Spotlight on ……

The Searchers

The Searchers are an English beat group, which emerged as part of the 1960s Merseybeat scene along with the Beatles, the Hollies, the Fourmost, the Merseybeats, the Swinging Blue Jeans, and Gerry and the Pacemakers.

The band's hits include a remake of the Drifters' 1961 hit, "Sweets for My Sweet"; remakes of Jackie DeShannon's "Needles and Pins" and "When You Walk In The Room"; an original song written for them, "Sugar and Spice"; a cover of the Orlons' "Don't Throw Your Love Away"; and a cover of the Clovers' "Love Potion No. 9". With the Swinging Blue Jeans, the Searchers tied for the second group from Liverpool, after the Beatles, to have a hit in the US when their "Needles and Pins" and the Swinging Blue Jeans' "Hippy Hippy Shake" both reached the Hot 100 on 7 March 1964.

Originally founded as a skiffle group in Liverpool in 1959 by John McNally and Mike Pender, the band took their name from the classic 1956 John Ford western The Searchers. Pender claims that the name was his idea, but McNally ascribes it to 'Big Ron' Woodbridge their first lead singer. The genesis remains unresolved.

The band grew out of an earlier skiffle group formed by McNally in 1957, with his friends Brian Dolan (guitar) and Tony West (bass). When the other two members lost interest McNally was joined by his guitarist neighbour Mike Prendergast. They soon recruited Tony Jackson with his homemade bass guitar and amplifier, who was recruited as a lead singer, but took a back seat at first in order to learn the bass. The band styled themselves as 'Tony and the Searchers' with Joe Kennedy on drums. Kennedy soon left to be replaced by Norman McGarry and it is this line-up — McNally, Pender (as Prendergast soon became known), Jackson and McGarry — that is usually cited as the original foursome.

However McGarry didn’t stay long and in 1960 Chris Crummey, who later changed his name to Chris Curtis, took his place. Later that year Big Ron had a successful audition with Mecca and became a ballroom singer. Billy Beck replaced him but changed his name to Johnny Sandon. The band had regular bookings at Liverpool's Iron Door Club as 'Johnny Sandon and the Searchers'.

Sandon left the band in late 1961 to join The Remo Four in February 1962. The group settled into a quartet named "The Searchers", with Jackson becoming the main vocalist. They continued to play at the Iron Door, The Cavern, and other Liverpool clubs. Like many similar acts they would do as many as three shows at different venues in one night. They negotiated a contract with the Star-Club in the St. Pauli district Hamburg for 128 days, with three one-hour performances a night, starting in July 1962.

The band returned to a residency at the Iron Door Club and it was there that they tape-recorded the sessions that led to a Pye Records recording contract with Tony Hatch as producer. Their first single was issued in America on Mercury, the second on Liberty without success and then a deal was arranged with U.S. based Kapp Records to distribute their records in America. The first Pye single; 'Sweets For My Sweet' featured Tony Jackson as main vocalist supported by Pender and Curtis and shot to number one in the UK in 1963, firmly establishing the band as a major spearhead of the 'Merseybeat' boom just behind The Beatles and alongside Gerry and The Pacemakers. Their first album, sung mostly by Jackson and Pender ‘Meet the Searchers’ was released in August 1963, and reached number 2 on the British album charts by the next month. In June 1964 an amended version including the song "Needles and Pins" hit #22 in the US album charts. The year also saw the Top 20 hit "What Have They Done To The Rain", a song written in 1962 by protest folk singer Malvina Reynolds as "The Rain Song" as part of the anti-nuclear movement.

Phillips records then rush released an earlier recording they held of a cover of Brenda Lee's hit, 'Sweet Nuthins' which dismayed the group and made the lower end of the UK chart but this did not disturb their momentum.

Hatch played piano on some recordings and wrote "Sugar and Spice"—the band's UK number 2 hit record—under the pseudonym Fred Nightingale; a secret he kept from the band at the time. Apparently Curtis disliked this song (largely a revamp of the first hits' key aspects) and refused to sing on it, though he later agreed just to do the distinctive high harmony vocal links between verses, Jackson again took lead vocal. "Love Potion No.9" sung by Jackson lifted from the first LP was a non UK single hit in the US on Kapp Records.

