The Searchers, who were once described by John Lennon as his favourite group, are coming to Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn next week. And, yes, of course, they’re getting on a bit now and won’t quite be the band they were in their prime, but I can’t wait to see them.
I’m also going to see the mighty rock superstar Bruce Springsteen in June which I’m (needless to say) extremely excited about, but, in some ways, I’m equally as thrilled at the prospect of seeing The Searchers.
You see, they’ve been one of my favourite groups for as far back as I can remember.
Here’s a thing. When I was a little boy, growing up in North Street in Castlefields, I spent a lot of time drawing and crayoning. Most children of five or six years of age tended to draw houses or cars or aeroplanes. But I drew pop groups.
I can remember drawing men with guitars and, just in the background, another man sitting behind a drum kit.
This was the Merseybeat era.
The television would flicker into life to show black and white images of the groups of the day and, even at quite a tender age, I was enchanted by the sights and sounds of pop.
The groups would almost always display their name on the front of the drumkit and I would faithfully use this detail in my drawings. I’m almost certain that The Searchers were among those I drew in my pale green covered Silvine drawing book from the local post office.
Meanwhile, our big sister Jan would take myself and our little brother for walks (around the block) down North Street, along Queen Street, up Burton Street, and then West Street and back home. Coming out of the radios in the front rooms of the houses were the sounds of The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Cilla Black, and the other big names who were bringing a new kind of pop music to the world.
Let me tell you a little about The Searchers.
They produced a string of shimmering hit singles and (like that of The Byrds who would come later) their sound was often shot through with glorious Rickenbacker guitar work.
One of the premier groups from the mid-60s Merseybeat explosion, they had taken their name from the 1956 John Ford western, The Searchers.
Just like The Beatles, they appeared in Hamburg, learning their craft among the seedy nightclubs, and, after sending a demo tape to A&R representative Tony Hatch, they were signed to Pye Records.
I well remember our older brother had a collection of singles around this time and I can still conjure up the distrinctive purple Pye record label.
The group’s debut was the catchy Sweets for My Sweet featuring strong harmonies. It got to number one, establishing The Searchers as serious rivals to Brian Epstein’s famous stable of Liverpool groups.
Tony Hatch (he of the Crossroads theme tune and many a hit for Petula Clark) came up with the group’s follow-up single, Sugar and Spice. This also did well.
And then their third single, Needles and Pins, was their breakthrough. This broke the group in America.
I have to say, Needles and Pins is not only my favourite Searchers record, but also one of my favourite records of all time.
That chiming guitar and lovely melody places it alongside such greats as Mr Tambourine Man by The Byrds, Look Through Any Window by The Hollies, and Ticket to Ride by The Beatles.
Don’t Throw Your Love Away and When You Walk In The Room were among their other hits, but before long the chart success died away as pop music changed.
Before long, The Searchers (like Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J Kramer and The Dakotas, Freddie and The Dreamers and a host of others) found they were suddenly seen as old-fashioned.
While The Beatles grew and developed to lead the way, many of the groups from the early sixties were left behind.
The cabaret circuit beckoned and The Searchers carved out a career for themselves there, but the glory days were over.
Over the years there have been serveral changes in personnel (some of these dramatic and painful as when Mike Pender departed to set up his own incarnation of The Searchers). And so the group appearing in Shrewsbury will boast only a couple of the orignal members.
But the same can be said now of The Hollies or The Who or any number of sixties bands.
The most important thing is that the spirit of the original band is upheld by the latest line-up. I was delighted to see, for instance, that this was the case with The Hollies who appeared at Theatre Severn last year.
History will remember The Searchers as one of the great groups of the Merseybeat period, and I have high hopes for next Thursday’s performance.