Early in the 1960's the band were building up a good reputation and went strength to strength in the Nottinghamshire area. Alvin recalls:
“I used to travel to some of the "gigs" they did and help to carry amplifiers and
guitars. I used to go to their rehearsals occasionally. But suddenly, Johnny was
taken ill. Apparently he had had an illness as a child, that had left him with a
weak heart. Within a couple of days he was admitted into Mansfield General Hospital
and a few days later he died. We were all devastated. The Tremolo’s just lost heart
and began to drift apart. Then, a few weeks after Johnny’s death, there was a knock
on my front door. It was Johnny’s Mum and Dad. They had unexpectedly received a letter
from the BBC in London, asking if "Shane Fenton and The Beat Boys" could go down
to London to do a live radio program called "Saturday Club". It seems that Johnny
and the band had made a tape of themselves and sent it addressed to "The BBC, London",
with a note inside the package that read. "This is a tape recording of our band.
We would like to do a radio audition. If this letter goes to the wrong department,
could you please pass it on". Can you imagine these days what would happen to a package
like that. Straight in the bin!! Johnny had thought that his surname was not "American"
enough so he changed it to "Fenton". Then he took the name "Shane" after seeing the
Alan Ladd film “Shane”. Johnny’s Mum and Dad asked me if I would talk to the Tremolo’s
to see if they would reform the band using the new name and asked if I would be the
singer and use the name that Johnny had thought of. The band line up of Jerry Wilcox
and Mick Eyre on lead and rhythm guitars, Bill Bonney on bass and Tony Hinchcliffe
on drums, had just lost heart after Johnny’s death and were ready to quit, but with
some persuasion agreed to reform and Twenty-four hours later "Shane Fenton and The
Fentones" was re-born.
The band travelled to the BBC Studios in Birmingham and Jimmy Grant, the producer of Saturday Club came up to see them. The group passed the audition with flying colours. They were offered a slot on the radio show “Saturday Club” on the BBC presented by Brian Matthews. The show was recorded in Birmingham & the performance was a great success and the group were regular guests on the programme. The programmes musical director, Tommy Sanderson, saw potential in the group, and he became their manager and within a matter of months, secured a Parlophone recording contract, with George Martin as their producer. At first the shows were recorded in Birmingham, then later, moved to London’s Paris Studios in Lower Regent Street. The band made their Easy Beat debut on the 17th September 1961.
The first single release was due to be a rendition of the George Formby number “Five Foot Two, Eyes Of Blue”, but after a meeting in the offices of music publishers Francis, Day and Hunter, between Shane and another of Tommy Sanderson’s acts, Jerry Lordan, it was decided that Lordan, who had just written hits for Cliff Richard and Apache for The Shadows, would pen a song for Shane. During the meeting Lordan took note of Shane’s natural shyness and laid back demeanour, and it inspired him to write "I'm A Moody Guy", which contains distinctive trademarks; a shifting chord sequence line with unexpected extra beats and notes, plus a catchy melody. On the recording Tommy Sanderson played the piano and Jerry Lordan was on the electric ukulele. The record was released as a double A side at the end of September 1961, reaching number 21 in the charts.
On the 3rd October 1961, Shane Fenton is launched at a press reception at the Centre
Of Sound, Archer Street, Piccadilly Circus in London and three days later they make
their first TV appearance on the TV show “Thank Your Lucky Stars”, alongside Cliff
Richard & The Shadows, The Karl Denver Trio & Helen Shapiro.
On stage along with a solid stage set they also cut fine figures, Shane in a silver lame suit and the Fentones in matching pink suits, sporting white Fender guitars. They quickly became part of the pre Beatles era, alongside home grown talents, Cliff Richard, Joe Brown, Marty Wilde, Billy Fury etc. Joining many of the established acts of the early 60s they travelled the length and breadth of the country on the pop-package concert tours and also starred on legendary television shows like "Thank Your Lucky Stars" and "Ready Steady Go!"
January 1962 saw the groups second release, another penned by Jerry Lordan, “Walk Away,” which featured on the B side was a gentle ballad, “Fallen Leaves On The Ground,” written by Shane himself. The release was promoted on "Saturday Club" and "Thank Your Lucky Stars", as well as on the seemingly non-ending touring circuit. On Sunday 11th February they appeared at the East Ham Granada where they headlined alongside Joe Brown and his Bruvvers and Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. These "package" tours were essential in the days before mass radio and television exposure. 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 ' born in Lincolnshire) were littered wild anecdotes and Journalist Chris Welch later described the antics of the 'Lardies' (Shane Fenton, Eden Kane, etc.), whose affected superior air and attitudes were mercilessly sabotaged by Browns 'more irreverent' Rebels ' .
“Walk Away” wasn’t a success, only reaching 38 in the charts, so for their third release, in March 1962, George Martin took the group to Abbey Road studios to record “It’s All Over Now”. The pleasant, shuffling number somehow worked and marked the start of a toning-down spell for the group. It opened with a repeated bass riff, echoed on guitar, the Fentones augmented on the topside by Martin himself on piano and Shane squeezing as much emotional mileage out of the song as he could. Hiding away on the B side was an absolute gem, the self-penned “Rave On” inspired “Why Little Girl” which, had it been promoted as the new single, could have provided the group with their big breakthrough.
