Pop singer Wayne Fontana, who scored a major transatlantic hit with The Game of Love in 1965, has died aged 74 at hospital in Stockport “with his long-term partner by his side”, according to a press representative. The cause of death has not been announced.
Born Glyn Geoffrey Ellis in the Levenshulme area of Manchester, Fontana took his stage name from the Elvis Presley drummer DJ Fontana. Backed by his band, the Mindbenders, he released his debut single in 1963 and further singles grew ever more successful: Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um reached No 5 in the UK in 1964, with The Game of Love reaching No 2 the following year and going on to become his signature song.
Fontana and the Mindbenders were part of the Beatles-driven “British invasion” of the US by British pop bands and topped the charts there with the slightly retitled Game of Love. It was later covered by the Beach Boys, and sampled by Eminem and De La Soul.
Fontana split with the Mindbenders and had some success under his own name, including Pamela, Pamela, which reached No 11 in the UK in 1966, but that was his last hit.
Fontana recovered from problems with alcohol in the 1970s and returned to performing, including in nostalgia revue shows, but experienced mental health problems later in life and was diagnosed with a paranoid illness. He was arrested on an arson charge in 2005 after setting fire to a car owned by a bailiff who had come to his house for an unpaid congestion charge fine, and who was inside the car as it was set alight. He faced a possible 14 years in prison, though was eventually sentenced to 11 months, which had already been served.
DJ Tony Blackburn paid tribute, saying: “He was a lovely guy and gave us some great songs.” Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits wrote: “After 59 years of friendship, laughter, tears, jail cells and lost brain bells [sic], we have handed over our lovely lead singer Wayne Fontana to the big band in rock and roll heaven.”