Johnny Theakstone is the forgotten man of early British rock & roll. Many others vie for the title, but none of them even come close. Dead before his 17th birthday, unknown and therefore publicly unmourned, Theakstone would nevertheless live on when his group, Shane Fenton & the Fentones, persuaded roadie Bernard Jewry to slip into the title role to help them through a crisis -- and then he was born again a decade later, when Jewry reinvented himself as glam rocker Alvin Stardust.
Originally named Johnny Theakstone & the Tremolos, the band lined up as Theakstone (vocals), Gerry Wilcox (guitar), Mick Hay (rhythm guitar), future Hollies drummer Bobby Elliott, and a bassist remembered only as Bonny; they changed their name in late 1960 when, having recorded an audition tape to mail to the BBC's Saturday Club pop show, Theakstone decided they needed a name change. Adopting "Shane" from the writing credits of a recent Gene Vincent single, and "Fenton" from a garage he passed on the way home from a gig, the newly named Shane Fenton & the Fentones dropped their precious tape in the post, and waited. They were still awaiting a reply when Theakstone died, a consequence of the rheumatic fever he suffered as a child. The band intended folding, but when the BBC invited the band to London for a studio test, Theakstone's mother asked them to continue as a tribute to her son, her one request being that they retain the old band name. Jewry became Shane Fenton that same afternoon.
Early in 1961, the newly reconstituted Shane Fenton & the Fentones sailed through the audition; the show's MC, Tommy Sanderson, became their manager and, by the end of the week, he'd landed them a deal with EMI. September 1961 saw the band release its debut single, "I'm a Moody Guy," and on October 3rd they were introduced to the media at the Center of Sound in central London. They made their television debut on Thank Your Lucky Stars, and the record peaked at number 19.
Through early 1962, Shane Fenton & the Fentones joined one of Larry Parnes' package tours, sharing the bill with Billy Fury & the Tornadoes, Karl Denver, and Peter Jay. But though their live show went over well, three successive singles passed by unnoticed: "Walk Away" and "It's All Over Now" for the full group, and the instrumental "Lover's Guitar" by the Fentones alone. June brought a respite within this gathering gloom, when "Cindy's Birthday" returned the band to the upper echelons of the chart. But then it was back to square one as "Too Young for Sad Memories" and "I Ain't Got Nobody" sunk into oblivion, to be joined by another of the Fentones' instrumental efforts, "The Breeze and I."
A second Parnes tour in early 1963 found the band at the bottom of the bill and, in April 1963, Shane Fenton & the Fentones broke up. Fenton went solo, but further 45s "A Fool's Paradise" and "Don't Do That" sank and, for a time, he moved into management, linking with Tommy Sanderson to oversee Bobby Elliott's new band, the Hollies. The following year he was performing again, teaming with his wife, Iris Caldwell (sister of Rory Storm), as Shane Fenton & Iris, playing the cabaret clubs of northern England. And when 1972 brought him a brand new record deal, he'd been Shane Fenton for so many years he didn't even think about finding another name. However, his manager, Hal Carter, did -- and a year or so later, as the singer's new single, "My Coo Ca Choo," awaited its release, he unveiled the new alias. He has been Alvin Stardust ever since. ~ Dave Thompson