Tuesday, August 14, 2018

It Was British Invasion Rock And Roll Royalty

I spent Sunday at The Fest For Beatles Fans (or, as us old folks still call it, Beatlefest) at The Hyatt Regency O'Hare.  This is the 42nd straight year that they have hosted this event ... and Beatles fans of ALL ages were on hand to celebrate the music that so changed and influenced all of our lives.

Invited as the guest of Billy J. Kramer, one of the many British Artists who rode the wave of The British Invasion after The Beatles first hit our shores back in 1964, it was probably my eighth or ninth visit to Beatlefest over the past 42 years ... and my first time there in about ten years.

 me and Billy J

Not only was Billy J. there signing books and CD's (he has a brand new release called "Hankey Drive," which shows a photo of the home he grew up in in Liverpool as a boy on its cover ... Billy has also just released a version of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" as well as another CD called "Raw Influences," on which he pays tribute to all the great music that first inspired him to pursue a life of rock and roll), but he was also performing, bringing with him his band from New York (who were just outstanding, by the way.)

We interviewed Billy a couple of years ago in conjunction with the release of his autobiography, "Do You Want To Know A Secret," which sold so well at the fest that they had to fly out another box of books in order to meet the demand.  (It's a really interesting, honest read ... Billy was truly one of those in the inner circle during the earliest days of Beatlemania in the U.K. ... BEFORE anyone here in America knew who The Beatles were!)

Even Amazon appears to be down to their last copy!  Better order soon ... and it's currently $10 off!


Our original interview pieces:


We had a lengthy talk with Billy and his absolutely charming wife Roni before he took the stage, covering a wide variety of topics. They are two of the nicest, most down-to-earth people you could ever meet and it was a VERY nice visit.  Billy turns 75 later this week (the 19th) and you would NEVER know it.  (Thank you again, my friend, for the chance to catch up!) 

Billy had five Top 50 Hits here in The States between 1964 and 1965, including three written by the song-writing team of Lennon and McCartney.  (He remained popular in England for decades, doing television, theater and performances and has come back to The States a few times as part of The British Invasion Tour and to perform at several of these Fests For Beatles Fans.  He is now a U.S. citizen, living in New York and absolutely loving it.) Incredibly, this was my first time to ever see him in concert ... and he did a nice mix of both old and new material that went over very well with the fans.

Next up were the recently formed duo of Peter and Jeremy ... another first for me, and the opportunity to enjoy a very entertaining look back at the incredible hit catalogs of both Peter and Gordon and Chad and Jeremy.  (In fact, our last trip to Beatlefest was to see the then newly reunited Peter and Gordon ... and it was a breath-taking concert.  I cannot believe that was twelve years ago already!)

Humorous anecdotes filled their set, which also included a good bit of poking fun at one another.  Peter, of course, currently hosts his own weekly radio program on Sirius XM, and spends a great deal of time talking about when Paul McCartney was dating (and later engaged to) his sister, Jane, as well as occupying a room at the Asher family home, during which time Peter was privy to hearing a number of new compositions that John and Paul were working on.  (In fact, Paul gave the duo four chart hits as well, including their breakthrough record, "A World Without Love," which went all the way to #1.  Asher played a short bit from Paul's original demo, recorded there in the Asher home, as well as showed photographs of Paul's hand-written lyrics, including the hastily written bridge just prior to Peter and Gordon taking it into the studio to record.  VERY cool stuff!)

Their set featured the obvious hits ("A World Without Love," "Yesterday's Gone," "A Summer Song," "Nobody I Know" ... during which Peter botched the guitar solo for what he said was the tenth time out of thirteen tries! ... and an absolutely beautiful reading of "Distant Shores," a song I was never particularly fond of, but which sounded note-for-note perfect on stage Sunday Night.)

It also allowed for a couple of unexpected surprises like "Lady Godiva," which got a rousing round of applause and "As Tears Go By," sung after a VERY long-winded story that Peter Asher told about Marianne Faithfull.  (It has always been our civic duty to point out things that just don't work in the concert setting ... and this was definitely one of them ... the story went on forever ... and although there were certain elements of truth throughout it, it didn't seem to convey a completely accurate timeline of events as recalled by Peter.  Far better to cut the story short by about two-thirds and concentrate on just hitting the key points.) 

Chad and Jeremy enjoyed a bit of television success here in The States, appearing on a number of comedies such as "The Dick Van Dyke Show" (as The Redcoats ... still one of my all-time favorite episodes), "The Patty Duke Show" and even "Batman" (on which they sang "Distant Shores" before Catwoman stole their voices.  (Jeremy made it a point of thanking Batman for returning it to him, else he wouldn't have been able to perform for us Sunday night!)

Peter says that he and Gordon were invited to the set of "Batman" ... and even got to sit in the Batmobile ... but were never asked to actually appear on the show.  (He then showed a clip of Peter and Gordon on "The Red Skelton Show" ... and got in a dig regarding how difficult Jackie Gleason was to work with when they appeared on his program as well.)

Of the three vocalists, Jeremy's voice sounds the closest to what we remember from back in the day, retaining its soft tone and sweetness.  Billy J's voice is much deeper and fuller now and sounds much richer, especially on the new material, while Peter's has taken on more of a raspy tone that lends itself well when harmonizing.

I strongly urge one of our local promoters to book a "real deal" British Invasion Show ... the fans' love for this music has never waned ... and a package show like this (plus a few other stars of the day) would most certainly pack them in.

All in all, a GREAT night of '60's British Invasion Music ... catch them if you can should they hit your area.  (Oh wait ... that's The Dave Clark Five, isn't it?!?!)  kk

Front Row (L-R):  Peter Asher and Jeremy Clyde;
Back Row (L-R):  Billy J. Kramer and Kent Kotal

My original Peter and Gordon review, presented '60's FLASHBACK style, as it predated our website by about two years ... unfortunately, resurrected in tribute to the great Gordon Waller after his passing:

One of the other entertaining guests we got to see at The Fest For Beatles Fans was Leslie Cavendish, "The Man Who Cut The Beatles Hair."
He told the story of how he was first introduced to The Beatles through Jane Asher, whose hair he had been cutting and styling.  He would go on to cut Paul's hair for years and, although always a HUGE fan of the group, always kept it on a professional level, never so much as even asking for an autograph.
Soon Leslie had become so popular that he was cutting the hair for a number of popular rock groups, like The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five and The Bee Gees.  Paul asked him one day, "So who else's hair have you been cutting?" and Leslie would bring him up to date.  In fact, the two were so close that Paul invited him to partake in their new television film, "Magical Mystery Tour," and you'll find Leslie on the bus and as part of the crowd throughout the film.
Finally, a couple of years later, one of Leslie's cousins was in from out of town visiting and asked him if he could possibly get them an autograph.
Leslie explained all of this to Paul ... telling him how in all these years he has never asked him for an autograph ... and how it wasn't for him but rather for his cousin, who would be SO pleased to have it.
Of course, Paul obliged ... signing it as Paul McCartney (The Dave Clark Five)!!!  lol  Too funny!  (He then showed a photo of the autograph, which can also be found in his book.)  kk