Born: October 28, 1945;

Died: August 6, 2020.

WAYNE Fontana, who died at the age of 74 after suffering from cancer, is best remembered for his 1965 hit Game of Love, which he recorded with the Mindbenders.

The lyrics of the song – “The purpose of a man is to love a woman/And the purpose of a woman is to love her man” – may not be entirely in tune with these less binary times. But it’s fair to say that Fontana was entirely in tune with the career experience of many of his Sixties pop star contemporaries, which resulted in incredible highs and lows, and then resurgence.

Fontana recalled his becoming the toast of America when Game of Love soared to the top of the charts. “Suddenly, we were on an American tour and I had top billing ahead of some of my music idols such as Jerry Lee Lewis,” he said. “But I couldn’t take it all in.”

The success would lead to self-destruction. Indeed, the career track of the musician who was born Glyn Geoffrey Ellis was a salutary tale. Born in Manchester, to Mildred and Richard Ellis, the teenage Glyn trained as a telephone engineer apprentice, but his only real connection was to music. “I started singing at school,” he said. “I would jump on stage and sing whether the other kids wanted to hear me or not.”

As a teenager he landed a job in a record shop and, having decided to form a band, met up with other pop hopefuls. They called themselves The Jets and played skiffle, the popular music form of the early Sixties: “We played to pensioners in clubs”.

The band’s future changed dramatically when a talent scout arrived from London to audition them. Led by the 16-year-old Ellis as the frontman they were successful, but Glyn Ellis had to go. The Sixties pop world demanded lead singers have the coolest names – and Glyn wasn’t one of them. “My guitarist suggested I call myself Wayne Fontana because Elvis Presley’s drummer was called DJ Fontana. I agreed that it sounded great.” (The Mindbenders was inspired by the title of a 1963 movie).

Fontana was still just 16 and a pop star in the making. In 1964 the band had their first Top 40 hit with Stop Look And Listen before hitting number five with a cover of Major Lance’s melodic but lyrically bankrupt, Um Um Um Um Um Um.

In 1965, Northern pop groups were now the major force in British music and Fontana and the Mindbenders had a No. 2 hit in the UK with Game of Love, followed by the top position in America. Soon, they were soon booked to tour. “I had a problem getting a visa to enter the States,” Fontana would recall with a smile. “I had to prove we were Number One in America before it was granted.”

The band toured the US with Herman’s Hermits in July and August 1965, producing wild scenes which guitarist Eric Stewart compared with Beatlemania. But Fontana struggled to cope as the group’s subsequent singles flopped. Then in October 1965, he stropped off the stage in the middle of a gig. “I had decided to sing Save the Last Dance for Me, and I could hear the band mumbling, ‘Why are we always doing the slow ones?’”

It’s almost a music industry trope that bands split because of ‘artistic differences.’ “We had disagreements about the kind of music we were recording. It happens when you’re young and in a band,” he said. “They were more rock n’ roll than me.”

They were certainly more eclectic in their musical taste. Eric Stewart, for example, would go on to become part of 10cc, and a major figure in the songwriting industry, with hits such as I’m Not In Love. Fontana embarked upon a solo career and had some success with songs such as Pamela, Pamela (by Manchester-born Graham Gouldman, another 10cc stalwart) which reached No 11 in the British charts.

His personal life was happy, having married Suzanne Davis. And he had a career highlight in 1970 as one of the first to perform at the Glastonbury Festival. But the Seventies were unkind to the Sixties pop hero. He developed problems with alcohol and was later diagnosed with a paranoid illness which at one point led to imprisonment on assault charges.

Thankfully however, Fontana turned his life around and became part of the Sixties revival circuit, touring the country and Europe with the likes of Brian Poole of The Tremeloes fame and Gerry Marsden of Gerry and the Pacemakers and Dave Dee.

Maureen Nolan of the singing sisters group worked on the revival tours with Fontana. “He was such a lovely man,” she recalls. “I know he’d had his problems but they were in the past. What I remember from the tours was summed up by the experience of one night.

“I walked into a room and these pop legends such as Wayne, Brian Poole and Dave Dee were all talking about pasta recipes. It made smile when you contrast that with the life on the road they’d once had. Wayne and the rest of the guys were lovely, respectful, and all had partners at home. It was great to see them loving performing again, and a quieter lifestyle.”

Fontana said in one interview of the revival shows. “There’s nothing to prove now. The pressure’s off.”

His marriage had since dissolved and in 2017 he told one newspaper how he had found calm in his life. “I moved to Sussex four years ago from Spain. I popped in to see my friend Rita after her husband had died. I’d known them both for years and she invited me to stay here. It’s lovely.”

Fontana continued to work, his name remaining prominent over the years, thanks to Game of Love being covered by the Beach Boys, and sampled by Eminem and De La Soul.

What’s obvious is that despite the problem years, he loved his career in pop music. “If I weren’t being paid I’d still do it,” he maintained. “It’s in the blood.”

Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits declared his friend to be a bona fide pop star who had the talent to survive in the most fickle of industries. “There are only two great singers in the northwest of England and he was one of them.” The other was The Hollies’ Allan Clarke.

Wayne Fontana’s survivors include his partner, three children, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.