20 January 2013

Adam Faith

English pop singer, actor and financial journalist Adam Faith (1940 - 2003) started as one of the most popular British teen idols, turned into a top actor and then became a financier. In the early 1960’s he was the first British artist with his initial seven hits lodging in the Top 5, just before the Beatles came along and changed the entire musical landscape.

Adam Faith
German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/106. Photo: EMI, London.

Adam Faith
German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/107. Photo: EMI, London.

Adam Faith was born as Terence (Terry) Nelhams-Wright in London in 1940. The third in a family of five children, Nelhams grew up in a council house in a working class area of London. He started work at 12, delivering and selling newspapers while still at school. Faith began his musical career in 1957, while working as a film cutter in London in the hope of becoming an actor, singing with and managing a skiffle group, The Worried Men. The group played in Soho coffee bars after work, and became the resident band at The 21's Coffee Bar, where they appeared on the BBC Television live music program Six-Five Special. The producer, Jack Good, was impressed by the singer and arranged a solo recording contract with HMV under the name Adam Faith. His debut record (Got a) Heartsick Feeling and Brother Heartache and Sister Tears in January 1958, failed to make the charts. His second release later that year, a cover of Jerry Lee Lewis' High School Confidential, also failed. Faith returned to work as a film cutter at National Studios at Elstree until March 1959, when Barry invited him to audition for a BBC TV rock and roll show, Drumbeat. The producer, Stewart Morris, gave him a contract for three shows, extended to the full 22-week run. Faith became popular through television appearances. His success on Drumbeat enabled another recording contract with EMI's Parlophone label. His next record in 1959, What Do You Want?, written by Les Vandyke and produced by John Barry and John Burgess, received good reviews in the NME and other music papers, as well as being voted a hit on Juke Box Jury. It soared to number one on the British charts in the course of a 19-week run. His pronunciation of the word 'baby' as 'bay-beh' became a catch phrase.

Adam Faith
British postcard by Celebrity Autographs, no. 384. Photo: publicity still for Never Let Go (1960, John Guillermin).

Adam Faith
British fan card by The Adam Faith Fan Club, London. Photo: Parlophone Records.

Matinee-Idol Looks
Adam Faith became an immediate star, with his matinee-idol looks and charismatic screen presence. At the time, he was distinctive for his hiccupping glottal stops and exaggerated pronunciation. He did not write his own material, and much of his early success was through partnership with songwriter Les Vandyke and John Barry, whose arrangements were inspired by Don Costa's pizzicato arrangements for Buddy Holly's It Doesn't Matter Anymore. With songs such as Poor Me (another UK chart topper), Someone Else's Baby (a UK #2) and Don't That Beat All, he established himself as a rival to Cliff Richard in British popular music. Poor Me also later became the title of his first autobiography. He became an actor by taking drama and elocution lessons, and appeared as a pop singer in the film Beat Girl (1959, Edmond T. Gréville), according to Bruce Eder on AllMusic “a fairly gritty British delinquency drama”. His next film Never Let Go (1960, John Guillermin) starred Peter Sellers and Richard Todd. A UK variety tour was followed by a 12-week season at Blackpool Hippodrome and an appearance on the Royal Variety Show. His next release was a double A-side single, Made You/When Johnny Comes Marching Home. Both made the Top Ten, despite a BBC ban for Made You for 'a lewd and salacious lyric'. His 1960 record Lonely Pup (In a Christmas Shop) coincided with his Christmas pantomime and gained a silver disc. Bruce Eder: "Listening to this stuff, it's easy to understand why acts like the Beatles, not to mention ballsier, older rock & rollers from Liverpool like Tony Sheridan and the Big Three held performers like Adam Faith in such contempt - he could be lethally 'cute' on novelty songs like Lonely Pup (In a Christmas Shop), a number four single over Christmas of 1960, and had no compunction about it." His debut album Adam was released in 1960 to critical acclaim for the inventiveness of Barry's arrangements and Faith's own performances. Still only 20 and living with his parents, he bought a house in Hampton Court for £6000, where he moved with his family from their house in Acton. In January 1961, NME reported that Faith had been booked to headline the television show, Sunday Night at the London Palladium. Faith's third film, the comedy What a Whopper (1961, Gilbert Gunn) with Sid James and Carole Lesley, opened to a terrible pasting from the press. On IMDb reviewer Peter Yates writes: “Almost makes Plan 9 seem workable”. Faith’ next film project, Mix Me a Person (1962, Leslie Norman) starring Anne Baxter, received good reviews. This was a thriller in which his character (Harry Jukes) spent a great deal of time behind bars. He did manage to sing a couple of songs, however, en route; the title song and a version of La Bamba.

