Growing up in England in the seventies was a great big challenge for your music tastes. On May 7th 1970 I was 12 years old, it would be two years before I would learn to play the guitar, but the music had already begun to leave its mark. Having an elder brother by seven years meant that we had Pop music in the house, so his Beatles singles and EP’s were being played from when I was approximately five years old. From this early age, it was The Beatles and various early sixties bands, plus Glenn Miller and Swing from my Mum and Frank Sinatra and Shirley Bassey (and Holst) from my Dad.
I started buying records in 1967 and still have the singles that I bought then but what is interesting is the point when you find yourself finding your own music, music that your parents and your brother don’t understand. So somewhere between the ages of twelve and fourteen I discovered Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Hawkwind albums, David Bowie, Mott The Hoople, Roxy Music and Alice Cooper too but they also had great singles. At the same time that these bands were around – heavier music like Black Sabbath and Grand Funk Railroad – albums bands, there was a lighter more commercial style of music appealing to young people like Mud, Wizzard and The Sweet that were seen more as singles bands than album bands. Interestingly with a mix of R’n’R with star shaped guitars and saxophones but all under the banner of Glam – singles bands. There was also T.Rex with better and madder lyrics and a history, strangely as hippie folkies as well as oddities like disgraced panto refugee Gary Glitter and ex skinhead band Slade. Dualling guitar band Wishbone Ash, Prog conceptualists Genesis and Yes and dramatists Van Der Graaf Generator stood firmly on the other side. Two definite divides with Soul music blazing in its own brilliant path amongst it all.
There were musical discoveries every day on the radio, through friends at school and on the TV – Top Of The Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test. You could see or hear The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Bob Dylan, Motown bands, Roy Harper, Be Bop Deluxe, Uriah Heep, Rory Gallagher, Pink Floyd, Pink Fairies – how did one form a musical taste whilst being exposed to music from so many different places simultaneously. So, I took on a very broad outlook and to this day find myself listening to and liking music in very different styles, simple, complex, groovy and grooveless, in and out of tune, catchy and difficult. Later Punk hit and turned everything on its head and when that happened I had no problem listening to Steve Hillage and Sex Pistols.
But there in the early seventies in between the sixties and Punk, there was lots of music on the periphery of all the music that I bought, followed and loved, there was also the uncool chart hits. Not Brotherhood Of Man 0r Tony Orlando and Dawn but the ones in between them and the Underground music or Glam, acts like Alvin Stardust and Lynsey de Paul. They were two commercial artists that were quite different to each other, one very middle of the road the other cashing in on Glam. They had hits around the same time as each other and weren’t ever ‘credible’ to a discerning music audience. Still, it was with great sadness that I read over the last couple of weeks that Lynsey de Paul had died of a suspected brain haemorrhage at the age of 64 and more recently Alvin Stardust had died of prostate cancer aged 72. Somewhere inside of me I found I had a massive soft spot for them both.
Lynsey de Paul born Lynsey Monkton Rubin was the first woman to win an Ivor Novello award and she won it twice, first for Won’t Somebody Dance With Me and secondly for No Honestly, the latter theme to an extremely popular British sitcom and the first an autobiographical tale of her chubby self as a kid that seemed rather out of place in her repertoire as she became recognised as one of the most attactive female artists of the day. She dated the stars, Sean Connery, James Coburn, Roy Wood, Ringo Starr, Dudley Moore, Bernie Taupin and Chas Chandler. Although she never married she became a powerful woman in the music industry not just as a songwriter (she also co-wrote Storm In A Teacup with Ron Roker for The Fortunes and co-wrote Dancing On A Saturday Night for and with Barry Blue, both big hits) but as a voice for musicians, taking on a role in the Performing Rights Society. Her hit single Sugar Me was covered by Nancy Sinatra, she wrote for Shirley Bassey and she was the British entry with Mike Moran with the 1977 Eurovision song contest. She wrote or co-wrote fourteen hit songs. She had a series of interviews with songwriters that you can see on You Tube and from this you sense that she was a serious woman who didn’t stand for any B.S. and famously took her manager the notorious Don Arden to court and won. She was also outspoken and campaigned to stop violence against women. She was a pianist and talented cartoonist having attended Hornsey art college, teetotal, non-smoking, vegetarian, animal lover.
