Friday, 26 March 2010

Billy Fury Weekend

Friday 19 March. We bundled keyboard, guitar, bag of cables, microphone stands into the car boot and then took it all out again to get the suitcase in before setting off to pick up David and Jeannie. All the stuff had to come out again whilst we rearranged the jigsaw in the boot and then we were off, throwing money with wild abandon and using the M6 toll road to save a bit of time, then stopping at the services to use it up again... The sandwiches we had brought from home went down better with a few chips and then we were off again towards Northampton.

It was the weekend of the Sunnyside meeting where Billy Fury fans and many artists come together over the weekend to celebrate the life of one of England's first rock and roll stars and greatest singers. The Sunnyside club was the last venue ever played by Billy before his death at far too young an age in 1983.

One of the first people we met was Macclesfield artist, Dave Jay. We'd spoken on the phone many moons ago but it was the first time we'd met. We found a few people in the function room, but organiser Harry was getting nervous as top Billy tribute artist, Rob Dee was running late and couldn't be contacted. As Rob was providing the sound equipment for Friday night this could have led to a problem! We needn't have worried though, as Rob and wife Chris had been sitting in the car listening to a horse called A Thousand Stars (the title of one of Billy's hits) romping home at 20 to 1!!! "I should have had money on it!" said Rob.

We set up the gear and played a couple of songs to practice then Miss Franny and Jeannie firmly grasped our ears and led us off to the restaurant. Fed and watered we changed, David and I into matching red shirts. "We look like we've had the operation to separate us and are too tight to buy new shirts..." I said.

Harry had asked us to prepare an hour's set for the Friday night and we sat watching the other artists, loving every minute, but hearing many of the songs we had planned on singing. During one of the breaks I swapped a few files about on the keyboard so we wouldn't play all duplicates! Colin Paul who was the headline act for Saturday and who we had met at a Billy event in Blackpool sat next to us and said "I can't wait to hear you two!" "Why?" I asked. "I've heard so much about you!" he said. Well it isn't true Colin, it was an accident and anyway we were miles away...

There were a few singers we hadn't heard before. Last year was our first Sunnyside anyway, but this year we were impressed by the standards set by newcomers Dave Wilcox and Paul Ritchie along with singers we met last year such as Geoff Howlett, Phil Jennings, Frank Bucknall and more. Rob Dee gave us a few songs. He's a superb artist and as nice a man as you could care to meet. We were sitting with his wife Chris. Dave Jay sang and we mentally crossed Cliff's The Young Ones off our set list... but when we came out the audience were nicely warmed up and immediately started to sing along. Whether this was to drown us out or just because they were enjoying themselves wasn't clear...

We played a somewhat eclectic mix... I'd bet no-one has ever played Justin Hayward's Forever Autumn at Sunnyside before but it seemed to go down well! Then we got into a run of Billy songs, When Will You Say I Love You, Like I've Never Been Gone, Somebody Else's Girl, A Thousand Stars, King For Tonight, and the first public airing of a new arrangement of I'm Lost Without You.

At some point Rob Dee slapped a couple of wigs on our heads. By heck, I came over all nostalgic... Looking at the photos we look complete prats, but perhaps that's an improvement! Perhaps I shouldn't have made this photo clearer - we probably looked better half hidden by the smoke of Rob's smoke machine!

The following day we were at Sunnyside early and had lunch there. Very good it was too. We set up the gear, did a sound check and then sat down to enjoy the singers. Harry dropped the wonderful bombshell that Jean Wycherley was here. We all stood to welcome Billy Fury's mum. Paul Ritchie had the unenviable task of singing in front of her first, but handled it with what appeared to be ease and confidence.

Our slot came closer and we got changed into black suits, black shirts and sequinned cerise ties... The things I do... David and I went together into the disabled toilet to get changed - God knows what anyone outside might have thought, there was a great deal of hilarity ...

The ties looked as though our tongues were hanging out but across the room Jean Wycherley had noticed us and gave me a nod of approval - or perhaps she was laughing, I'm not sure... Yes I am, she's far too lovely a person to laugh at someone!

There wasn't a single ropey act that evening, they were all brilliant. Snowy gave us a rock 'n' roll set last year but gave us a few ballads this year. He looks the biz with his long hair and moves! Dave Jay had been roped in to act as MC for the evening as the booked MC had had to pull out. Two young sisters, Laura and Emily came on and sang Like I've Never Been Gone as a gentle ballad - the effect was stunning. By the time Laura had got halfway through the first line my eyes were just filling up...

We were following Geoff Howlett so we knew we had to be good. We played four of Billy's and a couple of other songs, David cracked a joke about The Night Has 1000 Eyes being about speed cameras. Well that's because late one night we were coming home from a gig at which he'd drunk a fair amount of liquid and I had to stop so he could relieve himself at the side of the road. I stopped next to a gatso and was dying for a speeding car to come past but... alas. Heh heh!

6 songs, 20 minutes, it is amazing how fast that goes. We came off and enjoyed the last few acts. Rob Dee closed the first half.

Then, what a superb headlining act in Colin Paul and The Persuaders. Total class. And a great guy aswell. He brought Billy's mum onto the stage and one week before her 89th birthday she sang In Thoughts of You, I joined some of the regulars from the billyfury.com website forum to join hands and dance at the front of the stage. We had an absolute ball.

Others have said what a great weekend it was and I absolutely agree. Ours wasn't over yet because once we got back to the hotel we ended up all four of us in our bedroom with a huge bag of chocolate and a bottle of cava plus the remains of a bottle of wine that Miss Franny and Jeannie had been glugging all night. It still had some in because it wasn't the first...

