Stop looking, The Searchers are back

IT'S amazing to think The Searchers are still going strong, in their fifth decade in the fickle and uncertain world of showbiz.Their songs are household names, among the most famous which have graced the charts over the years, and today still bring huge audiences to their feet.

By Richard Cornwell

IT'S amazing to think The Searchers are still going strong, in their fifth decade in the fickle and uncertain world of showbiz.

Their songs are household names, among the most famous which have graced the charts over the years, and today still bring huge audiences to their feet.

Sweets for My Sweet, Love Potion Number Nine, Needles and Pins, Sugar and Spice, When You Walk in the Room, and Don't Throw Your Love Away will all be in their show at Felixstowe's Spa Pavilion on Wednesday .

But while the hits dried up in the late 60s, the band refused to die – instead it adapted to different audiences and changing times, and survived.

"Towards the end of the sixties it was a case of survival – we were hanging on," said band member Frank Allen.

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"The work got less, the money got less, and at that stage we all thought we would have to go back to real life and get proper jobs."

Like so many bands in the swinging sixties, fame and fortune had been almost instant for the group.

In 1962, The Searchers were merely four kids – John McNally, Chris Curtis, Tony Jackson and Mike Pender – making a few extra pounds playing small gigs around their hometown of Liverpool.

A year later – thanks to The Beatles and the Mersey Beat explosion – the four-piece was number one in the British charts with Sweets For My Sweet.

At the very peak of this success, Tony Jackson quit to pursue a solo career.

A replacement had to be found, and the band asked southerner Frank Allen – a pal from their spell playing in Hamburg – to join them.

"I had been playing bass guitar and singing with Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers for about three years and we had had six or seven failed singles by then, so we were quite experienced," said Frank.

"I was delighted when I was asked to join The Searchers. Ever since I was a kid I had wanted to be a rock 'n' roll star – ever since Elvis and Lonnie Donnegan, and Cliff.

"I didn't want to make any musical statement, I just wanted to be up there on stage, looking moody with girls screaming at me.

"I didn't think in reality it would ever happen. We just played in our little groups thinking that one day we would have to get proper jobs."

Throughout the mid-sixties The Searchers were right up there with the Beatles and Stones, hit followed hit. The girls screamed and the boys looked moody.

While The Beatles cocooned themselves in the studios and made music into art, The Searchers' highly individual sound, with its soaring vocal harmonies and rich jangly twelve-string guitars, influenced a host of new performers, such as Tom Petty, The Byrds, Marshall Crenshaw and Bruce Springsteen.

But their own success was starting to fade, causing them serious worries.

"Adapt and survive – that's what you have to do. We didn't want to leave the music business because we love it, but we knew we had to look at things differently if we were going to survive," said Frank.

"We began performing on the cabaret circuit, which was becoming very big at this time, doing one-nighters. We also played ballrooms and then later started playing theatres again.

"We were getting paid well for these shows and it allowed us to survive. We started putting together a pattern for the show, working out how we wanted to do it, mixing old songs and newer ones for what is a very different audience.

"Today's bands, brought up expecting to be huge, to play in stadiums and make a huge amount of money, would not be able to do it. It would be traumatic for them. But we grew up and learned our trade in smaller venues, before stadium rock was invented."

It's been a successful transformation – from screaming hordes of girls making too much noise to hear, to fans who admire, listen and applaud.

And it's brought renewed success for the band – today Frank, John McNally, Spencer James and Eddie Rothe – with regular UK tours, dates in Australia and Germany, and the USA, where they have played massive venues.

"We still get a thrill out of playing live – a huge kick – and we love it. Getting that audience reaction is one of the great joys of life," added Frank.

WEBLINK: www.the-searchers.co.uk

n The Searchers are at the Spa Pavilion on Wednesday November 13 at 7.30pm. Tickets £12, concessions £11, from the box office on 01394 282126.

The Evening Star has three pairs of tickets, together with a CD of The Searchers' Greatest Hits Collection for each lucky winner, to give away.

All you need to do is answer this question: What was The Searchers' first number one single?

Answers on a postcard should be sent to The Evening Star, 105B Hamilton Road, Felixstowe, IP11 7BL, and must include name, address and phone number.

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