Wayne Fontana, singer with the Mindbenders, who hit the big time with The Game of Love – obituary

The Mindbenders, l-r, Wayne Fontana, Eric Stewart, Bob Lang, Ric Rothwell - GAB Archive/Redferns
The Mindbenders, l-r, Wayne Fontana, Eric Stewart, Bob Lang, Ric Rothwell - GAB Archive/Redferns

Wayne Fontana, who has died aged 74, was the founder and former lead singer of Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, a Manchester-based band who shot to fame in 1965 with The Game of Love, which topped the charts in the US and went to No 2 in the UK.

Due to “musical differences” with other members, however, Fontana abruptly left the group in the middle of a concert in October 1965. Subsequently the more concisely named Mindbenders released Groovy Kind of Love, which went to No 2 on both sides of the Atlantic, while Fontana struggled to achieve further chart success as a solo artist.

His real name was Glyn Geoffrey Ellis and he was born on October 28 1945 at Levenshulme, Manchester. After leaving school he worked in a record shop where, in 1962, he teamed up with Terry Morton, Stuart Sirett, Bob Lang and Ian “Skin” Lucas and changed his name to Wayne Fontana (in tribute to Elvis Presley’s drummer DJ Fontana) to form Wayne Fontana and the Jets.

In 1963 the band secured an audition at Manchester’s Oasis Club to which only Fontana and Lang turned up, so at the last moment two bystanders at the bar, guitarist Eric Stewart (later of 10cc) and drummer Ric Rothwell, were drafted in.

Although their performance was dire, the talent scout saw enough potential to get them a recording contract and they became Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders – Mindbenders after a Dirk Bogarde horror movie they had just seen.

Their first hit in Britain was the curiously titled Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, released in 1964. It reached No 5 in the charts and led to a tour with the American singer Brenda Lee. Then came The Game Of Love (“The purpose of a man is to love a woman/ And the purpose of a woman is to love her man/ So come on baby … let’s play/ The game of (love) love (love) love”) in February 1965.

The second of three albums the band released in 1965
The second of three albums the band released in 1965

By the middle of the year, however, disagreements had begun to show. “One night on stage, I decided to sing Save the Last Dance for Me and I could hear the band mumbling, ‘Why are we always doing the slow ones?’,” Fontana recalled. In October 1965, midway through a live show, he walked off stage and out of the band.

He struggled to achieve chart success as a solo artist, though his Pamela, Pamela, written by Graham Gouldman – another future member of 10cc – reached No 11 in the UK in early 1967.

“I continued recording and moved to Spain – and later America for three years, where I also toured,” Fontana told the Express in 2017. “I did shows aboard the cruise liners then returned to England, where I got a contract to write and record new songs. Then I went into self-retirement, drank too much and didn’t know where I was half the time.”

The Mindbenders in 1965 - Mirrorpix
The Mindbenders in 1965 - Mirrorpix

From 1977 he toured regularly with the The Solid Silver 60s Show, recalling that he was often asked to sing A Groovy Kind Of Love: “I couldn’t because that was the Mindbenders’ hit after I’d left.”

His later years were punctuated by brushes with the law. In 2005, he overturned a bankruptcy order made against him in error but was arrested after police were called by bailiffs who had gone to his home in Glossop, Derbyshire, to speak to him about an unpaid congestion charge bill. Fontana had poured petrol on the bonnet of their car and set it alight with the bailiffs still inside.

Remanded in custody in May 2007, he later appeared at Derby Crown Court dressed as the Old Bailey’s Lady of Justice, complete with a sword, scales, crown, cape and dark glasses, claiming “justice is blind”.

Fontana's solo debut LP
Fontana's solo debut LP

“I’m sick of living under this New World Order,” he wrote on his blog. “Let’s claim our country back. We could make it a fancy-dress protest against our fascist government’s inhumanity to its fellow man, woman and families.”

He was subsequently sentenced to 11 months for setting fire to the car but was freed because he had served the term while being detained under the Mental Health Act.

In March 2011 Fontana was arrested at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, after failing to appear in court in Wakefield over an unpaid speeding fine.

Wayne Fontana’s marriage to Suzanne Davis was dissolved. He is survived by a long-term partner and three children.

Wayne Fontana, born October 28 1945, died August 6 2020