Marty Wilde

By Jeremy Miles

TO A GENERATION of teenagers he was the ultimate rock 'n' roll rebel - Britain's answer to Elvis. With his slicked-back hair and mean, moody attitude he would hit the stage and a sea of fans would go crazy.

Marty Wilde chuckles at the memory. "I think Elvis appealed to the girls a bit more than me. I definitely had more of a male following."

Now approaching his 68th birthday and wearing a bright yellow jumper, he doesn't look too much like a threat to public order but in his time, Wilde was a Teddy Boy icon.

Stories of razor-wielding gangs slashing cinema seats and terrorising decent folk in the streets are, of course, largely fictitious.

But in the 1950s, as a country wearied by war emerged blinking into a brave new world, rock 'n' roll was firing up a whole new youth culture.

Among that first generation of English teenagers (the term didn't exist before the 1950s) was Wilde, then simply known as Reg Smith.

The South East Londoner worked in the city as a message boy but by night was playing guitar for a pound a night in Soho. And it was there that he was spotted by impresario Larry Parnes, who changed his name and set him on a career that would bring him a string of hits like Endless Sleep, Donna, Jezebel and Teenager In Love.

With a little help from the blind optimism of youth, he took to stardom without a second thought.

"It was fantastic," he recalls. "I don't think I ever questioned what was happening to me because I always knew that this was what I wanted to do. It just felt totally natural.

"Even if I'd had no success at all I would have still played rock 'n' roll."

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But even Wilde couldn't have guessed that he would still be performing into the 21st century.

Yet last week we found ourselves chatting as he prepared to launch a 50th anniversary concert tour which begins at the Tivoli Theatre in Wimborne on Saturday.

The shows, in which he is backed by The Wildcats, will feature all the big hits plus perennial favourites drawn from a catalogue that extends from the 1950s to the 1980s when daughter Kim also enjoyed pop success.

Wilde admits he's not particularly in tune with contemporary music.

"Of course there's still some fantastic music being produced but I'm afraid I've rather lost touch. I think it's a natural part of the ageing process."

For Wilde there will never be music that has quite such a galvanising effect as rock 'n' roll.

"It had real power back in the Fifties and it still does today," he says.

His personal favourite artiste remains Elvis Presley with Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis coming in second and third.

Wilde never got to see Presley or Holly on stage but he shared a bill with Lewis, also appearing with Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran.

"It was incredible music and just what we needed in this country.

"Everything was so dark and bleak. Rock 'n' roll was exciting and colourful. I'm sure that's why to this day I love bright colours."

Wilde enjoys a huge fan base. Followers range from die-hards with him since the 1950s to those who have enjoyed his regular outings with old mate Joe Brown and those who know him through daughter Kim.

Ironically, Kim has given up the music business and is now enjoying a high-profile career as a gardening expert.

Marty, who helped guide her chart career while writing hits for everyone from Status Quo to Lulu, tells me that now she has been able to help him - by designing the decking for his garden.

Marty Wilde and The Wildcats play The Tivoli Theatre in Wimborne on Saturday. The 50th Anniversary Tour also plays The Pavilion Theatre in Bournemouth on May 10. Born To Rock & Roll: The Greatest Hits is released on UMTV on March 5.

© Jeremy Miles 2022