Tommy Steele

Tommy Steele was discovered by John Kennedy in September 1956 singing at the 2I's coffee bar in Old Compton Street, Soho. Paul Lincoln who owned the 2I's had invited Kennedy along that night to listen to The Vipers skiffle group. Kennedy was looking for someone that would set London's West End 'alight'. During a break in the Vipers performance, a young lad in a blue shirt got up on the stage, and with The Vipers backing him started singing "Heartbreak Hotel", the Elvis number that had only just been released in Britain. The boy in the blue shirt was 19 year old Merchant Seaman Tommy Hicks, whose extraordinary personality captured Kennedy's attention. The crowd of youngsters in the 2I's loved it and after two more numbers, Tommy left the stage.

Tommy left the 2I's and walked to another nearby coffee bar where he again took to the stage and took charge of the proceedings. Kennedy, who had followed him, waited for him  outside. Tommy came out and Kennedy introduced himself and put forward his ideas on finding someone who could give Rock'n'Roll a decent name. Tommy was due back at sea in two weeks time and so said to Kennedy "I'll tell you what I'll do, I'm going back to sea in a fortnight - I'll do what you tell me until then. If we get anywhere I'll stay on". Kennedy rushed to his office in Fleet Street to start making phone calls.

A repeat performance in the 2I's was planned for that evening with The Vipers to back Tommy again with Hugh Mendl, the A&R man for Decca Records to be present, which he was. On that evening Tommy got up on stage with The Vipers. After only 5 numbers the Decca man got up to make his exit,  Kennedy asked Mendl what he thought. Mendl smiled and asked him to bring Tommy with him to do a Decca sound test for the following day. The next day Kennedy and Tommy arrived at the Decca studio, where Tommy sang "Rock With The Caveman" & "Rock Around The Town". The songs were cut to disc and they ended up agreeing a royalties deal. The name Hicks they changed to "Steele" after one of Tommy's grandparents.

Kennedy decided to arrange a covert publicity party - it went well and Tommy Steele who had been singing at the party almost non-stop for four hours went down a storm. At 3am he had only two strings from the original six left on his guitar. After nearly eight hours of singing the ploice arrived after complaints from neighbours about the noise. The Sunday papers had Tommy on the front cover under the headline "Rock'n' Roll has got the Debs too'. 15 million people read the article on Tommy that day. Using clippings from the papers, Kennedy secured an audition at the Stork Club, off Regent Street, London, where after just one number he was signed to play for the next two weeksat the princely sum of £20.00 a night plus supper.

After the first night's performance he was re-booked for another two weeks at £25.00 per night. Tommy did not go back to the Merchant Navy. Several weeks went by when an old friend of Kennedy's - Larry Parnes walked into the Stork Club. Whilst they chatted Kennedy realised Parnes was the man to help Tommy's career and so a proper contract was drawn up.

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THE STRINGBEAT YEARS

  

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Now available!

The Stringbeat Years: Songs accompanied by John Barry

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HIT AND MISS: THE STORY OF THE JOHN BARRY SEVEN

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