David half opened the bottle of bubbly then stood it on the window sill whilst he helped Jeannie take her boots off. Whilst this was going on the cork shot from the bottle with a sound louder than a sonic boom. It was gone midnight so sorry to anyone in the hotel who may have thought their time had come...

A huge vote of thanks to Harry Whitehouse and his lovely wife Maureen. Harry is the instigator and driving force behind billyfury.com and the Sunnyside weekends. He wasn't committing himself to arrange another but it was a superb weekend full of good humour, great friends both old and new and some fabulous live entertainment. What more could you want?

Large versions of the photos: there's a full set (or half a set at the moment but I'm working on it!) so rather than link each photo you'll find many photos at my Flickr account.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

St Patrick's Evening at Aughton Institute

Last night we had an excellent time entertaining the folks at Aughton Institute.

It was a night of silly hats, green balloons and an entire run of our Irish repertoire - though for some reason David refused to allow me to play Delaney Had a Donkey...

Then once we had taken a break whilst the supper was served - well, we weren't missing out! - we carried on through the sixties and onto line dancing and then rock and roll. The ballads went down well last night too with couples getting up to dance to Billy Fury's A Thousand Stars, The Bee Gees' Words and Ronan's When You Say Nothing At All.

Nice to see Christine and Brian and several other people who have come to see us before and in response to a number of queries, yes we will be at Witton Park, Blackburn again this year on Sunday the 9th of May from 12:00 noon until 4:00pm as usual.

Large versions of the photos: top photo, bottom photo

Sunday, 7 March 2010

HMS Pinafore

All sorts of memories come back when you start scanning old photographs.

As I flicked through the old albums of stored black and white negatives I came a cross a set of photographs from December 1971. At the time I was in the Upper 6th Form at Heywood Senior High School - now called Siddal Moor I believe.

The music teacher, Gerald Fish, had suggested the school stage a Gilbert and Sullivan light opera, HMS Pinafore. It was the first musical production I can remember. Before that productions were plays - I remember watching Sheridan's The Rivals one year as a young boy in the lower forms and thinking how grown up the 6th formers looked...

The school was only around 3 years old, having been a merger of Heywood Grammar School and some other schools when secondary schools went comprehensive. For us grammar school pupils it meant being subjected to fire alarms and fire extinguishers being set off every now and then. Our japes had been a touch more intellectual. A bit more of your serious pursuit of scientific knowledge in the laboratories to make fireworks, rockets and such... The fact that they burnt all the paint off the window sill and ended up having to be jettisoned out of the second storey window didn't detract from the intellectual nature of it...

Anyway Gerald wanted me to play the male romantic lead. I was a bit aghast at this as the female lead was taller than me... So to his disappointment (and in retrospect to mine probably) I refused and ended up helping with the lighting and special effects which consisted of a thunderflash in a metal dustbin in the gymnasium behind the stage. A bit of magnesium powder in the cannon made a flash and the gigantic KABOOM! of the thunderflash meant that it was a wise decision to have St Johns Ambulance on hand as it took the audience a good 5 minutes to settle down after that went off!

The school gained some musical instruments out of the production, bought specially for the orchestra, some of which were pupils augmented by some of Gerald's contacts from the musical world.

I remember him particularly for the tremendous support he gave me at the time as a guitarist, encouraging, prompting me to try lead runs that challenged and stretched me, giving a few of us the confidence to go out and sing in front of an audience for the first time.

I remember many of the people shown here but can only remember names of those from my year or of those who I had regular contact with.

The full set of 27 photos, which were taken at the dress rehearsal, can be viewed up to 1440x900 pixels at this Flickr set. If you are featured, or you know any of the names I either never knew or have forgotten, please add a comment to the relevant photo.

Friday, 5 March 2010

A Cold Day by the Canal

Regular visitors to my Flickr collection of photographs will have noticed that over the past couple of days I've reverted to black and white.

I have loads of black and white negatives and as I came to the end of scanning a file of colour negs I thought I'd have a change and whittle a few out of the black and white collection.

These go back to a cold day in November 1978 when we had gone visiting Fran's parents and took her mother out for a ride in the car. We ended up at Marple in Cheshire where I wanted to take some photos of the canal.

The canals of England have a special interest and affection in the hearts of fishermen, walkers, countryside lovers and boating enthusiasts these days but their original purpose was to provide a quick method of transporting goods during the Industrial Revolution. As towns turned into larger cities not only was there need to move goods out of the city, but food and raw materials needed to be brought into the cities.

The canals changed the shape and nature of the country. Not only was England now criss-crossed by canals but it had to cope with large numbers of immigrants who had come into the country as cheap labour to help dig the canals - which of course, in those days meant digging with spades.

You can imagine the freedom of movement it opened up. Journeys that took days over rough ground, bumping along over rutted roads on the unsympathetic springs of a stagecoach could now be taken in the comfort of a barge travelling over the calm smoothness of water.

Some innovative ways were thought up to solve some of the problems.

Here the canal comes to a T-junction. The tow path - for horses towing a barge on a long rope - approaches the junction on the right but the horse of any barge wanting to turn left needs to cross the canal. If the horse were to cross a bridge and then carry on in the same direction the rope would pass over the bridge whilst the barge needed to pass under.

So the path over the bridge was built into a spiral so that the horse could cross the canal and then pass under the bridge with the barge in tow without the rope getting snarled.

The building of the canals was an undoubted engineering marvel. Yet within less than a lifespan, they were obsolete. As steam power was discovered, the coming of the railways meant that the movement of goods in bulk soon became possible by rail and the canals were already in decline.

1978. Here from that same day and canal path are Fran and Gillian, who was just 19 months old!

Large versions of the photos: canal and workshop, countryside canal, bridge
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