The Life of British Singer Vince Hill
VINCE HILL is a multi-million selling recording artist best known for his 1960s mega-hit ‘Edelweiss’. To date, Vince has released 24 studio albums, recorded theme songs for 5 motion picture soundtracks and earned a national and international reputation through hit records and sold-out performances at some of the world’s most prestigious concert venues such as the Sydney Opera House, London’s Royal Albert Hall and the London Palladium. Vince has also carved out a successful career in radio and television with popular shows such as ‘They Sold A Million’ (BBC1), ‘Musical Time Machine’ (BBC2), ‘Vince Hill’s Solid Gold Music Show’ (BBC Radio 2) and his own chat show ‘Gas Street’ (ITV) – these regularly commanded top-rated audience figures. In May 2017, Vince celebrates 55 years since he released his first solo record and to mark this very special occasion there will be a variety of CD and download releases which include original album re-issues and his new ‘Legacy’ greatest hits album of original hits and rarities.
Vince was born in the city of Coventry on 16th April 1934 and started his singing career at the tender age of just fifteen after winning a talent contest — but he was no overnight sensation. He took singing lessons and worked as a coal miner to make ends meet but his first lucky break came when he read an advert in the Melody Maker which said The Band of the Royal Corps Of Signals needed a vocalist. He travelled to Catterick camp in Yorkshire where the band was based. Did the audition and got the job. This offered Vince a wonderful way to do his National Service as well as valuable experience performing all around the world. After leaving the Band Vince started singing with some of the popular groups of the day including ‘The Four Others’ and the hugely popular ‘Raindrops’ who established themselves with regular radio and television appearances.
It was at this time in 1957, that Vince met Annie, who would become not only his wife but also the person who would change his life and fortunes forever by making him a solo artist! Vince first met Annie when she was secretary to top London agent Tito Burns who was looking after among others, Cliff Richard and the Drifters (as they were then known). With Annie’s guidance, Vince launched his solo career in May 1962 when Piccadilly Records released his début single ‘The Rivers Run Dry’ — this became Vince’s first UK chart hit and led to further singles and appearances on top TV and radio shows like ‘Parade Of The Pops’ and ‘Stars and Garters’. This exposure ensured that Vince came to the attention of the A&R division of recording group EMI who signed him to their prestigious Columbia label in 1965. This major recording deal produced in just seven years, 10 acclaimed studio albums and a string of hit singles including ‘Take Me To Your Heart’ (to the tune of ‘La Vie En Rose’), ‘Roses Of Picardy’, ‘Love Letters In The Sand’, ‘Look Around (And You’ll Find Me There)’ and his million-selling signature tune ‘Edelweiss‘ (taken from the Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical ‘The Sound Of Music’).
By 1966, Vince’s popularity as a performer was now in full swing and along with a punishing schedule of worldwide concert, radio and television appearances he became the household name he is today. Requests now arrived from big-budget movie producers who wanted chart star ‘Vince Hill’ to record their theme songs – fine examples of this were: ‘Love Me True’ for Kirk Douglas’ 1966 action film ‘Cast A Giant Shadow‘ and ‘When The World Is Ready’ for Yul Brynner’s 1967 adventure movie ‘The Long Duel‘.
Vince Hill’s recorded output for EMI Columbia was a unique master class in vocal technique and he recorded an eclectic selection of songs, everything from standards to show tunes and popular songs of the day. As a fine songwriter in his own right Vince began to contribute more of his own song material co-written with his long time music partner Ernie Dunstall – these featured on albums and as flip sides to his singles. The Dunstall-Hill composition ‘Why Or Where Or When’, was notably recorded by Mr. Lee Grant and topped the New Zealand charts in 1968 and ‘I Never Did As I Was Told’ (from Vince’s album ‘The Singer…and the Songs‘) was covered by Broadway star Robert Goulet in 1971.
By the early seventies, Vince had parted ways with his regular music producer Bob Barratt (Gene Vincent, The Wurzels) who stepped aside for Norman Newell (Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland, Petula Clark). By 1973, Vince switched to parent label EMI Records. His recorded output during this period included 1974’s ‘Sing A Song Of Sedaka‘ where Vince sang a selection of songs written by the great Neil Sedaka. Adding testament to Vince’s huge popularity and respect from his peers this album included a new song which Sedaka wrote especially for Vince entitled ‘Today Is Shelby’s Birthday’.
Also in 1973, Vince started the next phase of his career which was as a television host for his first BBC television series; ‘They Sold A Million’. The show was shown regularly around the world solidifying Vince’s well-deserved ‘Superstar’ status; it featured guest stars such as The Hollies, Sacha Distel, Neil Sedaka, Gene Pitney, The Drifters and Dana. In 1976, Vince was honoured as the subject of ITV’s ‘This Is Your Life’. Next was the hugely successful BBC television series ‘Musical Time Machine’ in 1977. Vince also hosted his own prime-time television show in Canada called ‘Vince Hill At The Club’ – this was also aired in the United States of America.
In 1974, Vince’s long-term partnership with the EMI group came to an end. The following year, he signed to rival label CBS Records (now Sony Music) where over just two years he recorded three stunning albums of popular song material. Though Vince continued to release many fine albums over the ensuing decades, he concentrated mainly on his live performances and continued to play all the top venues around the world as well as appearing on prestigious cruise ships.
Unsurprisingly, Vince’s multitude of talents extended to acting and writing. He made his acting début in 1982 playing the leading role of George Loveless in BBC Radio 4’s musical drama ‘Tolpuddle’ which he created and wrote with acclaimed playwright Alan Plater and songwriter Ernie Dunstall.
In 1984, Vince was given his own music programme for BBC Radio 2 ‘Vince Hill’s Solid Gold Music Show’ which due to its immense popularity with listeners continued on air until 1993. Always ready to take on new challenges, Vince agreed in 1988 to host for ITV his own midday entertainment show ‘Gas Street’ where he made his début as a TV presenter and interviewer.
In 1990, Vince portrayed the composer Ivor Novello, in the stage musical ‘My Dearest Ivor’ receiving rave reviews for his heartfelt and powerful performances. The musical also sparked a return to the EMI group to record an album dedicated to the songs of Ivor Novello entitled; ‘Vince Hill Sings The Ivor Novello Songbook’. Vince’s stage acting continued thereafter and notably included a starring role as the cowardly lion in an adaptation of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ for which he again received sensational reviews.
Vince Hill is a one-off entertainer who is highly respected by not only his peers but also his public; this true Superstar has made a significant contribution to the worlds of music and entertainment. He has conquered every facet of show business in style and he has received every accolade possible but his biggest achievement was his lifelong relationship with Annie, the love of his life. Together they embarked on the most incredible journey which was filled with countless highs. Their undying love for each other also helped them weather the storms of ill health in later life and the tragedy of losing their beloved son, Athol. On the 22 September 2016, Vince’s beloved wife Annie passed away from a degenerative lung condition.
“I married Annie in 1959 and feel truly blessed to have shared so many wonderful years with her. As well as being my soul mate, Annie was a terrific mother to my son Athol and she was also responsible for changing my life and fortunes as a singer.As you can imagine I am deeply heartbroken by Annie’s passing. Thank you Annie for all the unforgettable years together….God bless you.”
Today, Vince Hill, enjoys the picturesque surroundings of his Oxfordshire home located close to the River Thames where he enjoys sunny days afloat in his boat Memsahib with his two precious Grand-children, family and friends.
Although the seasons may come and go there is one thing which remains evergreen and that is VINCE HILL’S WONDERFUL ‘LEGACY OF SONG’….
WRITTEN BY CARFRAE & MUNNS (February 2017)