Gary Glitter wasn’t the only 60s has-been to become a glam icon in the 70s. Thanks to a singer-songwriter called Peter Shelley (not the Buzzcocks singer), minor pop star Shane Fenton assumed the mantle of Alvin Stardust. Among the hits that followed was this sole number 1.
Fenton was originally Bernard William Jewry, born 27 September 1942 in Muswell Hill, Middlesex. The Jewrys moved to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire when he was still young, and his mother ran a boarding house often used by singers and entertainers. He made his stage debut in a pantomime at the age of four. As a boarder at Southwell Minster Collegiate grammar school he fell in love with blues, jazz and rock’n’roll, listening to the American Forces Network and Radio Luxembourg.
Jewry got to know a local band called Johnny Theakstone and the Tremeloes, and he helped them carry their equipment. However, Theakstone died suddenly as a result of a childhood illness that had weakened his heart. The group split up, but a former member was later contacted by the BBC’s Saturday Club radio show. Theakstone had sent in an audition tape, calling himself Shane Fenton. Theakstone’s mother gave the band her blessing to reform and give it a go, and Jewry was asked to join the band as Fenton. Shane Fenton and the Fentones went down well and signed to Parlophone in 1961. Several minor hits followed, most notably Cindy’s Birthday in 1962. Jewry even featured in the Billy Fury vehicle Play It Cool that year, but soon after, the group split.
Jewry spent his years out of the spotlight in music management, and performed at small venues alongside his first wife Iris Caldwell (sister of Rory Storm). In the meantime, Shelley had worked his way into the music industry in the mid-60s, working under EMI producer Norman Newell. He became a talent scout for Decca Records, discovering number 1 artists Amen Corner, among others. In 1973 he co-founded Magnet Records with Michael Levy, and the first release on the label was My Coo Ca Choo, written, produced and performed by Shelley under the alias Alvin Stardust. Not the most original moniker considering David Bowie was still using Ziggy Stardust as a name in 1973. But then, Shelley wasn’t expecting a hit when he appeared on children’s TV show Lift Off with Ayshea under that name.
My Coo Ca Choo, stormed the charts, leaving Shelley with a conundrum as he had no desire to continue performing, but didn’t want to be a one-hit wonder either. Jewry’s manager suggested him and for the second time, he stepped into an alias, only this time he was more successful.
Bowie said that Ziggy was based on 50s rock’n’roller Vince Taylor, and Jewry’s look as Alvin Stardust was an even more overt tribute, with his huge quiff, sideburns and black leather outfit. And the black gloves topped things off nicely, creating a pretty menacing figure. The new Stardust’s first appearance on Top of the Pops, miming to My Coo Ca Choo, caused quite a stir, actually scaring some children at the time, and I have to confess I found it a little unnerving in my teens when I first saw him via a UK Gold repeat. That might sound ridiculous now, but seeing a lone figure hovering in front of some lights, stood stock still and staring down the lens, holding the mic in an unusual way, looked quite menacing. It did the job anyway, and Stardust’s debut went to number two.
Unfortunately, despite second single Jealous Mind getting the all-important top spot, it’s not half as memorable as My Coo Ca Choo and is barely remembered these days. I’d guess that Shelley quickly knocked this off to capitalise on the momentum, in the hope that more of the same would suffice, which it did, but only for a week in 1974.
It’s very similar, plundering that same 50s greaseball-meets-Norman Greenbaum guitar sound, but it’s rather lacklustre. Stardust does a decent job of sounding like Shelley on the chorus (and Buddy Holly with the vocal tics) but sounds different on the verses, making it uneven. But not half as uneven as the guitar track, which is all over the place! I’m not sure if it’s Shelley performing it, but I kind of admire the fact it’s doing its own thing in a way. It’s not enough to save the track though. Which is a shame, as I’ve a soft spot for Stardust.
His hits continued for a while, particularly throughout 1974 with Red Dress and You You You in the top 10, but Good Love Can Never Die (1975) was his last top 20 hit for six years.
Stardust had come along at the tail end of glam, and wasn’t able to adapt quick enough. He did however feature in a famous public information film for the Green Cross Code campaign ‘Children’s Heroes’ in 1976. Stardust’s is the most memorable, due to him pointing menacingly at the naughty children with his one black glove, and incredulously exclaiming ‘you must be out of your tiny minds!’. Watch here, and enjoy.
Stardust had a successful comeback in 1981 with a cover of Pretend, previously a number two hit for Nat ‘King’ Cole in 1953. It was Stardust’s first release on hip indie label Stiff Records, and I can still remember the sleeve for this peering out of my big brother’s record box. The rest of his Stiff releases did indeed stiff, but he was back in the top 10 via Chrysalis with I Feel Like Buddy Holly and I Won’t Run Away in 1984. He attempted to enter Eurovision in 1985 but came third in A Song For Europe with The Clock on the Wall.
It was around this time Stardust moved into the acting game, with a lead role in the Lloyd Webber–Rice musical Cricket in 1986. Other similar roles came in Godspell, David Copperfield – The Musical and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In 1989 he presented his very own Sunday morning children’s series on ITV, It’s Stardust. In 1995, Stardust had a regular role in Channel 4 soap opera Hollyoaks. His second marriage, to actress Liza Goddard, came to an end after he converted to Christianity, and he remarried again, with actress Julie Paton. Adam, a son from his first marriage, became drum’n’bass DJ Adam F in the 90s.
In 2010, Stardust released I Love Rock’n’Roll, an album featuring new recordings of his old hits. Four years later he was weeks away from releasing a brand new album, Alvin, when he died on 23 October from prostate cancer, aged 72.
Written & produced by: Peter Shelley
Weeks at number 1: 1 (9-15 March)
10 March: 10 miners are killed in a methane gas explosion at Golborne Colliery near Wigan, Lancashire.
11 March: Convicted armed robbers Kenneth Littlejohn and brother Keith, who claim to be British spies in the Republic of Ireland, escape from Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison.
15 March: Architect John Poulson, embroiled in a major political bribery scandal in 1972, is jailed for five years for corruption.