Wayne Fontana was born Glynn Ellis in Manchester, England, on 28 October 1945. He started his musical career at school with a skiffle group called The Velfins and later formed a Rock & Roll outfit called The Jets, with whom he worked the pubs and clubs of Greater Manchester.
In 1963 the group was spotted playing in Manchester’s Oasis Club and asked to undertake an audition for Philips/Fontana Records at the same venue on the following evening in front of a live audience.
The chance was too good to turn down, but the next evening only Wayne (who took his surname from the Fontana Records label) and the bass player (Bob Lang) turned up.
Faced with an extreme dilemma – and in sheer desperation – Wayne turned to two of his musician friends in the audience who had turned up to lend moral support.
So with Eric Stewart on guitar and Ric Rothwell on drums, they managed to weave together enough material to pass the audition, impress the record company and land the lucrative contract.
The band now needed a name, so – stimulated by a recent movie at the local cinema – the group became known as The Mindbenders.
Their debut Fontana single – released a few months later – was a cover version of Bo Diddley‘s Roadrunner, which enjoyed moderate success.
A year and two more singles later, though, they finally hit the chart jackpot with a cover of Major Lance’s American hit Um Um Um Um Um Um which reached #2 in Britain, and in 1965 their single Game Of Love topped the British and American charts.
During the same year, Wayne’s ‘backing band’ (The Mindbenders) cut a single of their own – called Groovy Kind Of Love – and when the single reached the Top 3, they decided to branch out on their own, leaving Wayne to concentrate on a solo career.
While Wayne moved into cabaret, the band enjoyed considerable success over the following months – including two more hit singles and an appearance in the movie To Sir With Love (1966) – before finally retiring to the climes of Northern Variety clubs.
Wayne Fontana made the chart again with four singles from 1965 to 1966, the most successful of which was Pamela Pamela which reached #11 in 1966.
Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman returned in the 1970s with 10cc, while Wayne spent his time touring the British cabaret circuit and frequently touring America with Rock & Roll revival shows.
He was remanded in custody in 2007 after admitting to setting fire to a debt collector’s car.
The judge criticised Fontana for arriving at Derby Crown Court dressed as the Lady of Justice. He had to hand a sword and scales to guards but kept on a crown, cape and dark glasses, claiming “justice is blind”.
Fontana denied ‘arson with intent to endanger life’, claiming the bailiff had escaped the vehicle before it set alight. But he admitted ‘arson being reckless to whether life is endangered’, saying he did, in fact, ignite the fuel and set the car on fire.
Fontana died from cancer on 6 August 2020, at Stepping Hill Hospital, Stockport, at the age of 74.