Poignant last visit to Norfolk by rock'n'roll legend Billy Fury
PUBLISHED: 12:51 09 May 2014 | UPDATED: 15:06 09 May 2014
It was a charity concert, organised to raise money for the Evening News X-ray 100 Appeal more than 30 years ago and the star was determined that the show would go on.
What happened to ‘Beat Boy’ Kenny?
Among all your memories of the doomed Gaumont (Carlton) on All Saints Green in Norwich, was one from Geoff Town. He wasn’t at The Rolling Stones gig in 1964 but was he there when Bill Haley, the original king of rock‘n’roll, played there in the 50s... and there was dancing in the streets.
“However,” said Geoff, “one star who does get overlooked is Marty Wilde. He was top of the bill in 1958, replacing Terry Dene. I remember his lead guitarist was Kenny Packwood, of the Saints Skiffle group with Tony Sheridan.”
He was and the crowd went crazy when young Kenny of Norwich, still only 16, appeared on stage as one of the Wildcats.
Kenny went to the CNS, his father was the civil defence officer in the city, and he teamed up with Tony Sheridan to form the Saints skiffle group. A class act.
While Tony went off to Germany where he took The Beatles under his wing, Kenny joined the Wildcats and then – disappeared.
No-one seems to know what happened to him. A few years ago I mentioned Kenny to Marty and he said: “I would love to know about Kenny. He was a great guitar player at such a young age.”
Kenny is pictured third from the right in this picture.
He was one idol who never let his fans down.
Leather-suited and very thin Billy Fury took to the stage at the old Norwood Rooms on Aylsham Road in Norwich – now Mecca Bingo – and more 800 fans went wild.
This was October of 1982 and by the following January Billy would be dead. He was just 42 – he was our very own Elvis and he was the same age as the king of rock ‘n’ roll when he passed away.
Liverpool-born Billy was an extraordinary talent and a man with a soft spot for this part of the country, appearing in summer shows at Great Yarmouth and making a film in Norfolk.
And when he heard about the Norwich show to raise money for medical equipment it was a great opportunity to return to Norfolk and promote his new album. It turned out to be one of his last shows.
He concentrated on slow numbers at the Norwood, but then a classic rock song proved too much for him to handle... and he left the stage.
But Billy still wanted to meet his fans following the gig. Still smiling, a true professional, he came out of the dressing room to sign autographs and told the Evening News at the time: “I was drained, finished. It took me fully five minutes to recover. There were lots of songs I would have loved to have done.” And he added: “I guess Johnny B Goode really finished me. It was always a toughie.”
The singer, who described himself as a “health wreck”, admitted he only looked six months ahead at a time. “I am trying to cram in as much as I can,” he said.
Later this month his music will be played again when Fury’s Tornadoes storm into Norwich when they play the Theatre Royal on Sunday, May 25.
After Billy’s death in 1983, his musicians went their separate ways. It was the end of an era but now, 31 years on, they are back performing such classics as Last Night was Made for Love, I Will, Jealousy, Wondrous Place, A Thousand Stars, Halfway To Paradise, and so many more.
Billy was dubbed “The British Elvis” at the height of the rock ‘n’ roll explosion which shook the foundations of the pop scene in the late 1950s.
He had his first hit, Maybe Tomorrow, in 1959 and in 1962 was spending the summer at Yarmouth. Headlining at one of the great shows which attracted the biggest stars in the land, plus tens of thousands of holidaymakers and locals.
Billy later returned to Norfolk a few years later to make a movie, I Gotta Horse.
He had a string of hits but his health was failing then and despite heart surgery he made a comeback in the 1970s going back on the road with his fellow rocker Marty Wilde.
Once again he was forced to stop touring but he made yet another comeback in the early 1980s to perform material from his new album and his classics but it proved a tour too much and was his last.
Playing at the Theatre Royal in Halfway to Paradise will be Fury’s Tornados, his musicians in 1970. They are Charlie Elston, Chris Raynor and John Raynor plus Graham Wyvill, who joined in 2004. Taking on the role of Billy will be Colin Gold.
Halfway to Paradise – The Billy Fury Story is performed by his backing group Fury’s Tornados at the Theatre Royal on Sunday May 25 at 7.30pm. Call 01603 630000 or click on the theatre website.