GAVIN STANLEY speaks to Derek Smith about playing Eddie Cochran and Billy Fury in the rock‘n’roll show Be Bop a Lula!, something of a labour of love for the actor, singer and producer. The production is regularly playing at London’s Ambassadors Theatre and throughout the UK in the months to come.
Fans of rock‘n’roll who like their music stripped back to basics, played like it was back in the day and definitely not watered down, are in for a treat at the Ambassadors Theatre on the first Wednesday of every month, continuing from 1 April and going right through until August, with more London dates to be announced, plus UK tour gigs in-between.
Be Bop a Lula!, presented by Lord Tim Croxford, Gavin Stanley and Lars Young, aims to re-create the sounds of four giants of late 1950s and early 1960s popular music – Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Billy Fury and Roy Orbison.
Gavin, who is playing both Fury and Cochran, is a key driving creative force behind what is clearly a professionally ambitious project, but also one with personal motivations.
Hailing from Liverpool, Fury’s own home town, Gavin knew some of the late, great singer’s family and when you meet him, it’s immediately apparent that he holds a very fond and genuine creative torch for the iconic British rocker. “It’s going to have a ‘live radio broadcast from the Ambassadors Theatre’ feel to it,” he says, “and I’m confident that musically you won’t be able to fault it. Given the fantastic line-up of musicians we’ve got in the show, we can easily adapt it to what we want.”
It’s a major plus, of course, that the intimate venue looks the perfect place in which to create a raucous, fun and full-on atmosphere at the merest strum of bass guitar. Spencer Evoy oversees the show as the Rocking Reverend DJ Spencer. Hailing from Toronto, Canada, he fronts the popular band MFC Chicken.
“We want to keep it as punchy as possible, it’s all about the show’s dynamic and with co-creator, Lars Young (Roy Orbison and Gene Vincent), we’ve bounced plenty of ideas around,” says Gavin.
Lars’ childhood was spent on the road touring with his family’s professional gospel group. On stage, he has played Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Show and Roger in Rent. He’s travelled all over America in several bands playing his own original music as well as classic country, rockabilly and rock‘n’roll.
The show’s backing band, The Wildcats, includes Pete Pritchard on double bass who was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, has played for more than 25 years with Elvis’ guitarist, Scotty Moore as well as Alvin Lee. Gerry Slattery (lead guitar) has worked with The Everly Brothers through to Boy George, while Richard Blanchard (keys) has supported the Stray Cats and worked with, among many others, Joe Longthorne.
“The demographic for lovers of rock‘n’roll fans is huge, spanning all ages and backgrounds, so there’s huge potential for the show,” Gavin states confidently.
Determined to make sure Fury’s legacy both lives on and is respected by today’s musicians and modern audiences alike, even for an accomplished musician like Gavin, paying suitable homage to Fury (born Ronald Wycherley) is a big ask, after all he was known as one of Britain’s true rock talents (he died tragically young in 1983). “I do feel a real responsibility to get it right, it’s about creating the music of all four artists in the correct way, and for all the musicians on stage, that emotion is coming from the heart,” he explains.
Fury wrote his own first album, The Sound of Fury in an era when it was unheard of for artists to write their own material. The album, recorded in April 1960 in Decca Studio 3, West Hampstead, North West London and produced by legendary producer Jack Good, has been retrospectively hailed as ‘the best rock‘n’roll album to come out of England’s original beat boom of the late 1950s’, every one of the ten songs having been written by Fury.
There’s clearly some creative and career synergy between the careers of Gavin and Billy Fury. Whisper it quietly in the presence of any rockers, but Gavin’s first loves aged around 13 were breakdancing and hip hop, but a defining moment came when he watched the 1980s BBC Arena documentary series featuring, among others, Eddie Cochran.
He was immediately hooked on the music, the sounds and the rock‘n’roll image, soon playing local social clubs and sporting a Billy Fury quiff.
Signed up at just 16 by an agency run by Ricky Tomlinson and his brother in Liverpool, just a week later he had a part in Phil Redmond’s innovative soap, Brookside. “It was strange, looking back. You just went into the studio, recorded it, then sat down and watched the episode with your mum and dad. Suddenly getting recognised in the local shops was a bit weird,” reflects Gavin.
A small part in Coronation Street is also on his CV, while his stage work has included Bill Kenwright’s production of Ferry Cross the Mersey as the young Gerry Marsden and as Billy Fury in Bill Kenwright and Jack Good’s production, Good Rockin’ Tonite.
He is also currently a member of rockabilly band, The Boom Boom Booms, along with Lars Young, Spencer Evoy and drummer Phil Casey, an outfit described as comprising ‘four singers, big double bass, two screaming Gretsch guitars and one hot sax’. Clearly not intent on resting on his creative laurels, as well as being busy helping to create Be Bop a Lula!, he’s also currently working on a screenplay, entitled Sound of Fury.
For the moment though, Be Bop a Lula! is his all-consuming passion.
“The aim is to build it up slowly and ideally establish it as a cult show. What we want to do is put the real grit back into rock‘n’roll and create something that’s all about the music, without any silly distractions. To be honest, I’m just a bit fed up with seeing shows that treat rock‘n’roll in a light-hearted way and don’t treat the music we love seriously. You know the ones I mean, those that are sprinkled with fairy dust,” he says a little mischievously.
If the show succeeds in gaining a loyal following, in London and around the UK on tour, Gavin won’t just be halfway to musical paradise – he would have definitely arrived there.
* Be Bop a Lula! shares the Ambassadors Theatre with Stomp who perform from Thursdays to Mondays every week. Future shows at the theatre are on 1 April, 6 May, 3 June, 1 July and 5 August. Tour dates include: Harlow Playhouse (28 March), Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmonds (11 April), Westcliff Theatre, Clacton (1 May), Epstein Theatre, Liverpool (22 May), Civic Theatre, Rotherham (23 May), Fairfield Halls, Croydon (10 May), Congress Theatre, Cwmbran (17 October) and The Capit0l, Horsham (16 January 2016).
* Gavin Stanley’s career spans music, stage and television. On television he has played roles in both Brookside and Coronation Street. His stage work has included Bill Kenwright’s production of Ferry Cross the Mersey as the young Gerry Marsden and as Billy Fury in Bill Kenwright’s Good Rockin’ Tonight, Gavin has also performed as Eddie Cochran, Dion and Paul McCartney in numerous other theatre productions. His music career has included the band Pool whose album and three singles gained international recognition. Gavin now performs in the band The Boom Boom Booms.