Ronald William Wycherley (17 April 1940 – 28 January 1983), better known by his stage name Billy Fury, was an English singer from the late 1950s to the mid 1960s, and remained an active songwriter until the 1980s. Rheumatic fever, which he first contracted as a child, damaged his heart and ultimately contributed to his death. An early British rock and roll (and film) star, he equalled the Beatles' record of 24 hits in the 1960s, and spent 332 weeks on the UK chart, without a chart-topping single or album.
AllMusic journalist Bruce Eder stated, "His mix of rough-hewn good looks and unassuming masculinity, coupled with an underlying vulnerability, all presented with a good voice and some serious musical talent, helped turn Fury into a major rock and roll star in short order". Others have suggested that Fury's rapid rise to prominence was due to his "Elvis Presley-influenced, hip-swivelling and at times highly suggestive stage act."
Ronald William Wycherley was born at Smithdown Hospital (later Sefton General Hospital, now demolished), Smithdown Road, Liverpool. He commenced music lessons on the piano before he was a teenager, and was bought his first guitar by the age of 14. Wycherley fronted his own group in 1955, but simultaneously worked full-time on a tugboat and later as a docker. He entered and won a talent competition, and by 1958 had started composing his own songs. Wycherley first attended a concert at the Essoldo Theatre in Birkenhead, run by impresario Larry Parnes, in the hope of interesting famous singer Marty Wilde in some of the songs he had written. Instead, in an episode that has become pop music legend, Parnes pushed young Wycherley up on stage right away. He was such an immediate success that Parnes signed him, added him to the tour, and renamed him 'Billy Fury'. However, his early sexual and provocative stage performances received censure, and he was forced to tone them down. In October 1959, the UK music magazine, NME, commented that Fury's stage antics had been drawing much press criticism.
He released his first hit single for Decca, "Maybe Tomorrow", in 1959. He also appeared in a televised play Strictly for Sparrows, and subsequently on Oh Boy! In March 1960, he reached No. 9 in the UK Singles Chart with his own composition "Colette", followed by "That's Love" and his first album The Sound of Fury (1960), which featured a young Joe Brown on lead guitar, with backup vocals by the Four Jays.
After securing more hits and jettisoning his band Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Parnes held auditions in Liverpool for a new group. Among those who auditioned were the Beatles, who at this time were still calling themselves the Silver Beetles. They were offered the job for £20 a week on condition that they sacked their bassist Stuart Sutcliffe. John Lennon refused and the band left after Lennon had secured Fury's autograph. The Tornados were recruited as Fury's backing band and toured and recorded with him from January 1962 to August 1963. The Puppets were another band that backed Billy on a couple of gigs for 12 months.
UK chart and film success
Fury concentrated less on rock and roll and more on mainstream ballads, such as "Halfway to Paradise" and "Jealousy" (which reached No. 3 and No. 2 respectively in the UK Singles Chart in 1961). Fury confessed to the NME that "I wanted people to think of me simply as a singer – and not, more specifically, as a rock singer. I'm growing up, and I want to broaden my scope. I shall continue to sing rock songs, but at the same time my stage act is not going to be as wild in the future". It was Decca's decision to mould Fury into a teen idol after his last self-penned song, "My Christmas Prayer", had failed to chart. The years 1961 through 1963 were Fury's best years chartwise. In 1962 Fury appeared in his first film, Play It Cool, modelled on the Elvis films. It featured Helen Shapiro, Danny Williams, Shane Fenton and Bobby Vee, who appeared with the Vernons Girls. The hit single from the film was "Once Upon a Dream". There were other notable performances by several British actors and performers such as Richard Wattis, Lionel Blair and Dennis Price.
Fury's We Want Billy! (1963) was one of the first live albums in UK rock history and featured renditions of his hits and cover versions of several R&B songs such as "Unchain My Heart".
In 1965 he appeared in the film I've Gotta Horse, which also featured his backing group the Gamblers, the Bachelors, Amanda Barrie, Michael Medwin and Jon Pertwee. The album from the film was made available in stereo. Fury left Decca Records in 1966, after signing to a five-year recording contract with Parlophone.
