry Parnes’ tactics to Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren’s antics. Billy Fury, Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten…doesn’t seem like such a stretch.
My only encounter with Billy Fury was finding an odd compilation called Rough Diamonds And Pure Gems at C’s Records. Shades of how things worked the other way around foe decades past, when any American record was a hit record if it came off a merchant’s ship in Liverpool, there wasn’t much way of knowing which tunes were popular tunes in their native land.
It turns out that there were no hits on the disc, and in fact, they were recorded at a time well past any but the truly devoted cared about Billy Fury. The somewhat bitter liner notes at what point state that the songs included were “simply too good” to make the charts. I was a bit embarrassed at how much I found that I liked songs like In My Room. Billy had no problem flying his sissy flag high, and he didn’t seem to give a damn who his audience was intended to be, at least by this point in his life and career. He was content with watching birds. the beauty of his work is there for you to appreciate or not.
Billy died suddenly at age 43, returning home from a recording session. Forget Him was his last hit, issued posthumously. The name of the title perhaps held a twist of cruel irony.