The Searchers

When you think of The Searchers you think of the distinctive jangling sound of the twelve string guitar and the rich harmonies embellishing their immaculate vocals  which have without doubt assured  The Searchers  of a lasting place the history of  popular music throughout the world.

What you should also consider is longevity as this  iconic legendary group is about to  celebrate its fiftieth year in the pop music indust ry. Many contemporaries disbanded  when their star faded only to reunite once the nostalgia boom kicked in with the onset of the eighties. Not so  The Searchers. There were changes of course but the continuity was unbroken.  From 1962 to now is a very long time and for a band to remain in existence for that length of time, let alone remain a potent force and influence, is rare. Of course the  personnel altered over the years and John McNally, the founding member way back in the days of skiffle and the embryonic stirrings of rock and roll, and Frank Allen, bass man since the middle of 1964, have faithfully preserved and, dare we say it, enhanced their treasured reputation and image to the present day.

Now in their 52nd year of 2014 the players are John McNally (6 string guitar, 12 string guitar and vocals), Frank Allen, bass guitar (front man and vocals), Spencer James (guitar synthesiser and lead vocals) and Scott Ottaway (on drums) the newest recruit having joined them in 2010.

Throughout the ups and downs and vagaries of a notoriously fickle business they rode out the bad times and eventually rode into the good times again all guns blazing. There were moments when they wavered under the pressures of making ends meet when their finances were to say the least shaky. From their early beginnings in the late fifties as a skiffle group formed by John McNally and a bunch of friends, through the heady days of the sixties as teenage idols they have comfortably settled into a position well deserved by a band whose sound has influenced some of the most important artistes of our generation. The Byrds. Tom Petty. Bruce Springsteen. Marshall Crenshaw and so many others. They happily acknowledge their debt to The Searchers.

In 1962, the moment in time from which we are calculating this special anniversary, lead singer Johnny Sandon, a country style vocalist with a deep booming Jim Reeves kind of voice, decided that his opportunity for greater success lay in joining forces with the respected Liverpool band The Remo Four.  The Searchers now reluctantly reduced to a four piece consisting of John McNally, Chris Curtis, Mike Pender and Tony Jackson, the classic line-up that the great British public saw crash into the charts one year on, and who followed in the wake of The Fab Four to establish themselves on the hitherto unassailable American market, threw all of their cards on the table and headed for Hamburg`s Star Club where they shared the stage with great American legends like Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent. The German public loved The Searchers. The fact that the band was almost unknown in their native land mattered not a jot. British rock ruled. They also raved about bands from other parts of the U.K. too and they particularly admired the London outfit Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers whose young bass player, Frank Allen, was to figure in their fortunes in the not too distant future.

When The Beatles took the nation, and finally the world, by storm the way was suddenly open for every other guitar twanging group to grab their chance and The Searchers, in a move that was both enterprising and precocious, took matters into their own hands by recording their own demonstration album on a primitive set up at The Iron Door Club. When it landed on the desk of PYE a& r man Tony Hatch he was mightily impressed. He invited them down to London and in a two-day session they recorded what was to be their first single, their first hit and their first album. Spontaneity was the order of the day in those early days of the beat boom. Sweets For My Sweet, with Tony Jackson singing the lead vocals, shot to number one in the summer of 1963, quickly followed by Sugar & Spice and Needles & Pins.

By the third hit the vocals had been taken over by Pender and Curtis causing dissension in their ranks. Tony, who also provided the vocal on their biggest U.S. success Love Potion Number Nine, was not happy. The hits continued. Don’t Throw Your Love Away; Someday We’re Gonna Love Again. But the atmosphere had deteriorated somewhat and it was decided that Tony would be groomed for a solo career. His replacement was to be Frank Allen, the bassist with The Rebel Rousers who they had hung around with back in the Hamburg days.

When You Walk In The Room, his first single in his new position, proved to be one of their strongest and most enduring of hits. And the run continued with Goodbye My Love; What Have They Done To The Rain; He’s Got No Love; Take Me For What I’m Worth; Bumble Bee (in the U.S), Take It Or Leave It, and a string of others. When the hits no longer came Chris Curtis, disillusioned by the failing singles, quit the group after a 1966 tour of Australia and the Far East to follow a career in production. The Searchers with a new drummer in tow (the second of five to assume that position) entered a period of hard work on the cabaret circuit which proved to be good training for a career where they learned how to put together a professional presentation with light and shade and with changes of pace that would keep an audience enthralled for an hour and more. It is this craft more than any other ingredient that sets them apart from other bands of their era. At the beginning of the eighties following unhappy and unsuccessful periods with Liberty and RCA they were signed by the prestigious American SIRE label to record two of the finest albums of their career. ‘The Searchers’ and ‘Play For Today’ didn’t bring any hits but the music press began to take then very seriously indeed and it was becoming obvious that their heritage was something that was very much valued by those who had followed. At the end of 1985 Mike Pender announced his decision to go solo. It was more of a betrayal than a shock to the others. What was more of a shock was his decision to use the group’s name in some capacity, thus resulting in a lot of bad blood and the necessity for the remaining three to take court action in order to protect themselves. The actions were successful resulting in a court ruling that the name