When someone like Jack Bruce dies the music world mourns but with someone like Lynsey de Paul she is mourned as an attractive celebrity rather than as the fascinating and interesting person that she was. Her music might not do it for you but never the less she was more than she seemed to the casual observer. The same can be said for Alvin Stardust, aka, Shane Fenton whose real name was Bernard William Jewry.
His story is quite fascinating because when he became Shane Fenton he wasn’t actually the real Shane Fenton! Jewry was a roadie for the teenage Shane Fenton and the Fentones, the band sent in a tape to the BBC to audition for a TV appearance and before they got an answer the real Shane Fenton (real name Johnny Theakston) died. Soon after the BBC replied and invited them to London. Thekaston’s Mum asked the band to stay together and attend the audition. Desperate, the band asked Jewry to take on Shane Fenton’s identity. He did and the audition was a success and all this led to them being signed to Parlophone. They had a hit with Cindy’s Birthday and I’m A Moody Guy reaching either side of the Top twenty. Other singles charted in the Top forty but later as their single releases failed to chart and as music trends changed, the band split up and Jewry/Fenton disappeared from view. He worked in management for a spell and also played some low key shows with his first wife Iris Caldwell. Caldwell was the sister of Rory Storm from Rory Storm and The Hurricanes, the band that supplied The Beatles with Ringo and Iris had been the girlfriend of both Paul McCartney and George Harrison.
Incredibly years later the scenario that led to Bernard William Jewry to take on the pseudonym of someone else occurred again. Peter Shelley had worked in the music business gaining experience in different fields of publishing and production and as an A&R man discovered both Amen Corner and Ten Years After as well as Giles, Giles and Fripp that led to the formation of King Crimson. In 1973 he formed Magnet records with Michael Levy and tried his hand at Pop stardom. He created Alvin Stardust and performed as him on TV but when he found he had a record in the charts he decided he didn’t want to be the frontman for his own project. The following week Bernard/Shane became Alvin Stardust and began a career as the black clad mystery man with the hair from different eras, mixed into one glamorous bouffant – My Coo Ca Choo was a No. 2 hit. The way he held the microphone and didn’t smile along with the black gloves and the rings had Stardust topping the charts with the next single Jealous Mind (see the two very similar videos below) and for the next couple of years was a regular on Top Of The Pops and in the British charts. It was a cross between Presley, Proby, Orbison and Glam. It was completely and utterly meaningless but as an ex Pantomime actor he pulled it off beautifully without a hint of irony.
Stardust kept his name until his death this month starring in musicals, pantos, making records, playing shows and working as an all round entertainer, never actually playing himself. Even his pseudonyms weren’t his pseudonyms. Unlike Lynsey, Bernard was married three times, his second wife Liza Goddard (who played Clancy in Skippy) went on to star in the follow up series to No Honestly called Yes Honestly! Another thread that brings them together – a diminutive, feisty, attractive and talented songwriter with a voice for strong women and a man who slipped into the role of a frontman like an actor taking on a role.These lesser stars of TV and panto, light hits and with images of celebrity will never be remembered much past their image, even if they were strong, talented people in their own special way.
One question- if Peter Shelley sang the original My Coo Ca Choo and engaged Shane Fenton as his Alvin Stardust, was Fenton miming to Shelley’s voice? When I listen back to Shane Fenton and The Fentones, Bernard William Jewry had a great voice and they were a seriously underrated group, hampered by the style that gave them their hits and lost in the mists of time.
So thanks for the light entertainment Lynsey and Bernard now I must get back to my Van Der Graaf Generator albums.