Gerry And The Pacemakers

As unfathomable as it seems from the distance of over fifty years, for a few months Gerry And The Pacemakers were The Beatles' nearest competitors in Britain. Managed, like the Beatles, by Brian Epstein, Gerry Marsden and his band burst out of the gate with three consecutive UK number one hits in 1963, "How Do You Do It", "I Like It", and "You'll Never Walk Alone". If The Beatles defined Merseybeat at its best in early 1963, Gerry And The Pacemakers defined the form at its most innocuous, performing bouncy, catchy, and utterly lightweight tunes driven by rhythm guitar and Marsden's chipper vocals. Compared to The Beatles and other British Invasion heavies, they sound quaint indeed. That's not to say the group were trivial. Their hits were certainly likable and energetic, and are fondly remembered today, even if the musicians lacked the acumen or earthy image to develop their style from its relentlessly upbeat and poppy base.

Marsden formed the group in the late '50s, calling themselves The Mars-Bars, featuring himself on guitar and lead vocals, his brother Fred on drums, Les Chadwick on bass, and Arthur Mack on piano (to be replaced in 1961 by Les McGuire). They worked the same Liverpool/Hamburg circuit as The Beatles and ran neck and neck with their rivals in local popularity. They were signed by Epstein in mid-1962 (the first band to do so besides The Beatles), and began recording for the EMI/Columbia label in early 1963 under the direction of producer George Martin. Their first single was a Mitch Murray tune that Martin had wanted The Beatles to record for their debut, "How Do You Do It?" The Beatles did record a version (found on "Anthology 1"), but objected to its release, finding it too sappy, and in any case were more interested in recording their own, gutsier original compositions. It suited Marsden's grinning, peppy style well, and went to number one before it was displaced from the top spot by The Beatles' third single, "From Me to You".

The Pacemakers would never vary much from the clattering guitar-dominated Pop of their first singles, turning again to Mitch Murray for the follow-up, "I Like It", and remaking an old Pop standard for their next effort, "You'll Never Walk Alone". It's not universally known that Gerry Marsden actually wrote much of the band's material, and he penned most of their subsequent hits, including "It's All Right" and "I'm the One". He also wrote "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Cryin'" (sharing credits with the rest of the group) and "Ferry Cross the Mersey", ballads that Martin embellished with light string arrangements.

Like the Beatles, Gerry And The Pacemakers got to star in their own film, Ferry Cross the Mersey, although this wasn't nearly as successful as A Hard Day's Night. By 1965 in fact, the group's popularity in Britain was seriously declining, although they held on a bit longer in the States, where, in common with several other groups, some of their back catalog belatedly made the hit parade many months after it was first issued in the U.K. Like virtually all of the other Liverpool groups, The Pacemakers proved unable to evolve on the same plane as The Beatles or the best other British bands. Never the hippest of acts image-wise with their conservative suits and short hair, they were rapidly becoming outdated, sticking to the same basic feel-good formula that had seemed fresh in 1963, but was utterly passe by 1966. That's the year they had their last American Top 40 hit, "Girl On A Swing", which reached #28. The Pacemakers disbanded that October. Gerry Marsden became a popular cabaret and children's TV entertainer, sometimes performing with his former bandmates on the oldies circuit.

Gerry reformed The Pacemakers in 1974 after eight years as a solo artist, and toured the world. Another grand trek took place in 1993 to mark thirty years of Gerry And The Pacemakers. "I love being on stage performing for people all over the globe" said Gerry, smiling that cheeky smile that had become one of his trade marks over the years "I get paid for enjoying myself!" Gerry wrote his autobiography with Ray Coleman in 1993. In this compelling story, Gerry Marsden emerges as a driven man, an artist with enormous confidence and a unique spirit, from his streetwise boyhood and early love of music to his friendship and keen rivalry with The Beatles, hunger for fame and hard won success, his story is one of grit, warmth, humor and determination. The book became the basis of a Musical Theatre production Ferry cross the Mersey a musical story of Gerry's Merseybeat days, It enjoyed a sellout premiere in Liverpool and went on to a successful tour of the UK, Australia and Canada.

Original drummer Fred Marsden died of cancer on December 9th, 2006 at the age of 66. He had not re-joined the band when they re-formed in '74 and had given up the music business to be a telephone operator and later established the Pacemaker driving school.

In 2012, Gerry Marsden was still appearing as Gerry And The Pacemakers and had a full touring schedule across the UK. They continued to perform in Europe and were still playing shows in England in 2016. Unfortunately, plans for 2017 were cut short on March 15th when Marsden collapsed onstage at a concert in Newport, South Wales. After telling the audience he was scheduled to undergo knee surgery the following week, Gerry was helped off stage and did not return. His Autumn Sixties Gold tour of England, Scotland and Wales was promoted as being his farewell tour, although he was still booked to play select dates in 2018.