belonged to McNally and Allen and the court rulings meant that, in theory at least, their rights were established. Spencer James, the one-time vocalist with First Class who had charted with Beach Baby in the eighties, was recruited into their ranks. Not only did he bring a bright new look and a crystal clear and captivating voice but the band also acquired a whole new legion of younger fans, helped on by the excellent Hungry Hearts album which heralded a new era for them.  Somebody Told Me proved to be the standout track, one which earned the fans` vote as the most loved song of all The Searchers` recordings; which is quite an achievement against all the original hits. The change also coincided with the revival of the package tours, which had long since disappeared for artistes of this era.

Suddenly it was hip to be a sixties band again. And The Searchers were in the top strata of the groups touring on the circuit. Possibly the most advantageous move The Searchers made was to introduce the concept of solo concerts. Over two hours of music. No support. A fairly comprehensive musical history of this most influential group spread over an entire evening. Immensely satisfying for the band and sheer heaven to their legion of fans. These rarities. The B-sides. The album tracks. The minor singles that struggled to find a place in a standard length set. And some glorious new tunes they had gathered along the way.  The last two decades have seen some of the most rewarding times for this much admired group. Two sell-out shows at Wembley Stadium with Cliff Richard as guests on the first knight of pop’s thirtieth anniversary celebration. And Millennium New Year’s Eve, again with Cliff, at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham. Cliff has been a wonderful supporter and they have even welcomed him as lead singer for a surprising, if short, guest appearance at that Holy Grail of Golf venues Wentworth during one of the pop knight`s fund raising ventures. The pop industry can be wonderful and it can be tragic. Johnny Sandon was to take his own life. Tony Jackson had gone through a lengthy period of ill health and passed away in August 2003. And then in 2005 it was with deep shock that John and Frank learned of the sudden death from a heart attack of their original drummer Chris Curtis. 

Rock and roll is littered with casualties. But the remaining members of The Searchers, John McNally and Frank Allen along with Spencer James and Scott Ottaway are thankfully in the rudest of health and eager to continue their life of constant touring. Have guitars (and drums), will travel is the motto. Their marvellous all-evening’ solo shows are must see events in the entertainment calendars of sixties aficionados. At a time when you might think life should be taken perhaps a more leisurely pace The Searchers are busier than ever and enjoying a gruelling work rate that others would find daunting. New territories are chasing them constantly and they are always keen to discover fresh fields, or maybe just rediscover old ones.  The U.S. market has opened up to them again in a major way and they are enjoying renewed attention as an important and much respected part of the history of pop.

Indeed Marky Ramone, the drummer with those legendary godfathers of punk, made a special plea to be allowed to sit in with them during a recent New York engagement and was thrilled when they welcomed him onto the stage to join them on their biggest hit. The Ramones were huge Searchers fans and the band had covered Needles And Pins on an album.  The prestigious casino circuits in Canada and America have also embraced The Searchers enthusiastically but going to see this wonderful group is no gamble. You are guaranteed a top class show and some of the finest and most unforgettable music ever put on disc.  Tours of Australia and New Zealand regularly figure in their schedule and if they’re not on a cruise somewhere they are probably in Bangkok or the Middle East. Europe  is pretty much covered each year. Belgium, Norway and Denmark have recently taken them to their hearts once more and of course Germany is a country that they visit so often that a plane trip is like getting on a bus for these guys.

2008 was a very special year, as it saw a welcome and deserved return to the UK album charts with the release of ‘The Very Best of The Searchers’ on the Universal label.

 A 25 track compilation of all their classic hits including, Sweets For My Sweet; Needles and Pins; Don’tThrow Your LoveAway, When You Walk In The Room, Sugar and Spice, and many others. The Searchers have contributed enormously to the British music industry, with record sales well in excess of 40 million.

 As we speak retirement does not seem to be an option. Last year saw them as busy as ever, having visited many countries around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. But it doesn’t stop there, TV, Radio, personal appearances, concert tours, luxury cruises, corporate events, private parties, all figure in their never ending touring schedules. Some countries are yet to be visited and others are just waiting to be rediscovered. If there is a venue to perform in, The Searchers want to play there and they are just waiting to be asked. A career that has lasted this long is not an exercise in survival. It is really about doing what you love and being a part of something you have pride in.