Part 2: Walk Away to Cindy's Birthday

The group promoted their new single "Walk Away" on a tour of Granada Cinemas which criss-crossed the countryside as per usual.  "Package tours" like these would see as many dates as possible crammed into a tight schedule in a seemingly haphazard fashion up and down the country, and were essential in the days before mass radio and television exposure.  Pretty much as soon as a date was accepted, that was it - these bookings were their bread-and-butter.  One night you'd be playing in Bournemouth, the next in Middlesbrough, back to Bristol, etc.  Amazing feats of driving took place, sometimes all through the night to reach a far-flung quarter of the British Isles, especially when you consider only one partially-opened motorway (the M1) existed and each destination was often a days ride from the last.  Yet it was the only way the public at large could see their favourite pop and rock acts playing their latest releases, and if you'd gone down well you may have a bigger hit on your hands into the bargain. 

The "Big Star Show of 1962" was laid on by Larry Parnes, whose "stable of stars" like Marty Wilde, Duffy Power and Billy Fury powered the first real wave of UK Rock 'n' Roll.  January 1962 saw the band playing in Worcester alongside the Temperance Seven, the Echoes, Johnny Gentle, Michael Cox, Nero and the Gladiators all compered by Freddie Earle.  On Sunday 11th February they appeared at the East Ham Granada where they headlined along Joe Brown and his Bruvvers and Johnny Kidd and the Pirates (left).  March 17th took them to Walthamstow with one of the best line-up of acts you could hope to see (above-right).  By now Fury was using the Tornados as his backing band so this night fans saw five recent, current and near-future top five hit acts.  Through the long treks and sometimes questionable accommodation, a certain type of camaraderie often developed between some of the so-called 'rival' acts.  Fights over running order and material were common, as were pranks, including an elaborate hoax which involved the supposed shooting of Kestrels vocalist Roger Greenaway (later half of David and Jonathan).  Any Package tour featuring Joe Brown (the 'Cockney' actually born in Lincolnshire) were littered with wild anecdotes and Journalist Chris Welch later described the antics of the 'Lardies' (Shane Fenton, Eden Kane, etc.), whose effected superior air and attitudes were mercilessly sabotaged by Browns' more irreverent 'Rebels'.

Posing in Sherwood Forest, 1961

Away from the fun and hard slog though, there was concern for Fenton as the atmospheric "Walk Away" had stopped short of their breakthrough's success at number 38 before wandering off the charts.  Pop music in Britain had entered a transitional period, the press claiming that rock 'n' roll was on the way out and citing Trad Jazz as the next major force.  1962 was the year that the Beatles were doing the rounds of the record companies without success, famously so at Decca where their manager Brian Epstein was told in no uncertain terms that groups of guitars were "on the way out."  Action was necessary to prevent Parlophone's recent 'guitar group' signing slipping away un-noticed.  This year featured hit records made in a diverse array of styles and George Martin pulled the group into Abbey Road to record a revival of the old music Hall song "It's All Over Now".  As cynical as it may sound, record companies would not unreasonably try to extract further revenue from old material they owned the copyright to before that ran out, as evidenced by the flipside of their first single. 

British pop and rock from the pre-Beat era is littered with examples of such revivals and not all of them came off.  Johnny Kidd and the Pirates hit the charts with their first release, the classic rocker "Please Don't Touch", whom HMV saw fit to follow with the plaintive ballad "If You Were The Only Girl In The World", possibly a great song in its day but totally unsuited to the Pirates and it bombed.  The pleasant, shuffling number "It's All Over Now" somehow worked though and marked the start of a toning-down spell for Fenton.  The track opened with a repeated off-set bass riff, echoed on guitar, the Fentones augmented on the topside by Martin himself on piano and Fenton squeezing as much emotional mileage out of the song as he could.  Hidden away on the flip though is a real gem; "Why Little Girl" (click here to play an extract) features a great Fentones rock 'n' roll performance which proves the UK Beat cupboard certainly wasn't bare before the Beatles, just that the punters and promoters didn't always know where to look.  This confident performance with double-tracked vocals sounds as if it may have been a contender for the A-side.  As it stood, the single found itself in the shops a bare fortnight after "Walk Away" wandered off the charts.

With their leader, the group were getting a good name on the pop circuit, as evidenced by appearing at Liverpool's famous Cavern club who decided to feature some of the popular groups from outside Liverpool in addition to the top local bands.  One such gig took place on 8th August 1962 where they headlined a bill that included the Beatles and the Big Three.  Continued touring helped "It's All Over Now" creep up the charts to eventually settle at number 29, an improvement on their previous outing but still not ideal.  At least momentum had been sustained.  Around this time, the powers-that-be decided to try their luck with the Fentones as a recording act in their own right, and they actually dented the charts with a breezy rocker titled "The Mexican".  You can read more about the Fentones' interesting sub-career here.  But it was their boss's career that was under the most scrutiny at this time.

Sixteen year old American TV star Johnny Crawford ("The Rifleman") had put a few songs in the American top 40 but then pulled a no. 8 hit out of the hat with a Teen ballad called "Cindy's Birthday" (c/w "Something Special, Del-fi 4178) in the summer of 1962.  It was quickly picked up on this side of the Pond to be Fenton's next A-side in an attempt to get the top ten breakthrough before the original got a chance.  It's a nicely-paced song with an easy-going melody and the group (augmented by piano) are accompanied by a string section in keeping with many from that year.  With a neatly picked guitar solo, this clean production was enhanced by the whole mix bathed in that cool Abbey Road echo.  It was released in mid-September, accompanied by another good chunk of original rock 'n' roll hidden away on the flipside.  "It's Gonna Take Magic" was part written by Cliff Richards' recording producer Norrie Paramor was a fine performance.  Fenton and his group made an appearance in Billy Fury's new film "Play It Cool" where they were featured playing the song.  In the film itself Shane and the lads commence the song which is extended to somewhere near three minutes by repeating a guitar section and an additional lengthy piano solo, after which Billy is invited to jump up onstage and proceeds to 'snarl' the final chorus of the song!  This film features a host of contemporary stars and you can read more about it and its star on the excellent Billy Fury site.  you can also watch a low-quality version of this track on YouTube.  The exposure did no harm to the prospects of "Cindy's Birthday" which with high hopes resting on it entered the lower reaches of the UK charts during early July.

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