Adam Faith
British postcard by Real Photograph, no. V. 32. Photo: Valex, Blackpool.

Adam Faith
German postcard by ISV, no. K 9.

Adam Faith's teen pop became less popular in the mid 1960’s with competition from The Beatles. In 1965 he made his only two appearances in the US Billboard Hot 100 chart with It's Alright (#31) and Talk About Love (#97). He made six further albums and 35 singles, with a total of 24 UK chart entries. After a final single in 1968 he parted company with EMI and concentrated on acting in repertory theatre. After a number of small parts, he was given a more substantial role in Night Must Fall, playing opposite Dame Sybil Thorndike. In autumn 1969 he took the lead in a touring production of Billy Liar. Faith began 1970 by appearing on the BBC's review of the sixties music scene, Pop Go The Sixties, performing What Do You Want and Someone Else's Baby live on the show's broadcast on BBC1, on 1 January 1970. Later in the 1970’s, he went into music management, managing Leo Sayer among others. Faith also co-produced Sayer's 1975 album, Another Year, and earlier he had co-produced Roger Daltrey's album, Daltrey (1973). He starred as the eponymous hero in the television series Budgie (1971-1972), about an ex-convict, but his career declined after a car accident in which he almost lost a leg. He restarted with a role as the manipulative manager of rock star David Essex, in Stardust (1974, Michael Apted). He was nominated for a BAFTA award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. In 1980 he starred with Roger Daltrey in McVicar (1980, Tom Clegg), and appeared with Jodie Foster in Foxes (1980, Adrian Lyne). He played the role of James Crane in the TV film Murder on the Orient Express (1985). Faith appeared in another TV series, Love Hurts (1992-1994) starring with Zoë Wanamaker, the BBC series, The House That Jack Built (2002, Nick Philips) and an episode of Murder in Mind (2003). In the 1980’s, Faith became a financial investments advisor, but he still continued to perform. In 1986, he was hired as a financial journalist, by the Daily Mail and its sister paper, The Mail on Sunday. He had a financial involvement with television's Money Channel, but the channel proved unsuccessful and closed in 2001. Faith was declared bankrupt owing a reported £32 million. In 1985, he appeared on a BBC Radio 2 tribute program to James Dean, written and presented by Terence Pettigrew. You're Tearing Me Apart was aired on the 30th anniversary of Dean's death. Dean had been his idol, and the film Rebel Without A Cause had inspired the teenage Faith to become a singer and actor. Faith had had heart problems since 1986, when he had open heart surgery. He became ill after his stage performance in the touring production of Love and Marriage at the Regent Theatre, and died in a hospital in Stoke-on-Trent of a heart attack in 2003. Since 1967, Adam Faith was married to former dancer Jackie Irving and they had one daughter Katya Faith, a television producer.

Adam Faith sings Someone Else's Baby (1960). Source: nyrainbow4 (YouTube).

Scene from Never Let Go (1960) with Peter Sellers and Adam Faith. Source: Bigmanio (YouTube).

Sources: Bruce Eder (AllMusic), Geoff Leonard and Pete Walker (IMDb), Dave Laing (The Guardian), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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