Having had more UK hits, such as "It's Only Make Believe" and "I Will" (written by Dick Glasser, not to be confused with the Paul McCartney song), both in 1964, and "In Thoughts of You" (1965), Fury began a lengthy absence from the charts in 1967, and underwent surgery for heart problems in 1972 and 1976 which led to his abandoning touring. Despite spending many weeks on the charts, Fury never achieved a number one single, but he remained popular even after his hits stopped. "I Will" became a US hit for Dean Martin (1965) and for Ruby Winters (1977).
In 1973, Fury emerged from a period of semi-retirement to star as 'Stormy Tempest' in the film That'll Be the Day. Also starring David Essex and Ringo Starr, it was roughly based on the early days of the Beatles. Starr was from the Dingle area of Liverpool as was also Fury, and had originally played drums for Rory Storm & the Hurricanes, whom the Stormy Tempest group were said to be modelled upon.
In the mid-1970s Fury went out on the road with Marty Wilde. Away from the spotlight, he focused on wildlife preservation. Fury's health deteriorated and he underwent two open heart surgeries - the first was in 1972, and the second in 1976. In 1978 he was declared bankrupt for unpaid taxes from the Inland Revenue. The unpaid taxes were dated back to 1962, and amounted to £16,780. He was also forced to sign over his royalties and publishing income. A new release, "Be Mine Tonight" (1981), failed to make an appearance in the UK Singles Chart. Worse was to follow in March 1981 when Fury, working on his own farm, collapsed and almost perished. He returned to touring later that year and his next two singles, "Love or Money" and "Devil or Angel", just dented the UK chart. In 1981 and 1982, Fury was signed to Polydor Records by A&R man Frank Neilson and recorded a comeback album, The One and Only (released posthumously) with Shakin' Stevens' producer Stuart Colman. Owing to his health, Fury did little touring to promote the new album. His last public appearance was at the Sunnyside, Northampton, on 4 December 1982, Fury recorded a live performance for the television show, Unforgettable, featuring six of his old hits although, at the request of his mother, only four of these were broadcast.
Fury lived with Lee Middleton from 1959 to 1967. During this time, he had a short relationship with actress Amanda Barrie, his co-star in I've Gotta Horse.
He married Judith Hall in May 1969, but later left her for heiress Lisa Voice (née Rosen). They lived together in London and sometimes on Fury's farm in Wales, from 1971 until his death although they were leading separate lives for the last two years. Fury was a keen birdwatcher.
After returning from a recording session in the early hours of 28 January 1983, Fury collapsed from a heart attack at his home in London. His personal manager Tony Read found him unconscious the next morning. He was rushed to St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, but died later in the afternoon, aged 42. A week later his funeral was held at the St John's Wood church in London, for which his body was embalmed by Desmond Henley. Among the mourners were Larry Parnes, Marty Wilde, Jess Conrad, Eden Kane, Tony Read, Hal Carter and Mick Green, in addition to family members, friends and fans. The choir sang a special version of Billy's Decca hit "I'm Lost Without You". After the service Billy was buried at Mill Hill cemetery. A track issued posthumously, "Forget Him", became his final single chart hit.
On 10 April 1983, a tribute concert for Billy was held at the Beck Theatre in Hayes, Middlesex. All the artists performed for free and the money raised was donated to the Billy Fury memorial fund for research into heart disease. On the bill were such names as Marty Wilde with his daughter Kim Wilde, Joe Brown, Alvin Stardust, Dave Berry, Helen Shapiro and John Miles.
In 1999 a TV documentary about Billy called Halfway to Paradise was broadcast on the BBC channel. It was narrated by Ian Dury.
Between 1999 and 2000 the song "Wondrous Place", a favourite of Fury's (he re-recorded it at least three times during his career), later received wide airplay on British television when it was used as the theme for a Toyota Yaris car advertisement.
