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 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 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.

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