2008 – Rod Allen was born Rodney Bainbridge on March 31, 1944 in Leicester, England where his parents were shopkeepers. His interest in popular music was fired by skiffle, in particular by the voice and guitar of Lonnie Donegan, whose fan club he joined at the age of 12.
When he was 14, the family moved to the Sparkbrook district of Birmingham and Rod attended Moseley grammar school. After working for the Co-operative Insurance Society for 18 months, he became a full-time musician. He had formed an acoustic guitar group, the Clifftones, with friends Glen Dale and Barry Pritchard. In 1963 they went electric, with Rod mastering the bass guitar; they added a drummer and keyboards player. They were managed by the flamboyant concert promoter Reg Calvert, who prevailed upon them to accompany a singer Calvert had renamed “Robbie Hood”. The Clifftones inevitably became the Merry Men, dressed in jerkins and green tights.
They emerged at the end of this period as the Fortunes Rhythm Group. By now, Rod had dropped the name Bainbridge and chosen Allen from a telephone directory. They worked up a series of songs associated with Dionne Warwick, Gene Pitney and Broadway theatre. So eclectic was their repertoire that Calvert would often challenge an audience: “Name any tune and if the Fortunes can’t play it, you win five shillings!” Founder guitarist Pritchard later admitted: “Reg held competitions and, if people shouted a number that we couldn’t do, he would pay them half-a-crown. It was no big deal. There might be 20 people shouting out, so Reg would pick out numbers that we knew.”
In 1963, they won a beat contest at the Gay Tower Ballroom in Edgbaston and were signed by Decca. The Fortunes’ second single for the label was the plaintive ballad Caroline, which was adopted as a theme tune by the pirate radio station of that name: Radio Caroline. Calvert was also entangled in the shadowy world of pirate radio and was shot and killed in 1966 as a result of rivalry with another pirate station owner.
The Fortunes’ first hit was in 1965, when You’ve Got Your Troubles reached No 2 in Britain and No 7 in the US. The song, composed by leading Tin Pan Alley writers Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook, featured Allen’s soaring lead vocals and Pritchard’s wonderful alto. The Fortunes stood out from other 1960s beat groups because of their distinctive four-part harmonies. The follow-up hit was Here It Comes Again. The group then toured the US and released This Golden Ring on their return. It reached the Top 20.
Although its success was slightly marred initially when the Fortunes admitted in a magazine interview that they had not played the instruments on the recording, they were booked to appear at the prestigious NME Poll Winners Show at Wembley Arena, where they performed This Golden Ring before several thousand screaming teenagers.
The Fortunes issued a further 10 singles in the 1960s. None was a hit, although several featured songs written by Allen and other group members, the best of which was The Idol by Allen and Pritchard. Despite their lack of chart success, the band prospered by playing the cabaret club circuit and by recording jingles for several television and cinema commercials. The most distinctive of these was Allen’s rendition of It’s the Real Thing, the Coca-Cola theme.
The band’s recording career was briefly revived in the early 1970s, when Greenaway and Cook supplied them with two more hit songs, Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling and Freedom Come, Freedom Go. These were followed by Storm in a Teacup, co-written by Lindsey De Paul and Barry Blue.
These successes renewed demand for live appearances by the Fortunes and the group kept on in steady work right up to the present. Allen played his last show with the group at Yeovil last November, shortly after he was diagnosed with liver cancer. Rod fronted an ever changing version of The Fortunes from 1963 up to his death of liver cancer at age 63 on January 10, 2008 The Fortunes have a full engagement book for 2008, and the surviving group members have said that it was his wish that they should continue after his death.