On 19 April 2003 a bronze statue of Fury was unveiled by Jack Good at the National Museum of Liverpool Life. The sculpture, by Tom Murphy, a Liverpool sculptor, was donated by 'The Sound of Fury' fan club after the money was raised by fans.
In 2005 Spencer Leigh from BBC Radio Merseyside published a biography book about Billy Fury called Wondrous Face – The Billy Fury Story.
In 2008 a biographical documentary film Billy Fury: His Wondrous Story was released on DVD.
Eight of his EMI recordings remained unreleased on mainstream CD until June 2010, when they appeared on a 29-track issue, The Complete Parlophone Singles, released by Peaksoft (PEA009). The singer's estate licensed the tracks to benefit his memorial fund, which finances equipment purchases for hospital heart units.
In November 2011, further co-operation between the estate and Peaksoft resulted in the issuing of a second CD, The Lost Album (PEA014), which attempted to construct the format of an album recorded by Fury in 1967–71, but which was never released.
In 2010 Camden Council, London, named a small formerly nameless road Billy Fury Way in his honour. It starts just off Finchley Road near Finchley & Frognal station and runs to West Hampstead Station. He had recorded at the nearby Decca Studios. The alleyway was decorated with a large mural of his face (at the West Hampstead end), which was unveiled and blessed on Friday 29 July 2011.
Play It Cool was released for the first time on DVD on 10 February 2014.
Fury's backing band from 1970 until 1976, when he stopped touring due to ill heath, were Fury's Tornados, named by Billy and his then manager Hal Carter. They continue to tour in the theatre show "Halfway to Paradise: The Billy Fury Story".
|Year||Title||UK Albums Chart|
|1960||The Sound of Fury||18|
|1961||Halfway to Paradise||5|
|1983||The One and Only||56|
|Year||Title||UK Albums Chart|
|1963||We Want Billy!||14|
|Year||Title||UK Albums Chart|
|1983||The Billy Fury Hit Parade||44|
|2008||His Wondrous Story – The Complete Collection||10|
|2011||The Sound and the Fury|
|Year||Title||UK Singles Chart||Album||Label|
|1959||"Maybe Tomorrow" |
b/w "Gonna Type A Letter"
b/w "Don't Knock Upon My Door"
|"Angel Face" |
b/w "Time Has Come"
|"My Christmas Prayer" |
b/w "Last Kiss" (from Billy Fury)
b/w "Baby How I Cried"
|1960||"That's Love" |
b/w "You Don't Know"
|19||The Sound Of Fury|
|"Wondrous Place" |
b/w "Alright, Goodbye" (from The Sound of Fury)
|"A Thousand Stars" |
b/w "Push Push"
|14||Halfway to Paradise|
|1961||"Don't Worry" |
b/w "Talkin' In My Sleep"
|"Halfway to Paradise" |
b/w "Cross My Heart"
b/w "Open Your Arms"
|"I'd Never Find Another You" |
b/w "Sleepless Nights" (non-album track)
|5||We Want Billy!|
|1962||"Letter Full of Tears" |
b/w "Magic Eyes" (from The World of Billy Fury)
|32||Best Of Billy Fury|
|"Last Night Was Made for Love" |
b/w "A King for Tonight" (from Billy Fury 1984 compilation)
|4||We Want Billy!|
|"Once Upon a Dream" |
b/w "If I Lose You" (from The World Of Billy Fury Vol. 2)
|"Because of Love" |
b/w "Running Around"
|18||Best Of Billy Fury|
|1963||"Like I've Never Been Gone" |
b/w "What Do You Think You're Doing For" (from Billy Fury 1984 compilation)
|3||We Want Billy!|
|"When Will You Say I Love You?" |
b/w "All I Wanna Do Is Cry" (from Billy Fury 1984 compilation)
|"In Summer" |
b/w "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" (from Billy Fury 1984 compilation)
