Alvin Stardust: Singer who made a minor splash in the rock'n'roll era then resurfaced to hit the top of the charts in the early 1970s

 

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In the midst of the glam rock era was Alvin Stardust with his jet black hair and black leather singing "My Coo-Ca-Choo". Who was this mysterious character? The record with its vulnerable vocal and pounding beat made the charts and Stardust appeared on Top Of The Pops. As he came off stage, Tony Blackburn confronted him and said, off-camera, "I know you. You're Shane Fenton." Blackburn kept his secret but his cover was soon blown. Alvin Stardust was a former blond rock'n'roll performer, who had had minor hits in the early 1960s and then disappeared from public view.

But before that he was Bernard Jewry, born in Finchley in 1942. His father William was a salesman at Dupont's department store in the Ball's Pond Road, and when an opportunity came to manage their Mansfield store the family moved to Nottinghamshire. His mother Margaret used the spare rooms as a theatrical boarding house, mostly for the Mansfield Palais. Jewry recalled a touring show featuring Jane, a sexy character from the Daily Mirror, as there was a news story when a fan stole her underwear. As a child he had minor parts in the Palais' productions, notably their pantomimes.

The young boy became intrigued by rock'n'roll and when he attended touring shows he would ask the performers to sign his cheap guitar. "I went on the bus to see Buddy Holly and the Crickets in Doncaster," Stardust told me in 2005, "and I got backstage to see them. We were all singing 'Peggy Sue' together and Buddy signed my guitar. I took it everywhere and I sang 'Be Bop A Lula' backstage with Gene Vincent while Eddie Cochran played guitar for us. I got everyone to sign it, including the Beatles at the Royal Albert Hall in 1963, when I was on a show with them. A few years ago I thought I should insure it as it must be worth £20,000 – but I was advised that it was worth £500,000."

Jewry started performing, getting up for an occasional song with Johnny Theakston and the Beat Boys and acting as road manager. Theakston changed the name to Shane Fenton and the Fentones, and they secured an audition for the BBC. Before it could take place, Theakston had died from the repercussions of rheumatic fever, and his mother told him that Johnny would have wanted him to take his place as Shane Fenton. They passed the audition and appeared on Saturday Club with the programme's musical director, Tommy Sanderson, becoming their manager.

Jerry Lordan who had written "Apache" gave them "I'm A Moody Guy" for their first Parlophone single, a sentiment which would have suited Alvin Stardust, and on the B-side was a captivating, light-hearted arrangement of "Five Foot Two, Eyes Of Blue". The single made the Top 30 and the band was soon touring on rock'n'roll package shows. They appeared in the Billy Fury film Play It Cool, directed by Michael Winner, and had their only Top 20 hit with "Cindy's Birthday" in 1962. "I always thought we stood a chance with Lionel Bart's 'Too Young For Sad Memories'," he recalled, "but Lionel went into EMI and angrily told them it was not getting enough plays, so they dropped it completely!"

With the advent of the Beatles, Shane Fenton and the Fentones became yesterday's news. He had married Iris Caldwell, the sister of singer Rory Storm, and they worked as a double act for cruise ships with him singing and Iris dancing. From time to time he would sing in folk clubs, and he had lost his direction.

In 1973 the producer Pete Shelley had written a simple but very effective disco song, "My Coo-Ca-Choo", and he wanted a rock'n'roll singer to perform it. It didn't sound right with Marty Wilde and so he went to Shane Fenton. The record sounded terrific and Magnet Records wanted a new image. "I didn't talk to anybody and I didn't smile," said Stardust, "so I was the moody, untouchable Alvin Stardust. I didn't dare do interviews in case I gave the game away and I was sorry to ignore Tony Blackburn on Top Of The Pops when he recognised me. The image was an amalgam of things – certainly Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou, a bit of Gene Vincent and some of Dave Berry. I loved the way Dave used his hands, so I just pinched a bit from everybody."

The record went to No 2 and was followed by the chart-topping "Jealous Mind". His first album was called The Untouchable Alvin Stardust, giving the impression that he was aloof and sullen, but by then his cover had been blown. Further hits included "Red Dress" and "You You You". In 1981 he returned to the Top 10 with a rock'n'roll treatment of the Nat "King" Cole ballad "Pretend" and in 1984 he scored again with Mike Batt's "I Feel Like Buddy Holly" and John David's "I Won't Run Away".

He had a much publicised break-up with his wife; his new partner was the actress, Liza Goddard. He appeared in several stage shows including Godspell, Phantom Of The Opera and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang but he always returned to his own stage shows. For a time he mocked his Alvin Stardust image by wearing a gigantic wig and huge platform soles. On one much publicised night he fell off them and injured himself – this from a man who promoted the Green Cross Code. Every year he enjoyed doing special shows of Christmas hits. "I always loved 'Lonely This Christmas'," he said, "I'd have loved that one."

He had a new album, Alvin, scheduled for a November release but he died after being recently diagnosed with prostate cancer after a brief illness. His son, Adam Fenton, is a noted contemporary composer, scoring Ali G Indahouse.

SPENCER LEIGH

Bernard William Jewry (Shane Fenton, Alvin Stardust), singer: born Finchley, London 27 September 1942; married Iris Caldwell, Liza Goddard, Julie Paton (two daughters, three sons); died 23 October 2014.

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