Billy J. Kramer and friends are gearing up to set the Silver City alight with songs from the Sixties, writes Martin Hutchinson
Do you want to know a secret? Billy J. Kramer is heading back to the UK for his first British tour for 18 years, and he’s bringing some friends with him.
Yes, it’s the annual Solid Silver 60s Tour celebrating its own little milestone: the tours have been going for 30 years and have pulled out all the stops to make this year’s tour – which stops by Aberdeen’s Music Hall on Monday, April 20 – even more memorable.
With Billy will be his own band, The Rising, and the rest of the bill is made up of some of the stellar names of the decade.
Mike Pender was the original voice of The Searchers and his is the voice we heard on all the band’s hits, including Sweets For My Sweet, Sugar and Spice and of course Needles and Pins.
Chris Farlowe will be entertaining us with that legendary blues voice
with hits like Handbags and Gladrags and Out of Time. P.P. Arnold, whose voice graced such classics as Angel of the Morning and The First Cut is the Deepest, will also be on stage; all backed by The New Amen Corner (If Paradise is Half as Nice, Bend Me Shape Me).
Special guests The Merseybeats will perform their own hits, which include I Think of You, Don’t Turn Around and Wishin’ and Hopin’.
But much excitement heralded the announcement that Billy J. Kramer would be performing.
“It was the scheduling that made it difficult for me to come over to tour as often as I’d like,” Billy told me from his home in the US.
“Also, I didn’t want to be one of those artists who did tour after tour with people getting fed up of them.”
He laughed: “I don’t want to be a mouse in a wheel.”
Billy, with his original band, The Dakotas, were at the forefront of the beat music scene, first charting in May 1963 with Do You Want To Know a Secret, which got to number two in the charts.
He followed it up with the chart-topping Bad To Me, I’ll Keep You Satisfied (number four), the classic Little Children (another number one), From a Window (number 10) and Trains and Boats and Planes (number 12).
Hailing from Bootle on Merseyside and managed by Brian Epstein, Billy told me how he got his name. Born William Ashton in 1943, he formed his first band when in his teens, and he was always known as Billy, but Brian Epstein thought he needed another name to go with that.
“They made a list and, of all the names on it, they thought that Kramer was the best,” Billy said.
“To be honest, I thought it was just a novelty and wouldn’t last long.”
He continued laughing: “Then, of course, John Lennon suggested the ‘J’.”
This won’t be the first time in the UK for his band The Rising.
“No, we came to Liverpool three years ago and did a few shows, but you couldn’t call it a tour.”
And of his band, he said this: “They’re a very good band and we’ve been together a while now, so we’re like a family. They’re all great musicians.”
Billy released a new album recently, entitled I Won the Fight; it’s his first studio album in 30 years and is also autobiographical.
“That’s right,” he said, “it has been 50 years in the making, really. My first albums weren’t artistically developed, I was just singing songs. But then I started writing a couple of songs and it evolved.”
One of the tracks is very special to Billy, so special that there are two versions of it on the album.
“It’s called To Liverpool With Love and I wanted to write something about the city and my feelings about it. I also added some words about Brian Epstein, as he was my mentor and I thought he’d been left out in the cold.”
“Well, he brought the biggest band in the world up and he had never been inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame.”
“Then, when it was announced that he would be inducted in 2014,
I recorded a new version. I sent a copy of the song to Paul McCartney
and he told me that it really captured the period.”
So, as well as a few tracks from his new album, Billy says he’ll perform what everybody wants to hear.
“Yeah, you’re gonna hear all my hits.”
Of all his hits, I wondered if there were any that gave him a particular feeling of pride.
“Well, Little Children gives me a lot of pride, as well as Bad To Me: after all, it was my first number one and a John Lennon song. In fact, I’m proud of all my records,” he smiled.
Although he is looking forward to the whole tour, he singled out one particular place.
“I’m really looking forward to Liverpool, my home town,” he said.
And of the fans who come to see him play, he is very appreciative.
“It’s wonderful that all these people have given me a great life and a great career. I’m very grateful for it, and I’m grateful in being able to do it.”
The 30th anniversary tour of The Solid Silver Sixties Show, with Billy J. Kramer and The Rising, Mike Pender, Chris Farlowe, P.P. Arnold, The Merseybeats and The New Amen Corner, will be appearing at The Music Hall, Aberdeen, on Monday, April 20. Tickets are available from www.aberdeenperformingarts.com or by calling 01224 641122.