Part 4: To Young For Sad Memories


Alvin Stardust retrieved his first guitar in 2004, which he lost nearly half a century ago.  The prized instrument was signed by a host of stars, including Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Bill Haley, Chuck Berry and the Beatles so he was devastated when his mother misplaced it.  Nearly 50 years later, after his mother's death, he found it in a dusty box at the back of his parents' garage in Nottingham. Worth 1 million pounds, it has been placed in a bank vault.

Colin Miles had started putting together series of great retrospective compilations, firstly for EMI, then on his own "See For Miles" label.  In EMI's NUT EP series in the late 1970's, Shane's Fentons' outing (NUT4) featured all four hits.  This was closely followed by the excellent twenty-track retrospective LP on the See For Miles label which left virtually nothing out from Shane.  The Fentones on the other hand had but a sole entry on this collection, which was strangely none of their four released sides as such.  Their track was the (uncredited) alternate take of "The Breeze And I" - only two takes had been recorded, the other cut of course making it onto their final vinyl 45 with the additional acoustic guitar overdub by Jerry Wilcock. 

Rumour has it that there are a few goodies lurking in EMI's vast vaults somewhere, plus some editions of "Saturday Club" still exist.  (See the "Recordings" page for more.)   It appears that the 1962 "Swing Along With Shane" radio series though may sadly have been lost for good unless any home recordings were made, un unlikely scenario considering the expensive nature of reel-to-reel recorders and tapes at the time.  Nevertheless, there still seems to be plenty of material available for release.  A few years back EMI did express interest in a brand new compilation that would have collected some of the finer sides and include some obscure, rare and (hopefully) unissued cuts still lurking in the vaults.  There are some known candidates, including "That Old Ya-Ya Feeling" which made it onto Scopitone film "video" jukeboxes on the Continent.  Then there is the stereo version of "Somebody Else, Not Me" from the soundtrack LP of the film "It's All Happening".  Other tracks exist, dotted around the "Saturday Club" shows that survived and often in reasonable quality too through off-air fan recordings, and in spite of the BBC's best efforts to clear the vaults of a lot of recordings considered of no further use during the 60's and 70's.  To be fair to the BBC with the high cost of new tapes, the storage of what was often non-repeatable recordings saw all television broadcasting companies of the day - including the ITV regional broadcasters - also fell foul in this way to a greater or lesser extent.  It was worse for the BBC who had amassed thousands of hours of radio broadcasts as well.  If only they knew then what they know now.... 

Some Fentones tracks cut for EMI have seen the light of day on a few instrumental compilations in recent years.  "Gringo" was originally to be the follow-up to "The Mexican", while the more ambitious "Take Five" and the easy-going group original "Micks' tune" are good examples of the diverse material they attempted.  Incidentally, "Gringo" and "Mick's tune" appeared in stereo.  (EMI have worked hard to uncover many hitherto unheard stereo mixes from many artists in their 60's catalogue - on a few occasions they went back to the four-track master tapes where still in existence to produce virgin stereo mixes of tracks previously heard only in mono.)  A couple of tracks from later in their career with Duffy Power post-Shane also saw the light of day, featuring a guesting Ginger Baker on drums.  These finally saw release on a good Duffy Power retrospective but who knows if there is possibly more where they came from. 

While so far that particular comprehensive collection project didn't quite come to into being a new CD compilation of all the groups remastered sides was released (with sleevenotes by Yours Truly - ssh) and especially for the instro fans managed to collect up all four Fentones released sides in one hit.  Still, should any adventurous soul decide to collect these dispersed recordings together and compile said suggested catch-all-plus-rarities collection, it'd be most welcome - I'm sure they'd shift a few copies.  Decent music can be thin on the ground at times. 



The biggest style change in Nineteen-Sixties UK Pop Land was in group presentation - the focus moved toward the concept of the group as a unit without a discernible leader.  When George Martin realised that the Beatles - four diverse personalities providing much charm, wit and expertise - worked as a collective unit he promoted a powerful group template that could survive occasional line-up changes (if necessary) and as long as the overall style didn't change too rapidly it had a chance for a lengthy survival.  This shift in the Pop Landscape was important in the development of Rock but was not quite so dramatic as some historians would have us believe.  Shane Fenton was a popular guy on the UK Pop circuit whose career was doubtless inspired by the hugely successful Cliff Richard and the Shadows.  It was no accident that Cliff's spectacular run of success which survived the Merseybeat onslaught is due to his career path being synonymous with that of the equally-successful Shadows, THE British group before the Beatles.  Their unparalleled success doubtless supported Cliff in the Beat Group era and being industrious and talented original songwriters proved no handicap either.

1962 saw a calm before the storm, where diverse styles and influences existed - instrumental, pop, Jazz (trad and modern), folk, calypso, etc - and what the future held was not yet quite clear, Jazz was even tipped to be the next "big thing".  With the Fentones disappearing from his recordings and both acts often billed as separate acts, it was no surprise when by 1963 Shane Fenton had become a solo singer proper.  With the benefit of hindsight though, it can be seen as an unfortunate move as Decca's loss was proved Parlophone's success with the Beat Boom.  Witness the leap then between Shane's early 1963 release "A Fools Paradise" and the Beat group sound of "Don't Do That" a mere twelve weeks later and you can see the challenges promoting acts from before Merseybeat.  It was just a shame that that particular disc was with "instrumental accompaniment" and not with "the Fentones".  Had they kept mention of his group it might have stood a better chance, however at that time the full devastating effects of the groups scene of the Beat Boom were still to be fully realised on solo singers.

Like fellow Parlophone artist Paul Raven, who ceremonially buried his past on the river Thames before coming back big-style as Gary Glitter, Bernard Jewry's character of Shane Fenton was also laid to rest, although not in quite so dramatic a fashion.  A change in name hadn't even been considered when Shane actually won a new recording contract in the new decade but after being completely re-born as Alvin Stardust, a whole new "glittering" chart career kicked off with "My Coo Ca Choo" in 1973.  If the face seemed a little familiar to long-term Pop Pickers it was because a decade earlier Shane Fenton and his Fentones had made a lasting impact live and produced a solid catalogue of recordings, some of which are real corkers, some hidden away on flipsides.  Had the excellent "I'm A Moody Guy" been made the year before it was (1960) it may well have been regarded as a classic today, perhaps up there with Johnny Kidd's "Shakin' All Over" and Cliff's "Move It".  It still gets the occasional airing on radio and re-release on compilations whose overall content show that home-grown pre-Merseybeat pop was not nearly as bereft of talent and tunes as has often been depicted.  Perhaps the follow-up "Walk Away" may have done better too.  And never forget the Fentones, no mean instrumentalists as demonstrated on tracks like "The Mexican" and "The Breeze And I", plus a number of tracks uncovered by various archive releases over the years.  We'll never know what different circumstances may have produced, perhaps we ought to be grateful that Shane Fenton ever happened at all.

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