Rock & Roll can be said to be going through a phase of major retirements: Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath, Paul Simon, Sir Elton John, Slayer, Kiss, Phill Mogg of UFO and Gerry Marsden, all deciding to call time on their long careers.
The Searchers are another band who have also decided to lay down their instruments for the final time. Performing one last tour ending on March 31, 2019 in Milton Keynes, the band was highly successful between 1961 and 1967, maintaining a loyal following in the UK, Germany, Australia and in the USA. After a sixty-one year career in show-business however, like others who began around the same time, its time to bid a fond farewell to a long-established band.
Founded in 1958 by John McNally and Mike Pender in Liverpool, the Searchers took their name from a John Wayne western movie from the year before and around this time, McNally saw Buddy Holly and the Crickets live during their only UK Tour and it would become a big influence on the young guitarist.
After some changes over the first three years, the band finally settled on a line up in 1961 featuring the following:
- John McNally (Lead Guitar/Backing Vocals),
- Mike Pender (Rhythm Guitar/Lead-Backing Vocals),
- Tony Jackson (Bass Guitar/Lead-Backing Vocals),
- Chris Curtis (Drums/Backing-Lead Vocals).
Recording their first hits in 1961 with Jackson as lead singer, ‘Sugar and Spice’, followed by ‘Sweets for my Sweet’, the band shot to fame alongside the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Hollies, The Rolling Stones and others.
When the Beatles and The Dave Clark Five began performing in the USA, to teenagers looking for something different to Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, the Searchers were one of the acts to also take part in what became known as ‘the British Invasion’ pop culture movement.
Whilst British stations and record companies released ‘Sugar and Spice’ and ‘Sweets for my Sweet’ in 1961, in late 1963, the US Labels decided to use another song from the band's debut album. ‘Love Potion Number 9’ was chosen and it rocketed in to the US Charts at Number 3 on the Billboard 100. The band then released their biggest hit in both the UK and USA at the time, ‘Needles and Pins’, and it landed them a spot on the Ed Sullivan Show, which today can be found on YouTube.
Tensions began to brew in 1964 as the band began to reach the height of their career. Drummer Chris Curtis began to demand that the songs used in their albums and singles were songs he had picked out for the band. After getting Mike Pender to sing on ‘Needles and Pins’ as well as having bassist Tony Jackson sing only one song on the latest album (despite his voice being lead on the singles that made them), things boiled over quickly and Jackson quit the band. Remembering the group Cliff Bennet and the Rebel Rousers from their days performing in the Hamburg clubs, the group brought in Frank Allen, giving them a line-up of:
- Mike Pender (Lead Vocals/Rhythm Guitar),
- John McNally (Lead Guitar/Backing Vocals),
- Frank Allen (Backing Vocals/Bass Guitar),
- Chris Curtis (Drums/Backing Vocals).
The group carried on touring the UK, Europe, America and Australia belting out more hits including; ‘Walk in the Room’, ‘Bumble Bee’ (a hit in Australia only), ‘He's got no Love’, and ‘Saturday Night Out’.
Chris Curtis however, was becoming more and more eccentric and unstable. During a tour of Australia things came to a head and he left the band at its conclusion. He joined together with keyboard player Jon Lord and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore to form a band called Roundabout, the idea being that the three of them would be the centre of the band and other musicians could come and go as they please. Lord and Blackmore quickly grew tired of Curtis’ erratic behaviour and after an incident where Curtis covered an entire apartment room in tin-foil, he was out of the band. Bringing in Ian Paice, the trio then hired Nick Simper and Rod Evans to become Deep Purple, later having a hit with "Hush" before bringing in Roger Glover and Ian Gillian to form the classic rock band we know of today.
With the Searchers now only featuring two original members and John Blunt on the drums replacing Chris Curtis, the hits began to dry up. Nevertheless, the band continued for the next forty-five years, keeping a stable following in the UK, Germany and Australia, eventually ending up on oldies and sixties package tours as well as their own solo dates.
Changes in the line-up would come and go however. In 1970, John Blunt left and Billy Adamson took over drumming for the next eighteen years, retiring to France in 1998 before passing away in 2013. Adamson was replaced by Eddie Roth.
In 1985, tired of the cabaret act the group had become, Mike Pender retired after a performance on December 31st 1985 and in 1986, Spencer James came to take Pender's place in the band. Remaining with them to this day, James was part of a touring line-up for the ‘First Class’ act that had a hit with ‘Beach Baby’ in 1976, with Tony Burrows singing on the original single, despite never doing live work.
The Searchers then carried on with a line up featuring:
- John McNally (Lead Guitar/Backing Vocals)
- Frank Allen (Bass Guitar/Backing-Lead Vocals)
- Spencer James (Rhythm Guitar/Lead Vocals)
- Billy Adamson (Drums) 1970-1998.
- Eddie Roth (Drums/Backing Vocals) 1998-2010.
After three years away from The Searchers, Mike Pender started his own band, Mike Pender's Searchers, sometimes featuring Tony Jackson, during the mid 1990s.
Tony Jackson was not in good health after his stint with Pender and a conviction for threatening to shoot someone with an air gun wasn't helpful either. Plagued by alcohol abuse related illness and diabetes, Jackson died in Nottingham in 2003. Although a tribute on The Searchers website stated that the issues from 1964 were long forgiven and under the bridge, a reunion never was to be, even though Jackson had been in contact with both McNally and Allen.
Chris Curtis had became very reclusive, although occasionally performing with a local band called the Mersey Cats in the early 2000s. The Searchers however, wanted a reunion with Curtis, but he died suddenly in 2005 on February 28th. According to another tribute by the band, they found out the day after he had passed away whilst trying to contact him over a guest appearance.
After releasing a live album on DVD in 2009, Eddie Roth left the Searchers in early 2010 to focus on family life after reuniting and becoming engaged to a child hood sweetheart, singer and Loose Woman panellist Jane McDonald.
The Searchers final line-up featured:
- John McNally (Guitar/Vocals),
- Frank Allen (Bass/Vocals),
- Spencer James (Guitar/Vocals),
- Scott Ottoway (Drums).
I went to see the band live in Christchurch, Dorset (UK) at the Regent Centre on September 7th 2018. The group had recently done a tour without John McNally as he'd spent most of 2017 recovering from a stroke, but at this gig he seemed to be back to his best. Performing their greatest hits along with a few classic covers, like ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, ‘Running Scared’ and ‘Peggy Sue’, the show was a superb look into the past - the boys still have it after such a long career.
The Searchers website is mostly written by Frank Allen, who explained his decision to retire was one leading factor in the band doing the same - particularly since, after fifty-five years with Allen, this would leave McNally as the only Searcher to appear on any of their 1960s hits.
The Searchers farewell tour runs from January 2019 to March 2019 and after a long career all I can say is, don’t be sad its over, be happy it happened.
© Tyler McDowell