The first Welshman to have a solo UK Number One hit, Ricky Valance died at the age of 84 on June 12. Andy Howells interviewed the Ynysddu born singer in 2010 and pays tribute to him.
From David Spencer To Ricky Valance
Ricky Valance was born David Spencer in Ynysddu, South Wales in 1936 and was the eldest of seven children. having a traditional Welsh upbringing, with regular attendances to Chapel on Sundays, singing had always been David’s passion, but it was not his first choice of career.
David had worked in the Welsh coal mines and served a stint in the RAF, by the time he decided to become a professional singer. He came by his stage name one afternoon when watching horse racing on television. He had decided to use his nickname “Ricky” as a stage name but was drawn to the name “Valance” by the jockey, Colonel Richard Valance who was participating in that day’s race. Ricky told Andy Howells in 2010, “I learned much later, That Richard was also called Ricky by his friends”.
Ricky Valance Records Tell Laura I Love Her
Via his manager Lena Davis, Ricky met Columbia Records producer Norrie Paramor. Paramor who produced records for Michael Holliday and Cliff Richard, had a single lined up for Ricky to record, a cover of Ray Peterson’s U.S. hit Tell Laura I Love Her.
Penned by Jeff Barry and Ben Raleigh, Tell Laura I Love Her told the tragic tale of young lovers Laura and Tommy. Tommy wants to give Laura everything, flowers, presents and most of all (as the song goes) a wedding ring. Sadly, Tommy gets tragically killed in a stock car race before winning the hundred dollar prize which would enable him to buy Laura the ring, but not before uttering the words “Tell Laura I Love Her” on the phone to Laura’s mother.
BBC Branded Song A “Death Disc”
The overall tone of Tell Laura I Love Her caused Ray Peterson’s recording to be dubbed a “Death Disc” by the hierarchy of the BBC who refused to play it on their radio programmes. Concerned by this lack of promotion, Peterson’s label, RCA Records decided not to release the single in the UK. However, Columbia Records producer Norrie Paramor, thought it would be a good idea to pursue a cover version with the then newly signed act, Ricky Valance.
Ricky’s approach to the recording, sung in the style of a church hymn added much in the way of sentiment to the recording.
“I had a strong Welsh tenor voice,” Ricky recalled to Andy Howells in 2010.
“I sang it and then they said, “Can you sing it a bit like ‘Here Comes Summer?’” (a Number One hit in 1959 for Jerry Keller).
“You mean like this”, replied Ricky who then went on to sing a pitch perfect version of Here Comes Summer. “Yes, like that!” was the immediate response, and in no less than two takes, Ricky had laid down the track.
Like Ray Peterson’s version, Tell Laura I Love Her was not favoured by the BBC, who immediately banned it.
“They said it encouraged young people to go out and get killed in cars,” said Ricky.
Ricky Valance Tops The UK Charts
At this time, actor John Leyton also recorded a version of Tell Laura I Love Her. However, it would be Ricky Valance’s interpretation of the song that would be successful when the record received over 15,000 advance orders after two plays on Radio Luxembourg. Leyton himself would have to wait until 1961 to gain his major success with a similarly themed “death disc” Johnny Remember Me.
Ricky Valance’s version of Tell Laura I Love Her entered the UK chart on 25 August 1960 and steadily climbed to the number one position on 29 September where it replaced The Shadows Apache, (also produced by Norrie Paramor).
Ricky Valance Was The First Welsh Male Vocalist To Reach Number One
Ultimately Ricky became the first Welsh Male Vocalist to reach the UK’s coveted Number One position, preceding Tom Jones It’s Not Unusual by 5 years.
In total, Tell Laura I Love Her spent three weeks at number one and sixteen weeks on the UK chart. It was replaced on the top position by Roy Orbison’s Only the Lonely on 20 October 1960.
Ricky’s chart career unfortunately was short lived, there were several follow ups to Tell Laura I Love Her but all subsequently failed to chart. Despite been unfairly tagged as a “One Hit Wonder”, Ricky’s recordings maintained healthy sales.
Life After Laura For Ricky Valance
Ricky Valance remained in the public eye and made a further bid for musical success in February 1961 by participating in The Song for Europe with a recording of Why Can’t We?
Of the nine songs performed by artists including Craig Douglas, Mark Wynter and Anne Shelton, Ricky gained a respectable third place with 24 votes from the regional jurors. He was beaten by ‘Suddenly I’m In Love’ by Steve Arlen who received 30 Votes and ‘Are You Sure’ by The Allison’s who won with 31 votes.
There were several career diversions for Ricky, including acting and presenting television programmes but singing remained close to his heart.
As the years passed, Ricky continued to tour, travelling as further afield as San Antonio. He even met Ray Peterson who originally recorded Tell Laura I Love Her shortly before Ray died. “It was such a pleasure to meet such a respected artist,” recalled Ricky.
Ricky continued to perform for over 50 years and attributed his success to self-discipline. “I’ve never smoked or drank alcohol” he said as he gave the author a demonstration of his vocal chords, it was clear Ricky still possessed the vocal clarity that took his single to Number One over half a century before.
Ricky Valance On Stage at Wales Millennium Centre
Although Ricky had moved to Spain in later years he still returned to Wales frequently to visit members of his family with his wife Evelyn.
“My heart is still in Wales and I’d love to play a large venue where it all began for me,” he said when interviewed by Andy Howells in 2010.
In 2015, Ricky appeared on stage at Wales Millennium Centre on St David’s Day as part of the show, Wales at Number One, alongside recording artists such as Amy Wadge, Sophie Evans, Lucie Jones and James Dean Bradfield of The Manic Street Preachers.
Ricky; who received an award for being the first Welshman to have a UK Number One hit at the concert, told the audience he had recently suffered a heart attack but really wanted to appear on the show. He performed a perfect version of Tell Laura I Love Her and of course did his Welsh audience proud. His dream of playing a large venue in Wales had come to fruition.
- Ricky Valance 10 April 1936 – 12 June 2020