American singer Roy Orbison looked every inch the family man when he flew into Manchester’s Ringway Airport in August 1975.
Carrying his newborn son Alexander, Orbison led the way from the concourse with his wife Barbara Jakobs and five-year-old son Roy behind him.
The ‘Big O’ was smiling in his distinctive dark glasses – his trademark eyewear rather than a defence against the Manchester sun!
The legend behind the classic hits Crying, Only the Lonely, Running Scared and Oh Pretty Woman, was in the city to record a concert at Belle Vue.
It was a time when his career was starting to revive after a 10-year lull. His 1975 UK visit might even have been a turning point.
Orbison was rebuilding his life after two tragedies. His first wife Claudette died in a motorcycle accident in June 1966 and his two eldest sons, Roy Duane and Tony, were killed in a house fire two years later in September 1968.
A compilation album of Orbison’s greatest hits went to Number One in the UK charts in January 1976 and he toured with the Eagles for much of the year after that.
What’s more, Linda Ronstadt’s version of Orbison’s 1963 hit Blue Bayou stayed in the US Billboard charts for 24 weeks in 1977. It became her signature tune.
It was back in 1963 that Orbison first arrived in Manchester on tour with the Beatles. He was originally the main act, but things soon changed when the Fab Four’s fame took off.
Orbison was asked to replace Duane Eddy on the tour which started on May 18th 1963 in the unlikely setting of the Adelphi Theatre, Slough.
Also on the bill were Merseybeat band Gerry and the Pacemakers, singer David Macbeth and one-hit wonder Louise Cordet, known for her single I’m Just a Baby released in 1962.
At the start of the tour, a bemused Orbison apparently asked ‘What’s a Beatle, anyway?’ to which John Lennon tapped him on the shoulder and replied: ‘I am’.
On the opening night, Orbison played 14 encores at the start of the show before Lennon and Paul McCartney physically restrained him from going back on stage – such was his popularity.
The tour reached the Odeon, Manchester, on May 30th, by which time the Beatles had formed a deep respect for Orbison and his music.
He forged a strong friendship with George Harrison which would later see the pair playing together in the 1980s’ band the Travelling Wilburys along with Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty.
Born in Vernon, Texas, in April 1936, Orbison sang with a country and western band as a teenager before being signed by Sun Records in 1956.
He worked with Monument Records from 1960 to 1966 – an extraordinary period in his career when 22 of his singles reached the US Billboard Top 40.
Naturally shy and plagued with stage fright, Orbison chose to appear on stage wearing black clothes to match his dyed black hair and dark glasses. He sang about vulnerability and emotional pain.
After the 1963 Beatles tour, Orbison visited the UK more regularly. Like the Fab four, he was besieged by teenage girls. In Ireland the adulation got so intense that police had to stop concerts to remove fans from the stage.
Orbison travelled further afield with the Rolling Stones in 1965 to play Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. He had already toured the countries previously with the Beach Boys.
Also in 1965, Orbison was pictured with Marianne Faithfull, the future partner of Rolling Stones’ lead singer Mick Jagger. She even managed to remove his semi-permanent spectacles.
A year later, in an awful foreshadowing of his wife’s accident, Orbison broke his foot after falling off a motorcycle in front of thousands of fans on a UK racetrack. He had to perform subsequent shows in a cast.
On May 1st 1966, one month before his wife’s death, Orbison joined Manchester band Herman’s Hermits in one of the greatest UK concert line-ups of all time.
The occasion was the New Musical Express Poll-winners concert at the Empire Pool, Wembley. Also on the bill were the Walker Brothers, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Spencer Davis Group, Cliff Richard and the Shadows, Dusty Springfield and the Small Faces.
Most importantly, the event in front of 10,000 screaming teenagers, was the Beatles’ final scheduled live performance in Britain.
The group only performed live together again in the impromptu session on top of the Apple building in London in January 1969.
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