Britain's first pop star plays an encore

The legend of rocker Billy Fury has a new lease of life, thanks to his mam's home improvements

By Nick Dalton

Billy Fury's mum is happy. A few months ago she was having new central heating put in. As a result, her loft, in true "legends of rock'n'roll" fashion, gave up its store of dusty treasures from Britain's first pop star. Now the early tapes, along with Billy's first recording - a scratchy demo on 78 - are to be released on CD, a format barely heard of when he died of heart disease in 1988. Had he lived, he would have turned 60 on April 17 - so for Jean Wycherley, 79, the record is all the more poignant.

"Me mam is so proud," says Billy's irrepressible younger brother Albie, once a star himself under the name of Jason Eddie and under the wing of legendary crackpot producer Joe Meek. Now he's happy to he devoted to keeping the hip-swivelling, air-punching Fury name alive.

A new wave of interest in the golden voiced Merseyside boy comes as one of his greatest hits - he had 23 in the Top 30 between 1959 and 1966 - hypnotises the nation once more. The eerie 'A Wondrous Place', which entered the charts 30 years ago this summer, is the sound of a Toyota TV ad, although most viewers probably mistake it for the soundalike cover by Chris Isaak.

Not so long before, an Omnibus documentary - narrated by one of Fury's biggest fans, the late Ian Dury - had lionised the flamboyant singer. His main's Liverpool home, where the tapes lay hidden, is still the house named Wondrous Place that Billy bought with his first big royalty cheque.

The showbiz persona of Billy Fury was born after he turned up at a show organised by impresario Larry Parnes at the Birkenhead Essoldo and forced one of the stars, Marty Wilde, to listen to his songs. His guitarist at the time? None other than Jimmy Tarbuck. Swiftly plucked from his job on the Mersey tugboats, Billy - born Ronald Wycherley - became a bequiffed figure in pink suits and silk shirts. It was something that austere post-war Britain had seen only in grainy images from America, where Fury went on to hobnob with the likes of Elvis.

Ringo Starr was a schoolmate but even that couldn't get the youthful Beatles a job as his backing band. Hits such as Halfway To Paradise, Colette, Jealousy, Last Night Was Made For Love and I'll Never Find Another You defined the starting point of Britpop Mark I. His twenty Top 20 hits in the Sixties were an achievement bettered only by Elvis, Cliff and the Fab Four.

The hits may have faded as rock 'n' roll went out of fashion, but well into the Seventies Fury was still belting out his stuff. A newly-discovered concert tape from 1974 - recorded by a fan at the Larry Parnes Rock 'n' Roll Roadshow at London's Lewisham Town Hall - gives the new album its title, A Wondrous Place Live.

The Seventies sound - lush organ redefining the title track - is in stark contrast to Fury's own strummed accompaniment on the early, hissing recordings of his own material. Meanwhile, Albie, who has fought off the same heart problems that killed his brother, is devoted to making his mam even happier. He and fans have so far raised, through everything from concerts to coffee mornings, BP13,000 towards the BP40,000 needed for a Fury statue by the artist who created a memorial to another of Liverpool's favourite sons, Bill Shankley. Hopes are high that the 7ft bronze will be unveiled on the Albert Docks before Billy's 60th year is out.

To that end, Albie has recorded his own four-track tribute and is planning to hit the road. "I'm not Billy," he says. "But I sing like him and some people say I look like him." Mam would be proud.

'A Wondrous Place Live' (Ozit/Morpheus Records) and 'I Never Met Colette' by Albie Wycherley (Holly/Ozit) are out now.