|5||Best of Billy Fury|
|"Somebody Else's Girl" |
b/w "Go Ahead and Ask Her" (from Billy Fury 1984 compilation)
|18||The World of Billy Fury Vol. 2|
|"Do You Really Love Me Too? (Fools Errand)" |
b/w "What Am I Gonna Do" (from Billy Fury 1984 compilation)
|1964||"I Will" |
b/w "Nothin' Shakin' (But the Leaves on the Trees)" (from The Billy Fury Story)
|14||Best Of Billy Fury|
|"It's Only Make Believe" |
b/w "Baby What You Want Me To Do"
|10||The Billy Fury Story|
|1965||"I'm Lost Without You" |
b/w "You Better Believe It Baby" (non-album track)
|"In Thoughts of You" |
b/w "Away from You" (from Billy Fury 1984 compilation)
|"Run to My Lovin' Arms" |
b/w "Where Do You Run" (from Billy Fury 1984 compilation)
|1966||"I'll Never Quite Get Over You" |
b/w "I Belong to the Wind" (non-album track)
|35||The World Of Billy Fury Vol. 2|
|"Don't Let A Little Pride (Stand In Your Way)" |
b/w "Didn't See The Real Thing Come Along" (from Billy Fury 1984 compilation)
|"Give Me Your Word" |
b/w "She's So Far Out She's In" (from Billy Fury 1984 compilation)
|1967||"Hurtin' Is Loving" |
b/w "Things Are Changing"
|–||The Missing Years 1967-1980||Parlophone|
|"Loving You" |
b/w "I'll Go Along With It" (from Sticks 'N' Stones)
|"Suzanne In the Mirror" |
b/w "It Just Don't Matter Now"
|1968||"Beyond the Shadow of a Doubt" |
b/w "Baby Do You Love Me"
|"Silly Boy Blue" |
b/w "One Minute Woman"
|–||The Missing Years 1967-1980|
|"Phone Box" |
b/w "Any Morning Now"
|–||Sticks 'N' Stones|
b/w "Certain Things" (from Sticks 'N' Stones
|1969||"I Call for My Rose" |
b/w "Bye Bye"
|–||The Missing Years 1967-1980|
|"All the Way to the USA" |
b/w "Do My Best For You" (from The Missing Years 1967-1980)
|1970||"Why Are You Leaving?" |
b/w "Old Sweet Roll"
|"Paradise Alley" |
|1972||"Will the Real Man Please Stand Up?" |
b/w "At This Stage"
|1974||"I'll Be Your Sweetheart" |
b/w "Fascinating Candle Flame" (from The Missing Years 1967-1980
|1981||"Be Mine Tonight" |
b/w "No Trespassers"
|–||The One and Only||Polydor|
|1982||"Love or Money" |
b/w "Love Sweet Love"
|"Devil Or Angel" |
b/w "Don't Tell Me Lies"
|1983||"Let Me Go, Lover!" |
b/w "Your Words" (Non-album track)
|"Forget Him" |
b/w "Your Words"
¶ – Billed as Billy Fury and the Tornados
† – Billed as Billy Fury with the Four Jays
‡ – Billed as Billy Fury with the Four Kestrels
References in popular culture
- His life was dramatised for BBC Radio in 1994, in a play called The Sound of Fury, with Anton Lesser playing the singer.
- Rock band Devilish Presley recorded a song "Billy Fury is Dead", for their 2008 Flesh Ride album. They were interviewed about it in the "Tributes" section of the "Official" Billy Fury website.
- Bernie Taupin included the song, "Billy Fury", on his album, Tribe, released in 1986. Sound effects at the beginning of the song gave the impression that it is being played on a jukebox, and the "imaginary" vocalist sang about his desire to "be like Billy Fury" and have the trappings of a rock singer. Elton John appeared towards the end of the song contributing some backing vocals.
- In 1987, Fury was featured on the cover of The Smiths' last single, "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me".
- In the 2009 film Telstar, directed by Nick Moran, Fury was played by Jon Lee.
- "The story. Your '60s site since 1998". Billyfury.com. Retrieved 31 December 2011.
NME – May 1963