The girls in the crowd were screaming – not for us, the Avalons, but for the star of the evening who was in his dressing room keeping everyone waiting: Mr P J Proby.
When he finally appeared, after starting his song off-stage, it was well worth the wait because he had a fantastic voice. He also had a pony tail and a green velvet suit. Earlier in the year repeated pant ripping due to excessive hip movement – what would now be called a wardrobe malfunction – in Croydon got him banned from all ABC cinemas, ABC TV and the BBC.
His big hit from 1964 which reached No. 3 was “Hold Me”. Not only a powerful song but it featured two guitar greats. Jimmy Page (later of The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin) played rhythm guitar and Big Jim Sullivan played lead guitar. Big Jim, to differentiate him from Little Jimmy, had played lead guitar in Marty Wilde’s Wildcats and the KrewKats and backed Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran on their ill-fated 1960 UK tour.
And he was a prolific session man who’d played on 800 top forty hits including 54 number ones. He later joined Tom Jones’s band (1969-1974) and in Las Vegas he became friends with Elvis Presley.
When P J was banned from the ABC cinema tour his place was taken by Tom Jones and the Squires, formerly known as Tommy Scott and the Senators. They’d left Joe Meek after being unsuccessful at getting a recording contract but Gordon Mills took them on and renamed him because of the popularity of the Tom Jones film at the time.
Tom Jones first record on Decca was “Chills and Fever” which did nothing but his second release, originally intended for Sandie Shaw and which he sang as a demo for her, was “It’s not unusual” and it reached No 1 in the UK and was his first top ten hit in America.
Going back to that day in 1965 I remember girls fainting after becoming hysterical and helping the bouncers to drag them over the stage and to the fire exits. I also remember talking to the lead guitarist who was fed up of touring with P J and who actually offered me his job – at £65 a week! Now I was probably earning about a tenth of that at the time but I thought if this pro can’t put up with Mr Proby, could I? And I also felt loyal to my own group.
Dave Parkinson our vocalist at the time also remembers it well. He says “That night at the Imp was memorable, wasn’t it? Not only did we have to battle on with Bob Kane yelling at us to “do one more” from the side of the stage whilst old PJ had his tonsils lubricated, but then we had to watch as he put on a brilliant show, wowing everybody in sight. The man had style and a powerful voice to boot, that’s for sure”
At his peak P J Proby was considered a potential great but lost his substantial wealth and came back to Britain to perform in musical theatre and 60s revival concerts where Dave and I last saw him in 2006 on a Solid Sixties tour with Gerry and the Pacemakers, Wayne Fontana (one of our big heroes in his day) and Dave Dee, Dozy, Mick and Tich, who gave the best performance in my view.
In 2008 his record company released a new CD to commemorate his 70th birthday. It contained a previously unreleased version of “Delilah”. This had been written for him by Barry Mason and Les Reed for his 1968 album but was left off it for some reason. It then became a massive hit for Tom Jones in 1968 and its songwriters won the Ivor Novello award for best song with it.
It could have been so different for PJ Proby, who is still touring at 76 years of age, while Sir Tom Jones got a knighthood.