Monday, September 28, 2009

Billy Sproud

I noticed this Billy Sproud YouTube, recently. Pioneer rock'n'roller Sproud, in case you were unaware, grew up in the shadow of the East Moors Steelworks at 168 Carlisle Street, Splott, Cardiff. His dad, John, was a coaltrimmer who also played baseball for Wales. At school Billy began to play the clarinet, saxophone and piano. Before carving out a career for himself in the music industry he repaired wirelesses for Tuckers' Electrical Company in Splott. In his spare time he played at various Cardiff dancehalls for a local ensemble called Murray's Band.

Just before WW2 he passed an audition for Hughie Green who was appearing at the New Theatre, Cardiff - this was his first big break in showbiz. After the war he formed his own band at the 400 Club. This Leicester Square cellar was a favourite haunt of Princess Margaret and her filthy rich cronies. Madge's table, which was situated near the bandstand, was nicknamed the Royal Box. Dancing, there, rarely stopped before 4am. From the 400 Club Sproud moved on to the exclusive Embassy Club where he wielded his baton for many years.

In 1957 he cut Rock Mr Piper for Columbia records. If you listen closely to the lyrics you can hear that the song is based upon the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. As well as writing the tune, he arranged it, sang it, and that's him you can hear playing the tin whistle, too. At the time it received excellent reviews and even today the ditty often turns up on those British rock'n'roll anthologies. The flipside is If You're So Smart (How Come You Ain't Rich). Both songs are fairly shameless imitations of Bill Haley and the Comets, who were all the rage at that time.

Nevertheless, Sproud - along with Morgan "Thunderclap" Jones, from Llanelli - was an interesting Welsh figure on the British rock'n'roll scene during its pioneering years.