Mike Pender then took the main lead vocal on the next two singles: "Needles And Pins" and "Don't Throw Your Love Away", each featuring Chris Curtis on co-lead/high harmony vocal (both UK chart topping singles). However, live footage of these songs as performed on The Ed Sullivan Show and NME Poll Winners concert respectively show Pender and Jackson together singing the lead vocal in close harmony with Curtis vocal support, suggesting some differences existed between the live band and the studio version at that point.

After scoring with their hit "Needles and Pins", bassist Tony Jackson, who was only allowed one co-lead vocal on their second album (on 'Sho Know A Lot About Love'), left the band and was replaced by Hamburg pal Frank Allen from Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers. Tony Jackson was also signed to Pye as a solo act and backed by The Vibrations issued a few singles of which the first "Bye Bye Baby" charted in the UK in 1964, Jackson also re-cut "Love Potion No. 9" but it failed to chart. The next Searchers single to chart in the UK during this period was; "Someday We're Gonna Love Again" (1964).

Frank Allen's debut single with the band, a strong cover of Jackie de Shannon's; "When You Walk in The Room" shot to number three in the UK suggesting all was well for the revised line up and later UK chart hits followed with; "What Have They Done To The Rain", "Goodbye My Love" (a rather experimental single for that time with long harmonised passages that reached number four), then the folk-flavoured "Take Me For What I'm Worth" (written by P.F. Sloan) then some lesser UK chart hits following over 1965/66 with "He's Got No Love", "When I Get Home", and finally "Have You Ever Loved Somebody". An EP release, "Ain't Gonna Kiss Ya" - The Searchers' featuring the first LP track - "Ain't Gonna Kiss Ya" (sung by Jackson) also charted in 1963.

Pye rather "rush released" LP product by the group over 1963-64 as the put together "Sugar & Spice" LP was quickly issued in 1963 consisting of both tracks not used on the first album and others plus the second single, this album charted while the first was still in the chart possibly diluting sales. Further Pye albums; "It's the Searchers" (1964) and "Sounds Like..."; finally, "Take Me For What I'm Worth" (both 1965) were better spaced but a budget "Golden Guinea" reissue of the second album plus a compiled; "Smash Hits" & "Smash Hits Vol 2" on Pye's budget "Marble Arch" label over 1966-67 in place of any later "new" album probably only further hindered the band as a current recording act and suggested Pye were possibly "cashing in" before the (assumed) "Pop group bubble burst" (as many even in 1966 still assumed it must do), as late as 1970 Marble Arch issued an edited version of the third album "It's the Searchers" from 1964.

Chris Curtis, who had song-writing ambitions, left the band in April 1966 and was replaced by the Keith Moon-influenced John Blunt (born John David Blunt, 20 March 1947 in Croydon, Surrey), who in turn was replaced by Billy Adamson in January 1970, after he left in December 1969. In 1967, Curtis formed a new band called Roundabout with keyboard player Jon Lord and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. Although Curtis's involvement in the project was short-lived, Roundabout would eventually evolve into Deep Purple the following year.

Chris Curtis choice of Bobby Darin's "When I Come Home" despite a strong band performance, was a relative chart failure by their standards which to an extent undermined his position as song selector for the band thereafter, and some internal disagreements over musical policy/direction, that had been evident earlier when Tony Jackson left resurfaced which probably further hindered the group's musical progression and very likely played a part in Curtis later leaving in 1966.

