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Gerry And The Pacemakers

+ {Gerry Marsden}

1963 – the year Liverpool was officially the Merseybeat of the nation, and soon, like progenitors The BEATLES, one of around a dozen bands to beat their drum under the British Invasion banner that stormed the States. Incredibly, perhaps, the Gerry Marsden-led quartet were initially more successful than Epstein’s other proteges The BEATLES (with whom they also shared producer George Martin), scoring three successive chart-topping hits from their debut `How Do You Do It?’, `I Like It’ and `You’ll Never Walk Alone’ – an unlikely feat only matched when risque Scousers FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD repeated the formula 21 years later!
Formed in Liverpool, in 1959 as The Mars Bars, singer/lead guitarist Gerry Marsden, his brother Fred (on drums), bassist Les Chadwick and pianist Arthur “Mack” MacMahon, pursued an interest in pop music as skiffle music petered out. Following objections from a certain confectionary manufacturer, Gerry and Co rather sensibly renamed themselves GERRY AND THE PACEMAKERS as they began building up a fanbase at famous Merseyside haunts such as The Cavern. In 1961, Mack was superseded by Les Maguire (ex-UNDERTAKERS) prior to a stint in Hamburg, Germany; there they were spotted by BEATLES manager Brian Epstein, who, in turn, secured the band a contract at Columbia Records.
As previously touched upon, a track rejected by their rivals The BEATLES, `How Do You Do It?’, sparked GERRY AND THE PACEMAKERS’ career in March ‘63, a Mitch Murray-penned tune that duly stayed at No.1 for 3 weeks, and which was knocked off the top spot by the Fab Four’s `From Me To You’. Ironically enough, that said tune’s run was curtailed by another Murray-penned, `I Like It’, a moronically chirpy ditty that scaled the chart for a month. Following a similar chart pattern, but best of the triumvirate, `You’ll Never Walk Alone’ (a cover of the Rodgers & Hammerstein standard from the musical Carousel), had at least some evergreen substance to it; cut in its prime by The BEATLES’ `She Loves You’, the song was later adopted as a terrace anthem by staunch supporters of Liverpool F.C.
The formulaic R&B covers approach adopted by The BEATLES et al, was stepped up slightly with the band’s debut album, HOW DO YOU LIKE IT? (1963) {*6}, a No.2 records that incorporated C&W (e.g. HANK WILLIAMS’ `Jambalaya’) into the mix, while the absence of their first two hits was tantamount to a breech of the trades description act; `A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues’, `Maybellene’, `Slow Down’ and a touch take of the Gershwins’ `Summertime’, pulled up the slack.
Gerry took over on the songwriting front with January ‘64’s `I’m The One’ (scuppered to the top by another ‘Pool combo The SEARCHERS a la `Needles And Pins’), while the group joined The BEATLES, The ROLLING STONES, DAVE CLARK FIVE, et al, in the frontline of the British Invasion when `Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying’ also hit the US Top 5 that summer. Released only Stateside to cash-in on their success, DON’T LET THE SUN CATCH YOU CRYING (1964) {*7}, caught up on all the hits so far with the exception of `I Like It’ (a belatedly-issued Top 20 US smash), which drifted on to SECOND ALBUM (1964) {*5}; note that a third US-only LP, I’LL BE THERE (1965) {*4} came out of the shadows of a soundtrack GERRY AND THE PACEMAKERS had been working since The BEATLES’ ground-breaking cinematic debut, A Hard Day’s Night.
The title stemming from the group’s most enduring Top 10 song, FERRY ‘CROSS THE MERSEY (1965) {*5} was much like the Fab Four’s aforementioned celluloid time-piece, in that two versions differed on both sides of the Atlantic. The title track aside (and US exclusive hit `It’s Gonna Be Alright’), it was the band’s jovial leader of the pack, Marsden, who penned all the group’s nine quirky tunes aboard this rocking Mersey-boat of foot-tapping pop. Many songs didn’t quite come up to the surface (or even up to the 2-minute mark!), easy-going dirges such as `This Thing Called Love’, `Think About Love’, `I’ll Wait For You’ and `Fall In Love’, terribly too twee and romance-riddled for the more discerning rock’n’roll fan. A further BEATLES connection came courtesy of musical director, George Martin, whose orchestra played their part on `All Quiet On The Mersey Front’ (from the UK version), while other lowlights featured Liverpudlians The FOURMOST and CILLA BLACK respectively. Meanwhile, released a month later, the US equivalent marked the introduction of three unsung Merseybeat combos, The Black Knights (featuring Ken Griffiths), The Blackwells and Earl Royce & The Olympics. It was easy to predict the group’s days were indeed numbered.
While the band’s string of UK singles became American hits all over again, their sound was becoming outmoded in the rapidly evolving British music scene. A final UK hit, `Walk Hand In Hand’, scraped the barrel of the Top 30 later that year, but with American interest from the Top 40 title track from their swansong set, GIRL ON A SWING (1966) {*3}, it wasn’t until October ’66 that they threw in the towel.
GERRY MARSDEN cut a number of low-key solo singles over the next decade (all of them flops), although the singer was more in tune for his work in cabaret and children’s television. He re-formed the ‘Pacemakers in the mid-70s for a USA revival tour and a few comeback singles, while he and the group reuniting sporadically thereafter for dates on the golden oldie circuit. Despite its title, 1983’s 20 YEAR ANNIVERSARY ALBUM: 20 YEARS – 20 TRACKS {*2} was in fact good-time re-recordings, while GERRY MARSDEN’s went full circle on his peers for a solo LENNON-McCARTNEY SONGBOOK (1985) {*3}.
June 1985 saw Gerry back at the top of the singles chart when he sang on a charity re-make of `You’ll Never Walk Alone’, credited to The Crowd, with proceeds going towards the Bradford FC Disaster Fund (after a tragic fire that killed over 50 football fans and injured many many more). Another ‘Pacemakers nugget, `Ferry Cross The Mersey’, was dusted down for No.1 reinterpretation in 1989 (for the Hillsborough stadium disaster), courtesy of Stock, Aitken & Waterman, together with The CHRISTIANS, HOLLY JOHNSON, PAUL McCARTNEY, GERRY MARSDEN himself, et al. It would surprise you nought that despite the death of his brother Freddie on 9 December 2006, GERRY AND THE PACEMAKERS still have a place in the hearts of fans old and new on the evergreen nostalgia circuit.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD-LCS // rev-up MCS Aug2015

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