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(New Musical Express)

Says GENE VINCENT just before he left for America

GENE VINCENT’S British visit ended on Sunday when a limp figure, head bowed, walked slowly across the tarmac at London Airport to the plane waiting to fly him back to America. Death and illness have dogged Vincent while he was here, but of course, he holds no bitter feelings against Britain because of it.

Gene told me last Saturday, just a few hours before the curtain at Nottingham Theatre Royal rang down on what could be his last-ever professional appearance.

“I’ve had a rough time since Christmas, but I don’t blame anyone for that,” he whispered, tired and unwell after the flurry of making arrangements to fly back to the States next day. “I have never really felt fit myself, but to cap that, my wife has been ill, and I’ve lost, first me best friend, then my baby daughter within two months of each other.”

Since the death of Gene’s staunch companion, Eddie Cochran, on Easter Sunday, there has been little rest for Gene. The injuries he received in the crash which killed Cochran have never had a proper opportunity to mend. Personal worries, too, have been slowly tormenting Gene’s peace of mind, coming to a crashing climax last week, when he heard his eighteen-month-old daughter, Melody, had died.

“No, I don’t believe Britain holds a jinx for me,” he said in answer to my question. “It’s a grand place. Audiences have been very kind to me.”

What does the future hold for Gene now? “I’m going to have a long rest,” he said, “and no-one will disturb me, I want a holiday far away from everything that ever remind me of the happenings of the past few months. For the first time in months, I shall be with my wife.”

He added: “After that I really don’t know what will happen. I think I shall give a lot of thought to retiring to become a farmer. I have always been interested in that and I did a lot of it just before my visit to Britain. But it will be some time before I finally decide.”

But though Gene has struggled with his own illness, caused through exhaustion and worry, his fans never knew it. On stage he gave a fantastic performance, so alive and full of energy that few people suspected what he was really going through. It was Gene’s policy to forget personal affairs once on the stage. Lately that became harder and harder, until he felt he could no longer carry on.

The sympathy of almost every follower of Gene and Eddie Cochran went out to Gene when he lost his best friend in that fateful car accident. Hundreds of letters proved it. After a short break, he was back on stage again, just a few days after the accident.

I was one of the people who marvelled at Gene’s amazing energy when he took the stage shaking, capering and jiving in such a manner that it was a wonder his injuries did not give him more trouble than they did!

It was shortly after Eddie Cochran’s death that I asked Gene his personal show business ambitions and he replied: “I would like to become a better performer. I am not yet satisfied with myself and I would like to feel that I could sing rock ‘n’ roll a whole lot better than I do right now.”

To questioners, Gene would always deny he was married, and in answer to the inevitable follow-up: “Are you likely to be soon?! he would laugh it off.

But it took Cochran’s death and Vincent’s shattered bones to reveal that he WAS married. When I asked him on Saturday night why he would never admit he had a wife, he replied: “It was just something that started out with a denial and got bigger.

“I don’t want anyone to think I am not in love with my wife - for I am. She means the world to me. The loss of our baby was a terrible thing for both of us. Now we are grateful we have each other.”

Apart from “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” Gene had, by comparison with his popularity, little chart success. His most recent waxings, “Wild Cat” and “My Heart” made brief appearances in the Top Thirty, but his biggest hit for a long time looks like being his current “Pistol Packin’ Momma,” which, on the third week of release, and it second in the charts, has climbed higher.

“Seeing my name in the charts has always been a thrill to me,” he said. “Another hit was something I needed - not financially so much as morally. It has boosted me up no end. I’m only sorry I have had to cancel variety dates and a summer season in Blackpool.

Then, as if a cloud had been cast over him, Gene’s voice went back to a whisper as he stated: “I hope nobody thinks I have let them down by going back to America.

“I want everyone to understand that it was the best thing I could do under the circumstances. believe me, I wanted to finish those variety dates at Liverpool, Birmingham and Cardiff and then move in on Blackpool Queen’s.”

But believe me, Gene has gone back to the States with lasting impressions of Britain and the British way of life…

On a happier note, he spoke of his most embarrassing moment while he was over here.

“It was when I was doing my first British TV show,” he said. “We were filming it for the next Saturday’s transmission. Well, we’d decided on my number, everything was set, the compere announced it, and the cameras turned on me - and I burst into the wrong song! Gee, I’ve never felt so bad about anything.”