In the Summer school holidays of 1963 the funfair came to my town & I was taken along by the bigger boys, my first chance to do so without the supervision of my parents. It was a midweek & I was broke, any pocket money spent on a wild weekend of drugs, alcohol & women (hang on, that was later, I was 10 years old so make that Penny Arrow bars & packets of Nibbits). I may not have been able to afford a chance to win a goldfish with a limited shelf life but I was free to wander, to experience “all the fun of the fair”, the sights, sounds & smells which, when I recall them, make me smile like Proust & his little cakes. It was free to watch the Dodgems & the Waltzers, the Teddy Boys who collected the money riding on the back of the cars & spinning the girls until they screamed. Maybe one day I could slick my hair into a quiff, grow impressive sideburns & do their job.
Except that by the end of the year I would no longer covet drainpipe jeans (shrunk to fit by wearing them in the bath!), crepe-soled beetle crushers. & records by Gene Vincent & the Blue Caps (I’m lying…I love Gene). Something was happening & a new style was coming. In the Summer of 63 Britain’s youth was in the first throes of Mersey Mania, a home-grown, Liverpool led, rejuvenation of American popular music. It wasn’t all the Beatles either, in June Gerry & the Pacemakers enjoyed their second #1 record of the year with “I Like It” following “How Do You Do It” to the toppermost of the poppermost. It was here, watching the girls & boys do their mystery dance, with the fluorescence of flashing lights & candy floss & the waft of fried onions from the, I’m sure, highly sanitary burger stands, that I heard this music as it should be heard…LOUD! So that’s how it goes, so that’s what it does. Exciting, very much so.
Gerry Marsden passed away yesterday. I had not really thought about him & his Pacemakers for some time though as I said…fairgrounds, y’know. In the early 1960s he & his group were not in the slipstream of the Fab Four but running alongside them, learning their trade in Hamburg then back in their hometown’s Cavern Club. “How Do You Do It”, written by Mitch Murray, was rejected by the Beatles, manager Brian Epstein knew that the talent & the royalties was in their songwriting. Passed to another of his Scouser stable, Gerry & the Pacemakers charged at it with brio & hit the top spot with their debut single. according to the UK’s Official Charts, the first of the Mersey Beaters to do so. Epstein had other, big plans for his proteges & when his star turn established a bridgehead in the USA (having the top 4 singles in the Cash Box chart of March 1964 there was a plan to market their bathwater for a dollar a bottle) Gerry’s group, along with Billy J Kramer & the Dakotas, were in the first wave of British invaders.
There were to be 5 Top 20 hits in the US, a colourful place that was beyond dreams for working-class kids from Northern England which was still in monochrome back then. The attention & screaming fans at home was something new, to be transatlantically feted as the current thing must have been something else. Six months after “A Hard Day’s Night” the group starred in “Ferry Cross the Mersey”, a tailor-made movie set in Liverpool’s Beat scene. “It’s Gonna Be Alright”, here introduced on “Hullabaloo” by their manager, was written by Gerry for the film. It was not as successful as earlier singles but it delivered the promised Big Beat, I liked it then still do now.
“Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”, one of those earlier hits, is credited to all of the Pacemakers. Live on “The Ed Sullivan Show” (imagine!) Gerry absolutely suits the spotlight, giving America the good stuff that the crowd at the New Brighton Tower Ballroom had known about for years. In 1965 British music was changing, the Beatles were still in the vanguard while the Stones, the Kinks, the Who & others brought a tougher R&B edge. It wasn’t only me with less interest in Gerry & the Pacemakers. Their final 45 “The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine” was a Folk-Rock cover of a mild Paul Simon protest song. It failed to bother the chart compilers & in 1966 the group called it a day. The Pacemakers were not to be seen in kaftans, smoking a hookah, pianist Les & bass player Lee bought a garage, Gerry starred in the West End & panto while having a supporting role to Sooty, a much loved TV glove puppet. But he never did go away did he?
OK, I’ll not get sentimental here (I’ll try). I’ve made the ferry journey from Liverpool to Birkenhead & while thoughts of Nerys Hughes in “The Liver Birds” may have crossed my mind Gerry’s title song to “Ferry Cross the Mersey” was in there too, possibly because it was being played on the public address system. It’s a fine, enduring North West anthem, as redolent as “Waterloo Sunset”, to a city & its inhabitants that I have always enjoyed visiting. Then there’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, the Rodgers & Hammerstein song from “Carousel” that was the third of Gerry & the Pacemakers historic run of a trio of #1 hits with their first three singles. Adopted as an anthem by Liverpool Football Club, who were entering the most successful era in their history,. I intend no slight to Glasgow Celtic where it is also communally sung with equal gusto & devotion before games but “YNWA” is recognised as the call off sign of Liverpool fans worldwide & its pre-match rendition can still moisten the eyes of grown men (Hi there Joe, hi John). That’s two paeans to a city that sparked a cultural conflagration with music that twisted & shouted & changed the world. Gerry Marsden & his group played their part & he will always be remembered in association with that city. To complete the title of this post he had a heart as big as Liverpool.