According to Tom Jones: “I did some shows with Lonnie and we became friends. One night he said, ‘Look, I have this song, you’d sing the pants off it. I've recorded it, but I can't really sing it. It's a sort of a rewrite of a song from the thirties when the Depression was going on, called 'I'm Never Going to Cease My Wandering.' Tom Jones said, “I knew that song because a lot of guys used to sing it in pubs in Wales. I went to his house in Virginia Water, and he got this record out to listen to. With the big chorus on it, it sounded fantastic. He was singing it Lonnie Donegan style, completely different from the way I did, like somebody busking."
On first release, Tom Jones' recording reached number 2 in the ‘UK Singles Chart’ but was less successful in the United States where it peaked at number 49 on the ‘Top Hot 100’. Others to cover the song include Elvis Presley.
Between the ages of 15 and 16 years old, Lonnie Donegan was the rage with his ‘Skiffle’ songs. Between 1955 and 1958, after he’d had a hit in 1955 with ‘The Rock Island Line’, thousands of budding groups were forming bands in their father’s garden shed or the bedrooms of their friends. With the addition of a stringed tea-chest and an old rubbing board that mum used for washing, these ‘Skifflers’ dreamed of one day becoming famous. I recall spending 18 months as lead singer, with four other young chaps from the mill where we worked in Cleckheaton, spending two hours a week above a pub in Dewsbury Moor rubbing our washboards, singing Donegan songs and dreaming that someday we would swap the millwork for the bright lights of Broadway.
By 1962, the Lonnie Donegan craze had died down somewhat as other singers and styles took the headlines. We’d disbanded our ‘Skiffle Group’ some eight months earlier (never having grown good enough to perform in public anyway). Shortly before emigrating to Canada the following year I heard a song that Lonnie had recorded. It was not the type of song I associated with the ‘King of Skiffle’; it being far too slow and pedestrian for his voice. That song was ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’, but it was only after I’d heard Tom Jones’s cover version of the song in 1967 after I’d returned to England from Canada that I fell in love with it.
I share a few similarities with Lonnie Donegan. We were both awarded the M.B.E., me in 1995 and Lonnie in 2000, two years before he died from a heart attack in November 2002. Lonnie had several heart attacks since the 70s and I had two serious ones around the time of Lonnie’s final heart attack. I am pleased to say Lonnie was awarded an ‘Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement Award’ in 1997.
During his career Lonnie had 31 ‘UK Top 30’ single hits; three of them reaching the Number 1 spot. He was the first British male singer with two ‘U.S. Top 10’ hits.
Whereas Lonnie had many song hits, during his lifetime, the only thing I was to replicate was the ability to ‘fall in love’ too easily. I don’t mean become sexually attracted to, but to literally ‘fall in love’, and that was despite being one of the ‘baddest boys’ around who spent every one of his teenage years ‘loving and leaving them’.
I put this aspect of my character down to my proneness to invariably be blinded by the beauty of the female form, and to see much more goodness and worth in some attractive women that bowled me over than existed. Whenever I became disappointed in a relationship and indicated to my mother that ‘’I’d never fall in love again’, my mother just used to look at me and say, “Billy Forde, your trouble is you think there’s no one out there good enough for you!”, to which I’d reply ”I’m sure there is someone for me somewhere out there, Mum, but if there is, she’s hiding low and saving herself for me to come along”.
Little did I realise that I would be 68 years old before she materialised in the form of Sheila, Goddess of the baddest of boys.
Love and peace. Bill xxx