“It was just a matter of the right time, the right place and things lining up with my schedule,” says Billy J Kramer as we talk about his return to the UK to perform his first concerts in 18 years. The original Mersey beat era star who scored Number One hits with Bad To Me and Little Children now resides in the USA will headline The Solid Silver Sixties Show as it tours the UK later this Spring.
Billy explains why he hasn't toured the UK for so long, “I did a lot of touring and I thought it was best to leave it off, I didn't want to do one tour after another as I thought people would get fed up with me!” The 1960s chart-topper couldn't be any more wrong as he discovered recently when performing to appreciative fans at several Beatles Fests in New Jersey, California, New York and Chicago with his old friend Mike Pender from The Searchers. “I knew The Beatles before they made records and was honoured to work with them when they became successful it was a wonderful period in my life.”
John Lennon and Paul McCartney regarded Billy so much that they penned both sides of his first two singles recorded with his backing group The Dakotas. “The day I was 20, John Lennon said “I have a song for you!” I said, “Well, play it.” He said “I'll play it the next time we're in Abbey Road.” When I went to Abbey Road he sat at the piano and played the song Bad to Me, later he said "I want to play you another song and I want your opinion," it was I Want To Hold Your Hand. I said “Can I have that?” and he said "No!"”
Bad To Me became Billy’s first chart-topper reaching number one in the UK charts during August 1963. “I didn't think it was anything I would achieve and it came as a complete shock, at first it was very difficult for me to handle. You've got women screaming at you that weren't screaming at you the day before.”
Billy is quick to credit his success to Brian Epstein who also managed the early careers of The Beatles and Cilla Black. “It was very hard coming from Liverpool, Brian had the right way about him and he opened doors. I just thought he was a gentleman the way he went about things. I remember when I got terribly overweight, he told me in such a compassionate way it really registered and I never forgot that.”
For years Billy led the campaign for the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame to recognise Brian Epstein’s contribution to music and even wrote a song To Liverpool with Love about his friend who sadly died in 1967. “I wrote the song before he got into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame and I hope in my own way it helped a little. I felt that he’d been cold-shouldered. He'd brought the biggest rock n roll act to the world.” Ultimately Brian was finally given his overdue recognition early last year, where he was posthumously awarded the Ahmet Ertegun Award for Lifetime Achievement. Billy has since re-recorded To Liverpool with Love recognising this achievement for his latest album I Won the Fight.
I Won the Fight also features a version of The Story of My Life, originally a number one for Liverpool’s first pop star Michael Holliday in 1956. Billy also revisits a slice of his own history with a new version of the Lennon/McCartney song I’m In Love originally recorded in 1963 but not released at the time. “I had about 15 minutes for a session and John and Paul came in and said "we've got this great song,"" he recalls, “the guys learned it very quickly and we laid two tracks down. I don’t know why it was shelved but EMI have recently put it out by using technology to merge the two tracks. I thought for this album and the fiftieth anniversary I should revisit the song and do it well.”
Fans can expect to hear Billy perform his classic hits and songs from I Won the Fight when he plays St David’s Hall as part of the Solid Silver Sixties Show on April 1. Billy is looking forward to revisiting his hits, “I think it’s my duty as an entertainer because they (the fans) bought all these records that sent me around the world and gave me a wonderful life. I always say it was the most fantastic time in the history of pop music, there’s never been anything like it before or since and I don’t think there will be anything like it again.”
- Billy J Kramer along with Mike Pender, PP Arnold, The Merseybeats, Chris Farlowe and New Amen Corner will play The Solid Silver Sixties Show on April 1, 2015. Visit St David's Hall website for booking details.
- For more news on Billy J Kramer visit his official website.
- A version of this interview by Andy Howells appears in the South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on January 16.