Date of Birth: 27 September 1942, East London, UK
Birth Name: Bernard William Jewry
Nicknames: Alvin Stardust
Alvin Stardust was a leather-clad glam rocker who found fame in the 1970s with My Coo Ca Choo and Jealous Mind and he was one of the more bizarre glam rock sensations of the 1970s.
As an extravagantly quiffed, leather-clad rocker with preposterous sideburns and chunky rings worn over tight-fitting leather gloves, he inspired a generation of children to strut their stuff and perform strange contortions with their fingers as they responded to the invitation in his signature hit My Coo Ca Choo to “groove on the mat”.
Stardust went on to have four Top 10 hits in quick succession in the early 1970s. The most famous were My Coo Ca Choo and Jealous Mind, although Red Dress and You You You were not far behind. Yet his career breakthrough, on Top of the Pops in November 1973, came about after a chapter of accidents in which he twice found fame by inheriting a name never intended for him.
One month before his TOTP appearance, an entirely different Alvin Stardust had made his television debut. To promote his new record label, Magnet Records, the songwriter and producer Peter Shelley had invented “Alvin Stardust” and composed, sung and recorded a one-off single, My Coo Ca Choo. When, to his alarm, the song won the imaginary Alvin a slot on a television pop show, he felt he had no option but to bluff it out. “I dressed the part a glitter-suited recluse who had been living in Spain and to my surprise it went on the charts the next week,” Shelley recalled.
But he had no wish to repeat the performance, so he began to look around for someone else to assume the character in time for a fast-approaching booking on Top of the Pops. After Marty Wilde turned him down, he approached a less well-known pop star called Shane Fenton (real name Bernard Jewry), who had enjoyed modest fame in the early 1960s as the frontman of Shane Fenton and the Fentones.
Fenton’s chiselled features and striking blond mane had won him a select female following, so for Alvin Stardust he felt he had to reinvent himself. Modelling himself on Jack Palance in Shane, he clad himself in head-to-toe black leather and, the night before his date with destiny, dyed his hair black in his bathroom sink. When he looked in the mirror, however, he saw black streaks down the side of his face and purple stains all over his hands, which he found impossible to scrub off. “There was no way I could go on TV looking like that,” he recalled.
The next morning found him at a theatrical wigmakers: “They had these long black sideburns, perfect for covering up the stains on my face, so they fitted them right then and there.” Across the road in a ladies’ outfitters, the new Alvin Stardust bought a pair of black leather gloves to cover his stained hands.
With Shelley’s imaginary pop star now reincarnated as the enigmatic man in black, My Coo Ca Choo rocketed to No 2 in Britain , turning the quirkily theatrical Stardust into an overnight pop sensation. By the time his follow-up, Jealous Mind, reached No 1 in March 1974, he had won a Music Week award as best male live act. For a 31-year old who had been playing working men’s clubs, it was a dream come true.
Stardust’s time at the top was brief, but it won him a loyal following of fans who responded to his passion for music and his refusal to take himself too seriously. As a result, in later years he was able to make a decent living on the nostalgia tour circuit.
He almost did not live to enjoy it. On one of his early outings as Stardust he went on stage in a leather catsuit that covered him from throat to ankle: “The only place for the heat to escape was from my face, so three-quarters of the way through ... I just collapsed. They had to cut off my catsuit in the ambulance. My manager was saying: 'Not the suit!’ Then I stopped breathing, so they fed a pipe down my throat. All my manager could say was: 'You know he’s got to sing tomorrow, don’t you?’ ”
An only child, he was born Bernard William Jewry in east London on September 27 1942 and grew up at Mansfield. He was educated as a boarder at Southwell Minster Grammar School, where he and a couple of friends formed the Jewry Rhythm Band. Meanwhile, he found work as a roadie for a group called Shane Fenton and the Beat Boys, which became Shane Fenton and the Fentones.
In the early 1960s the group recorded a demo tape and mailed it to the BBC, but while they were waiting for a reply the band’s 17-year-old singer, Shane Fenton, died from rheumatic fever. The rest of the band decided to break up, but when the BBC invited them to an audition, Fenton’s mother asked the band to stay together in honour of her son’s memory. Jewry was asked to become the new Shane Fenton.
In the early 1960s the group had a handful of hits in the UK singles chart: I’m a Moody Guy; Walk Away; It’s All Over Now; and Cindy’s Birthday, which reached the No 19 slot in 1962. At one point the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, approached “Shane” and offered to manage him. “He said he had a song called Do You Want To Know A Secret? which was ideal for me,” Stardust recalled. But he turned him down. A few weeks later the song launched Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas to the kind of stardom that eluded Shane Fenton and the Fentones.
Although Stardust’s successes in the 1970s tended to dwarf the rest of his career, he enjoyed a revival in the 1980s when he signed up to Stiff Records and found himself back in the Top 10 with Pretend, which peaked at No 4 in 1981. He went on to have three more consecutive hits for Chrysalis Records.
During the 1990s Stardust concentrated on acting, with television roles that included that of Greg Andersen in Hollyoaks. He later moved into musical theatre, starring as the Child Catcher in the West End hit Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
But the nostalgia rock circuit was his bread and butter. A review of an Alvin Stardust performance at Skegness in 2010 described him bursting on to the stage clad in black leather “in a roar of motorcycles” and doing “outrageously sensual things to Duffy’s Mercy and Johnny Kidd’s Shakin’ All Over”.
Stardust never lost his sense of humour. When asked recently by OK! magazine for his thoughts on Jimmy Savile, he replied: “If I’d known that Jimmy Savile was abusing children, I think I would have lynched him,” before adding: “[But] a lot of things were going on [at the time] that we didn’t know about. Nobody knew Gary Glitter was bald.”
Stardust was thrice married, first to Iris Caldwell; secondly to the actress Liza Goddard; and thirdly to the actress and choreographer Julie Paton.
Alvin Stardust, born September 27 1942, died October 23 2014