Ipswich: Regent strikes 60s gold, PJ Proby interviewed

PJ Proby

PJ Proby - Credit: Archant

The music of the 1960s is alive and well with many of the bands from the decade still touring, albeit minus a few original members. One such tour is heading our way tomorrow night.

Sixties Gold, the 50th Anniversary Tour has a veritable handful of music legends.

Headliners Gerry and The Pacemakers and The Searchers will both be celebrating the 50th anniversary of their first chart hits, both having had their chart debuts in 1963.

The Fortunes first hit the charts in 1965 and former Tremeloes Brian Poole and Chip Hawkes will appear together on stage, subject to Chips’ health as he has been undergoing treatment recently.

Completing the bill is the pony-tailed and controversial PJ Proby.

PJ, whose trousers split on stage which led to him being banned from performing in many theatres, won the Melody Maker Teen Idol award in 1964. His rendition of Somewhere, from the musical West Side Story, is regarded as a classic and he went on to enjoy no less than 91 weeks on the charts.

Hits like Hold Me, Maria and I Apologise, released in answer to his theatre ban, cemented his place in music history. He even returned to the charts in 1996 with Yesterday Has Gone.

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Real name James Marcus Smith, PJ is now 74 and the voice is still as magnificent as ever; but he had his problems. Alcohol was his downfall and for a while he lived in places like Bolton and Bury.

“I used to fall asleep in the pub and the landlord had to carry me home, but once I woke up in a flowerbed.”

But that’s all behind him now he tells me.

“I feel fantastic nowadays,” he says in his distinctive Texan drawl. “I basically dropped dead in 1992 through alcohol, but I’m okay now – I haven’t had a drink for 21 years,” he adds proudly.

“I actually had to learn to walk and talk again, but I could always shuffle about and sing a bit. Then Bill Kenwright hired me, even though I was still in therapy and I appeared in the show Good Rockin’ Tonight. On the first night, Somewhere got a standing ovation.”

Things improved dramatically for the singer after that.

“I used my audience as therapy. I stayed with the show for a year and all my functions returned – then Bill put me in the Roy Orbison show, Only The Lonely.”

Of all his songs, he picks out Somewhere as the song that gives him the most pleasure.

“I was in Hollywood when they made the film and I knew all the actor and dancers and that song takes me back to those times. They were really good days.”

Being around as long as he has, PJ has worked with all the artists in the 50th Anniversary show.

“The Searchers used to open for me and they’d recorded one of my songs, Ain’t Gonna Kiss Ya. I’m going to do that one in the show the way I wrote it.”

Speaking of the show, with there being so many artists, time is sure to be a bit limited.

“I’ll be doing about 15 or 20 minutes and The Pacemakers will be backing me. I’m also going into the studio soon to record a CD of everything I do on stage and hopefully it’ll be ready for the tour.”

With so many great artistes on the bill, it looks like being a good night.

“Hell yes,” the veteran singer says with conviction. “I reckon we’re all gonna have a great night.”

Sixties Gold The 50th Anniversary Tour, starring Gerry and The Pacemakers, The Searchers, PJ Proby, The Fortunes and Brian Poole and Chip Hawkes, comes to the Regent Theatre, Ipswich, on November 15.

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