As musical styles evolved, the Searchers did attempt to move with the times recording covers of songs by The Rolling Stones ("Take it or Leave it") and The Hollies ("Have You Ever Loved Somebody" - a minor UK chart hit though a rival cover by Paul & Barry Ryan probably robbed both parties of a bigger hit), while they began to write their singles "A" sides first Curtis-Pender ("He's Got No Love" with a Stones style guitar hook) and later Pender-Allen ("Secondhand Dealer", the final Pye single which was a Ray Davies style "observational" song), however Pye records dropped them in 1967 when their original contract expired, without any follow up to the strong 1965 "Take Me For What I'm Worth" album, despite some promising later recordings, the departure of Chris Curtis after an Australian tour in 1966, who was chief songwriter, song selector, and key high harmony voice, plus a figurehead member, was another key blow as Curtis was often the band's main PR man. Frank Allen then handled the high harmonies and new drummer John Blunt (a Keith Moon influenced drummer) boosted them musically but despite some promising latter Pye singles including a cover of "Western Union" their UK chart days were over, while their strong "Merseybeat" connections probably went against them by 1967 seemingly dating the group as a "Beat Boom" item, which was at that point not helped by their "smart" band image that looked dated by 1967 compared to the "summer of love" look of that period (unlike contemporaries the Beatles, Stones, Hollies and relaunched/reimaged Tremeloes, etc., who all continued having hit singles) while a number of other key bands disbanded circa 1966 (Animals, Mersybeats, etc.). As a result, the UK hits ran out. While they continued to record for Liberty Records and RCA Records, they ended up on the British "Chicken in a Basket" circuit, although they did score a minor US hit in 1971 with "Desdemona". A contract with RCA Victor's UK wing resulted in an album of rerecorded hits titled "Second Take" (1972), later reissued on the budget RCA International label as "Needles And Pins", though this was overshadowed by Pye's "Golden Hour of..." compilation of the original hits that came out at the same time. Despite recording new material - including covers of Neil Sedaka's "Solitaire" and the Bee Gees' "Spicks And Specks", which were issued as RCA singles with scant promotion, much of their new work was left unissued at the time and RCA later quietly dropped the group.

The group continued to tour through the 1970s, playing both the expected old hits and contemporary songs such as a powering extended live version of Neil Young's "Southern Man" and were rewarded in 1979 when Sire Records signed the band to a multi-record deal. Two albums were released: The Searchers and Play for Today (retitled Love's Melodies outside the UK). Both records garnered critical acclaim featuring some original tracks and covers of songs like Alex Chilton's "September Gurls" and John Fogerty's "Almost Saturday Night" but with scant promotion and little if any radio airplay did not break into the charts. The first album was quickly revamped following release with a few extra tracks added, one song dropped (a cover of Bob Dylan's 'Coming From The Heart') and was given a new sleeve, which may have only confused the public, These albums did, however, revive the group's career, as concerts from then on alternated classic hits with the newer album songs that were well received. A Sire single; "Hearts in Her Eyes" (written by Will Birch and John Wicks and successfully updating their distinctive 12 string guitars/vocal harmonies sound) picked up some radio airplay and with more promotion might have charted, but ultimately missed out. PRT Records meanwhile actively re-promoted their old sixties back catalogue with compilations such as; "The Searchers File", "Spotlight On the Searchers", etc., which were on sale at group gigs with the Sire albums, and helped reestablish them.

According to John McNally, the band were ready to head into the studio to record a third album for Sire when they were informed that due to label reorganization, their contract had been dropped. It was, in fact, because so few people bought the second album, although it was beloved by fans.

In 1981, the band signed to PRT Records (formerly Pye, their original label) and began recording an album. But only one single, "I Don't Want To Be The One" backed with "Hollywood", ended up being released. They promoted this with a UK Television appearance on "The Leo Sayer Show", which was rare for them by then, but the single got little if any radio airplay (like their Sire singles) and were not readily stocked in most record shops. The rest of the tracks, except one, would be included as part of 1992's 30th Anniversary collection.

In December 1985 Mike Pender left the group after a farewell performance in London to form a new band, and now tours as Mike Pender's Searchers. McNally and Allan recruited former First Class vocalist Spencer James as Pender's replacement.

In 1988, Coconut Records signed the Searchers and the album Hungry Hearts was the result. It featured updated remakes of "Needles and Pins" and "Sweets For My Sweet" plus live favorite "Somebody Told Me You Were Crying". While the album was not a major hit, it did keep the group in the public eye.

The band continued to tour with Eddie Rothe replacing Adamson on drums and is considered to be one of the most popular 1960s bands on the UK concert circuit. The Searchers incorporate full band electric performances with an acoustic set as well. In 2010 Eddie Rothe announced that he would be leaving the Searchers to spend more time with his fiancé Jane McDonald. On 26 February Scott Ottaway replaced him.

Billy Adamson, the band's drummer from 1970 to 1998, died in France on 11 November 2013. He was 69.

Former Searchers lead singer Mike Pender also tours, formerly with his own band under the name "Mike Pender's Searchers" but now with various pick-up groups with whom he tours but still using the name "Mike Pender's Searchers", as he performs hits of the Searchers and some new material of his own.

 

 

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