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Ricky Valance: the first Welshman at Number One

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James McLaren James McLaren | 08:22 UK time, Monday, 23 April 2012

A new series, They Sold A Million, starts tomorrow on BBC One Wales (10.35pm), examining the careers of some of the Welsh people whose charisma, talent and sheer chutzpah led to them selling records by the bucketload. First up it's one of the all-time classic 'one hit wonders': Ricky Valance.

Rick Valance performing in 2011

Rick Valance performing in 2011

Born David Spencer in 1940 in Ynysddu, in the Sirhowy Valley in south Wales, he was the eldest of seven children. Times were tough, and upon leaving school he tried various jobs before joining the RAF aged 17.

After being discharged, he decided to pursue a career in singing. He signed to EMI and recorded his cover of Ray Peterson's US hit Tell Laura I Love Her. In September 1960 it hit the top of the hit parade, driven by Radio Luxembourg support. The BBC were less supportive, apparently banning it.

Listen to Valance talking about the song and its 'banning' on the BBC Wales programme The Dragon's Breath:

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It was a controversial release at the time, dealing with the death of a loved one. Today the song has been a hit in 14 countries, and has sold over seven million copies. He released several follow-ups, including Movin' Away, Jimmy's Girl and Six Boys, but none of them were significant hits.

Ricky carved out a career singing on the cabaret and nostalgia circuit. Then, following a bout of severe depression and a nervous breakdown he became a born-again Christian.

Today Ricky Valance still performs, singing country songs, rock 'n' roll and ballads. And no, he didn't sing La Bamba. That was Ritchie Valens.

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