'Tales From The Woods' raises a glass also to actor, singer, businessman Adam Faith who died of heart failure on March 8th, aged 62. A week or so after the death of Lonnie Donegan (TFTW obituary issue 24) BBC Radio 2 dedicated an hour-long tribute programme to the skiffle king. Amongst the many guests chosen to speak was Adam Faith and none spoke more eloquently than he, at one point appearing to spit venom regarding the way an uncaring industry had virtually ignored Donegan for decades, more or less echoing the words I had then prepared for Lonnie’s obituary in TFTW. I recall shouting out my agreement as Faith spat out the words. Just months later and he is gone too.
Like Donegan he died whilst on tour except, of course, it was a touring play ‘Love And Marriage’ (by his own admission he was a far better actor than singer). Another trait he shared was a history of heart problems, undergoing a by-pass operation in 1986. Adam showed his faith in Donegan by producing an album for him in 1978 with contributions from an all star guest list that included Elton John and Brian May amongst others. The album ‘Puttin’ On The Style’ reached 51 in the album charts, giving the man he admired so much his first chart entry for 15 years.
Born Terence Nelhams on the 23rd June 1940 in the west London suburb of Acton, the third of five children, to a coach driver father and office cleaner mother. Leaving school at 15, he worked in the film industry progressing from messenger buy to assistant film editor. 1956 would see him joining the Worried Men skiffle group, which included himself on guitar, cousin Dennis Nelhams on guitar, Chas Beaumont on lead guitar and Roger van Engel on washboard and drums, playing first pub and club gigs before securing themselves a residency at London’s legendary ‘2 Is’ coffee bar in old Compton Street, Soho.
The following year the group made their only appearance on the BBC Light Programme’s fledgling Skiffle Club show, performing ‘I Saw The Light’, ‘You Know Baby’, ‘Boll Weevil’, ‘Careless Love’, ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ and ‘This Little Light Of Mine’. Also appearing on the bill, back in December 1957, was pianist Johnny Parker (who played on Humphrey Lyttleton’s ‘Bad Penny Blues’), Shirley Bland and Jimmy MacGregor. By all accounts the total budget for the entire programme was an amazing £56/11/- (barely more than the cost of a meal on one of our gang meet ups now).
In early 1958 Terry Nelhams (as he was still known) left the group to pursue a solo career and a name change to Adam Faith with three unsuccessful singles for EMI which included a pretty dire version of Jerry Lee Lewis’ ‘High School Confidential’ and a marginally better take on Crash Craddock’s ‘Poor Little Boy’. Later members of the Worried Men would include Tony Meehan and Brian Bennett (Shadows) and Rick Hardy who we had the pleasure of booking as a special guest on the Chas McDevitt skiffle night at the Buzz Bar, Battersea a couple of years back.
Before I go any further I would like to express my gratitude to 'Tales From The Woods' contributor and U.K.’s finest expert on British Rock'n'Roll Mr Darren Vidler for providing the background information on Faith’s early years.
The autumn of 1959 would herald a dramatic change in his career with Johnny Worth offering his songwriting skills and John Barry enlisted to provide the backing for a string of hits which began with ‘What Do You Want’ that continued to keep him at the top of the tree for the next half a dozen years. The first six were whilst yours truly was still at school, one of the last biggies was ‘Message To Martha (Kentucky Bluebird)’, by which time I had left home and was living in bed sitter land near Earls Court. Hearing the aforementioned record now I am immediately transported back to a pub I used to frequent where a gawky kid with buck teeth and a kaftan would be forever flipping a coin into the juke box to spin it.
Pop star status allowed an early entrance into films - between 1960 and 1962 he appeared in ‘Beat Girl’, ‘Never Let Go’, ‘What A Whopper’ and ‘Mix Me A Person’, a psychological drama that established his acting credentials. Come 1967 his pop star career had waned allowing him to focus on what he did best… acting. Touring in the lead role in Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall’s ‘Billy Liar’, appearing as Feste in ‘Twelfth Night’ and with Dame Sybil Thorndyke in Emlyn Williams’ ‘Night Must Fall’. In 1970 the highly successful television series ‘Budgie’, written by Keith Waterhouse began in which Adam played the title role as a chirpy cockney just out of prison and scraping a living on the edge of the law.
As the seventies progressed he involved himself with the music industry again managing singer Leo Sayer and producing the first solo album for the lead singer of the Who, Roger Daltry. A car crash in 1973, from which he was lucky to escape with his life, resulted in 1975 with his first recording for seven years, the self explanatory album ‘I Survive’. In 1975 he starred alongside David Essex in David Puttnam’s film ‘Stardust’. He returned to the West End stage in 1976 in ‘City Sugar’. Three more film roles took him up to 1980 with Ian McShane in ‘Yesterday’s Hero’, alongside Roger Daltry in the gangster flick ‘McVicar’ and in ‘Foxes’ with Jodie Foster. The 1980s would se him embarking on a third career as a financial adviser/journalist which by the end of the decade had run its course.
Adam returned to the West End stage in a musical version of ‘Budgie’ followed by another TV series ‘Love Hurts’, toured in a production of the sixties play ‘Alfie’ which he took to Los Angeles where his daughter Katya directed before finishing off the century in a touring production of ‘A Chorus Line’. Back on television in 2001 with a new situation comedy ‘The House That Jack Built’, his wife, the former dancer Jackie Irving, whom he married in 1967 and daughter Katya, born in 1970, survive him.