Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Manchester's Mindbenders











Once Merseybeat exploded on the scene, record label executives scoured England in hopes of discovering "the next Beatles" for their own labels. Since Manchester was quite close to Liverpool, it was naturally one of the first cities mined for talent. Vocalist Wayne Fontana (born Glyn Ellis, he took his stage name from Elvis' drummer D. J. Fontana) secured a gig at Manchester's Oasis club where he would be auditioning for a producer from Fontana records, Jack Baverstock. In what seemed to be a precursor for disaster, only Bob Lang, the bassist for Wayne's band, showed up for the gig. Wayne was able to draft guitarist Eric Stewart and drummer Rick Rothwell at the last minute and continued with the performance. Jack Baverstock was actually impressed by the band and signed them to Fontana records in early 1963.

Wayne named his group The Mindbenders after a B-movie horror flick being shown in their local cinema. After several minor singles that merely shaved the bottom of the hit parade, their fifth single, a version of the Curtis Mayfield song, "Um Um Um Um Um Um," reached number 5 in the UK charts. In the United States, it was their 1965 single, "Game of Love" that skyrocketed to the top of the charts. Unfortunately, their subsequent choices of singles did not impress as this one had, with each subsequent release peaking lower and lower in both UK and US charts. Blaming each other for the lack of success, Wayne Fontana acrimoniously parted ways with the Mindbenders (read article above) and began a solo career that focused more on ballads and caberet-type songs.

The other three Mindbenders continued to record together, with guitarist Eric Stewart taking over the lead vocals on most songs. In 1966, the Mindbenders reached number 2 on both sides of the Atlantic with a song penned by two teenage girls, Toni Wine and Carole Bayer Sager, which cleverly used a new slang word just beginning to be used by young people, "groovy." The song, "A Groovy Kind of Love," brought huge success and promise to the Mindbenders, but they were unable to continue this success. It is quite ironic that Wayne's backing band he threw together so many years before turned out to have more chart success than he did during his solo career. It is also good to note that he and The Mindbenders mended fences long ago.

Eric Stewart went on to achieve much success in the 1970s as a member of 10cc, along with Graham Gouldman, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme.

The Mindbenders, with or without Wayne, recorded some solid records in the '60s that deserve a good listen. With Wayne, their version of "Where Have You Been?" is top-notch, as well as their records "Stop, Look and Listen," and "She Needs Love," plus many others. Without Wayne, The Mindbenders recorded some killer freakbeat with the song "The Morning After," and their final album, With Woman In Mind, bears touches of both freakbeat and popsike.

(References, Nigel Smithers article on Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, which appeared in the January 1984 issue of Record Collector, plus other articles on the band.)

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