Sunday, 14 August 2022

Vince Hill stages final farewell at the Kenton

Vince Hill stages final farewell at the Kenton

SINGER Vince Hill is retiring from showbusiness after one last show at the Kenton Theatre in Henley.

The evergreen popstar will present An Evening With Vince Hill next month bringing to an end a 56-year career as a solo artist.

This two-part retrospective will open with him being interviewed about his time on stage and screen alongside some film footage and a question and answer session with the audience.

Vince, 84, will then close the show with a performance of his biggest hits and other favourites, such as Take Me To Your Heart Again (La Vie En Rose), Roses Of Picardy and the million-selling cover of Edelweiss from the soundtrack to musical The Sound of Music.

He will be accompanied by his band, which comprises Ken McCarthy on piano, Paul Shepherd on drums and Phil Berry on bass.

Long-time friend Anita Harris, who is a singer and former star in the Carry On film series, will also be making a guest appearance to sing a duet.

Vince, who lives in Lower Shiplake, believes now is the right time to hang up his microphone.

He said: “I have enjoyed every single moment of my time in showbusiness and after more than 55 years I feel that I have done my bit.

“Performers have always said to try and go out at the top and if I was going to do it anywhere it was going to be in Henley. I could have done it anywhere but I wanted to do it here in my home town.”

It will be his first “major” show since he came out of retirement in 2012 when he performed for “one night only” at the Ronnie Scott’s jazz club after which he received a standing ovation from a sold-out crowd.

Vince admits that he has been preparing for the show since March when he took to the stage at The Good Old Days of Variety Show at the Cast in Doncaster.

He has also enlisted the help of a vocal coach to make sure he’s in the best possible shape when he returns to the New Street venue.

Vince says: “I had a bit of fear and trepidation because I haven’t done a show in a long time. They say it’s like riding a bike but it is not like that.

“I have been working with a coach on my notes to get in the best shape and I am really confident now.”

He will also be fitting in a series of shows on board a Palladium Legends cruise of the British Isles later this month where he is appearing alongside the likes of Tom O’Connor and The Dreamers to make sure he’s match fit.

The Kenton concert will be one of the first without his beloved wife Annie by his side, who passed away aged 77 from a degenerative lung condition two years ago next month.

Vince says: “The last time I did a show at the Kenton I had Annie on the side of the stage, as she always did when I performed, and she was shouting at me when I forgot something, although I didn’t realise at the time.

“I was only told afterwards that the audience could hear her and loved it — they thought it was part of the act!”

The couple had faced much illness and heartbreak together. Vince was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2004 but a year after he was successfully treated he developed acute myeloid leukaemia although this is now under control.

Then in 2014 they lost their son Athol, who died suddenly in his sleep aged 42. In recognition of the support the couple received, the concert will be raising money for Sue Ryder and Leuka, with 10 per cent of ticket sales being split equally between the charities.

Coventry-born Vince was 23 with pop group The Raindrops when he met Annie, who was then 17, and working for agent Tito Burns, who looked after Cliff Richard and the Drifters, as they were then known, and Dusty Springfield, who is buried at St Mary’s Church in Henley.

After the couple married in 1959, Annie pushed Vince to go it alone, saying: “If you don’t leave them soon, I will leave you” so he handed in his notice.

In 1962 he had his first hit with The Rivers Run Dry but it was Edelweiss five years later that made him a true household name. It stayed at number two in the UK chart for 17 weeks and went platinum.

Vince recalls: “I rang my producer up to ask him how the sales of Edelweiss had gone over the weekend. I expected him to say that I’d sold a couple of hundred but he said ‘are you sitting down’. I thought he was going to say something ghastly but he said we had sold something like 156,940 copies. Then it turned out to be phenomenal.”

The track confounded the critics at a time when the era of “flower power” was in full swing and the top 10 was dominated by the Beatles, Petula Clark and Engelbert Humperdinck.

“It still baffles people,” Vince says. “Edelweiss came out on a Friday and it was in the charts on the Monday and that’s the way sometimes things go. A lot of the disc jockeys didn’t like it and couldn’t believe why it was such a success.

“I believe it was in part down to when it was played in the film, when the characters escaped over the mountains. It also sounds like a national anthem and it sticks in people’s heads.”

Then, to prove his point, he sings a couple of lines: “You look happy to meet me, blossom of snow may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever, Edelweiss, Edelweiss

Bless my homeland forever.”

Across six decades, Vince has released 25 studio albums and recorded theme songs for five movie soundtracks and performed at some of the world’s most prestigious venues, such as the Sydney Opera House and the Royal Albert Hall.

He also went on to host popular TV shows, including They Sold A Million and The Musical Time Machine for the BBC and was also the subject of ITV’s This is Your Life.

Looking back, Vince says what he has enjoyed most about his career has been the people he’s met and performed with along the way.

That’s everyone from the barman in the aptly-named The Prospect pub in Margate where he first performed as a 15-year-old on a family holiday, his piano teacher who helped hone his voice, to the likes of American comedian Jack Benny and actress Shirley MacLaine with whom he shared billing when he had residency at the London Palladium.

He also remains thankful for the time he spent, aged 19, singing for the Royal Signals Band as part of his National Service.

Vince says: “When I joined I didn’t know a piccolo from a carrot but by the end I had learned all the instruments and the way musicians work. It was the best experience ever. It was like going to music college for a couple of years.”

But although the former coal miner is retiring from the stage it’s not the last we will hear of Vince.

In October, he will release The Lost Sessions, which is based on records and tapes that he found in his lock-up.

Vince says: “I found an old suitcase packed full of lost studio session tapes. I was amazed to find inside many unreleased recordings where some were almost 50 years old.

“It will be the final original album of my career and what I am most proud of is that half of the songs originate from the wonderful songwriting partnership with Ernie Dunstall.”

Until then he is looking forward to his Kenton show, adding: “In a strange way, with everything that’s going on, I almost feel born again but you have to stop some time and I’m looking forward to a pretty wonderful night.”

• Tickets for An Evening with Vince Hill on September 22 are £22. To book, call the Kenton Theatre box office on (01491) 575698 or visit www.kentontheatre

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