On the 8 Aug 1962 they headlined at the Cavern in Liverpool, which featured The Beatles and The Big Three. Also this year they had a radio show on the BBC called “Swing along with Shane” which were recorded in London.
The forth release for the group was a cover of the teen ballad called “Cindy’s Birthday”, recorded by American TV teen star Johnny Crawford. It's a nicely-paced song cleanly produced 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 cleanly picked guitar solo the whole mix bathed in that cool Abbey Road echo it was released in mid-September. However it was accompanied by good chunk of rock 'n' roll hidden away on the flip side. "It's Gonna Take Magic ", part written by Cliff Richards' producer Norrie Paramour came from the soundtrack of the Billy Fury film "Play It Cool" in which Shane and his group made an appearance. Reaching as high as 19 in the charts, this was to be the bands last hit.
Nobody at EMI knew this at the time, of course, and after the pleasing sign of three increasingly successful hits came the pleasant country-ish "Too Young For Sad Memories", seen as a good bet for another hit. The Lional Bart penned ballad sounded like the kind of material Frank Ifield was about to have major-league hits with ("I Remember You", "Don't Blame Me"). The single, whose Rock-a-Billy b-side, "You're Telling Me " was notable for Shane's 'over-dubbed' call and response vocal. But this didn’t even enter the charts.
By early 1963 Shane was being touted as a solo artist, but The Fentones continued to back Shane on a Larry Parnes package tour, which featured Joe Brown and the Bruvvers, The Tornados, Eden Kane, Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers and one Rolf Harris who'd had big hits with the novelty "Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport" and the spiritual "Sun Arise". The Arena Ballroom featured Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages, The Brook Brothers and Freddie and the Dreamers, amongst others in the three-hour-plus show. Shane was promoting his new single, the showy "I Ain't Got Nobody" coupled with "Hey Miss Ruby", though this change in style did not result in a hit.
On 18th April 1963 the Beatles appeared in a live concert at the Royal Albert Hall for the first time, the second half of which was broadcast live on BBC radio. Besides them and Shane Fenton and the Fentones, the all-star bill featured Del Shannon, the Springfields, Lance Percival, Rolf Harris, the Vernons Girls, Kenny Lynch and George Melly. All acts sang "Mack The Knife" in the shows Grand Finale, after which Shane drove John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and young actress Jane Asher over to journalist friend Brian Hutchins' flat in Chelsea and Paul started famously dating Asher soon after. Shane picked up with his ex-girlfriend Iris Caldwell, sister of Rory Storme (Ringo Starr left his band for the Beatles).
Shane and his band had played at the Tower Ballroom in Liverpool where Iris worked as a dancer; they later married. While all this was going on Shanes' next 45 rpm offering, Eden Kane's "A Fools' Paradise" was credited to him alone and fared little better than the last. It may well have been chart material just twelve months previously, indeed, Shane's own catchy "You Need Love" on the flip sounded more in keeping with the emerging Mersey beat. His catchy composition "Don't Do That " featured a fully-rounded sound and Fenton's double-tracked vocals in the style of Billy J. Kramer.
It was during this year that Shane chose to remain loyal to his manager Tommy Sanderson, by turning down the opportunity to sign for Brian Epstein which in turn lost him the chance to record Lennon & McCartney’s “Do You Want To Know A Secret?”, Subsequently given to Billy J Kramer to take into the top five in the charts. Apart from showing a lack of good judgement, their reluctance to update their sound proved costly. The Fentones parted company with Shane altogether in 1964.
An appearance in the Tommy Steele movie, "It's All Happening" (A.K.A. "The Dream Maker") followed.
There was one more outing for the group on Parlophone, although with Parlophone's increased workload with Brian Epstein 's now big-selling stable of groups this didn't appear until May 1964. "Hey Lulu", co-written by Clint Ballard Jr, writer of hits for artists like the Hollies and the Swinging Blue Jeans.
Alvin recalls of his time:
“The touring was fantastic fun at the time. But very, very hard work. We’d often play sixty-odd theatres in as many days, travelling to each venue by coach. One day playing Southampton, the next day Newcastle. But towards the end, everything was getting on my nerves, I suppose I was having too much of a good thing. So I decided to get out of the whole scene. And I wanted to quit while on the crest of a wave. “So after the release of what turned out to be our last record “It’s All Over Now”, I opted out and for a short time I chanced my arm in management.”
During 1964-65 Shane started touring the Cabaret circuit,with his wife Iris as a song and dance act, touring the North of England. Also taking the act to holiday resorts in Spain, France, Germany, The USA and even on Trans-Atlantic liners. Shane joins forces with ex-boss Tommy Sanderson and briefly enjoyed some success as a manager with both The Hollies & Lulu amongst his clientele.
Between 1965-69 Shane reforms “Shane Fenton & The Fentones” later to become “The Shane Fenton Trio”, again touring the North of England and Europe.