Aug 6, 2020: Wayne Fontana, ‘Game of Love’ British Invasion Singer, Dies

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The British Invasion-era singer Wayne Fontana, whose 1965 single “Game of Love” reached #1 on the Billboard chart in America, died Aug. 6, 2020, of cancer at 74, at Stepping Hill Hospital in Greater Manchester, U.K. His death was confirmed by his friend Peter Noone, the longtime lead vocalist of Herman’s Hermits.

Fontana, whose given name was Glyn Geoffrey Ellis, led the Manchester-based band Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders. The other musicians broke away from the singer the following year and scored a #2 hit on their own, “A Groovy Kind of Love.”

Noone wrote on his Facebook page, “Wayne Wayne don’t go away. After 59 years of friendship, laughter, tears, jail cells and lost brain bells , we have handed over our lovely lead singer Wayne Fontana to the big band in ROCK AND ROLL HEAVEN.”

Ellis was born in Manchester on October 28, 1945, and took his stage name from Elvis Presley’s drummer, D.J. Fontana. The singer had already been in a band called Wayne Fontana and the Jets before forming the Mindbenders (their name came from a 1963 film, The Mind Benders), which also included bassist Bob Lang, drummer Ric Rothwell and guitarist Eric Stewart.

Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, 1965 (L. to R): Bob Lang, Ric Rothwell, Eric Stewart and Wayne Fontana (Photo from Wikipedia)

Signed to Fontana Records—it was, apparently, just a coincidence—Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders first charted in the U.K. with a few R&B covers, including the Major Lance hit “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um,” which peaked at #5 in Britain. Fontana Records’ U.S. branch picked up “Game of Love” for stateside distribution and it bounced to the top of the Billboard chart. The single debuted at #63 in the chart dated March 20, 1965, rose to #40 the following week, then #17, #7, #3 and, during the week of April 24, #1, replacing Freddie and the Dreamers’ “I’m Telling You Now.”

The single only stayed on top for one week before Herman’s Hermits, another British Invasion group, pushed it out of the way with their “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter.”

Fontana and Noone (Photo via Peter Noone’s Facebook page)

Related: The 1965 NME Poll Winners Concert

Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders’ followup record, “It’s Just a Little Bit Too Late,” stalled at #45, effectively ending the frontman’s career in the United States. (He managed a few more solo chart placements in the U.K., notably the #11 “Pamela Pamela,” a Graham Gouldman composition.)

According to stories dating from the era, the parting of Fontana and the group was not amicable. Fontana had become increasingly frustrated as the band proved unable to score another hit. In the midst of a concert late in 1965, he decided he’d had enough and left the band unceremoniously.

The others decided to remain together as a trio, with guitarist Stewart assuming the role of lead vocalist. They remained on Fontana Records and recorded Carole Bayer Sager and Toni Wine’s “A Groovy Kind of Love,” based on a melody by the classical composer Muzio Clementi. (Stewart later co-founded the band 10cc.) That record became their sole hit under the Mindbenders name in the States.

Related: How Fontana and the Mindbenders led to 10cc: A Groovy Kind of Story

Wayne Fontana later in life (date unknown)

Wayne Fontana, meanwhile, continued performing until late in his life, mostly as part of the Solid Silver 60s Shows packaged oldies tours in Europe, but also found himself in legal and financial trouble more than once. According to one report, in Wikipedia, “He poured petrol on the bonnet of a bailiff’s car and set it alight with the bailiff still inside. Fontana was remanded in custody on 25 May 2007. He later appeared at Derby Crown Court dressed as Lady Justice, complete with a sword, scales, crown, cape and dark glasses, and claiming “‘justice is blind.’”

Watch a live clip of Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders performing “Game of Love”

Jeff Tamarkin

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  1. Cisley
    #1 Cisley 7 August, 2022, 14:15

    I only found out this year that they were the band in the movie, To Sir With Love, playing at the end of the film. Loved that song “It’s Getting Harder All the Time” so finally googled to see who it was. That was a surprise! Great band.

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