Take It Or Leave It:
A Personal View

by Roy Clough

Part One: 1963 - 1967

~ "The Searchers?" - "Never Heard Of Them" ~

June 1963, Carlton Grammar School, Bradford, Yorkshire, England. I’m just about to enter a Physics Class when I notice Peter Yorke, a classmate, holding a bag containing a 7"single he’d obviously bought in the lunch hour.

“What Rubbish have you been buying now, Yorky?” I sarcastically commented. “Sweets For My Sweet – The Searchers”, he replied. “Never heard of ‘em,” I quickly retorted. Little did I know that for the next 38 years friends and acquaintances would tire of ME! talking about them.

I have always taken some pride, silly though it may seem, that I never gave up on the band. Always buying any new releases (except the endless compilations) on the day of release where possible. Even their most ardent followers now, like Tim Viney, who produces “The Searchers Appreciation Society” (It sounds more dignified than Fanzine), to name just one, admit to not following the band after the hits dried up basically and rediscovered them with the release of the SIRE albums.

There are also a large number of followers, who have only started following the band from the Spencer James period, so to speak.

Having followed the band for more than 2/3rd of my life, I feel entitled to express an opinion on the band’s career.

"On Stage"
McNally, Curtis, Pender and Jackson

~ Needles and Pins: The Tony Jackson Years ~

The Band could do no wrong in the halcyon days of ‘63 and ’64 – 3 No. 1’s and a No. 2 with their first four releases here in England.

But for a twist of fate the band could have had a unique record for the time – 4 No. 1’s with their first four releases. Marketing People seem to make the difference now, not whether an artist is actually selling records.

However I digress. Here in England the “Bible” of chart statistics is “The Guinness Book Of Hit Singles” and they chose to use as their source of reference a periodical called “Record Retailer” which was basically a trade magazine. Ask anyone what “The Beatles” first number one here in England was and unless you are a pop aficionado, the answer will undoubtedly be “Please Please Me”.

However this was not the case, according to “Record Retailer” where “ ‘Please’ only made number two, yet in virtually all the other weekly “Pop” papers – it was listed as number one. The same thing happened to “Sugar and Spice”

PYE probably felt that they had another “Beatles” on their hands with The Searchers and by the time “Needles” came out, the band had had two singles, two E.P’s, and two albums released in the space of seven months, a case of overkill, I believe.

“Needles and Pins”, of course changed the direction of the band, insofar as previously Tony Jackson had undoubtedly been the lead singer, actually singing lead vocal on approx. 70% of the 27 tracks (including Sweet Nothin’s and What’d I Say) the band had released prior to “Needles”.

The reason for the change is conjecture on my part but I suspect that the band’s producer Tony Hatch leaned towards the less raucous vocals of Pender and Curtis. I also suspect that PYE have a version of “Needles” in their vaults with Jackson singing lead. I also proposed on The Forum recently, see “Needles and Pins”, a theory that perhaps “Needles” was initially going to be the “B” Side and that “Saturday Night Out” was intended for the “A” Side.

Whatever ‘Needles’ came out and was so successful that the formula was kept for “Don’t Throw Your Love Away”, and within a month of the fourth single release, ANOTHER album “It’s The Searchers” was released!.

Jackson was reduced to sharing lead vocal on just one track on this album, a major shift in my view from the first two single releases and albums.

In July 64 a fifth single “Someday We’re Gonna Love Again was released and Pender took lead vocal on both “A” and “B” Sides. This single stuttered, failing to make the top ten. Jackson announced he was leaving the Group to start a solo career, it was to emerge some years later, that the parting of the ways was not altogether amicable.

"Welcome Frank"
Curtis, McNally, Pender and Allen

~ Frank Allen: When You Walk In the Room ~

Less than a month later Frank Allen, ex bassist with Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, a group who at that stage had not experienced any commercial success, joined the band.

Frank appeared on the surface to be a quite unassuming guy, who fitted the band’s somewhat clean cut image perfectly, it was also clear he had been drafted in to be primarily the bass player, as it was clear that Pender was to be the main lead vocals.

The Band’s first release with Frank Allen was “When You Walk in The Room” another number originally done by Jackie De Shannon, as was “Needles” and it restored the band to the top 3.

The next release the underrated “What Have They Done To The Rain” was not the success it should have been, the record company in my view could have made capitol out of the fact, that here was a song with poignant lyrics and could have been linked to the CND movement.

To the average fan, myself included, here was a gentle ballad about Rain! (The Wet Type)

Once again the Hit machine appeared to be back on track when the next single, “Goodbye my Love”, received much critical acclaim, Brian Epstein himself reckoned it was the best song around at the time and would make number one, it stalled at number 4. I have always been somewhat bemused as to why it is not a fixed part of The Searchers Stage act. One thing is clear to me however, I am convinced that “Till I Met You” the “B” Side of “Goodbye” should have been released as a “A” Side single in it’s own right, possibly as the follow up.

In March 65 came the band’s fourth album” Sounds Like Searchers” a far more polished affair in terms of sound, but also lacking some of the rawness, for want of a better phrase, that had contributed to the Band’s success initially. There was one track on the album, which in my view would have made a single and that was “I Don’t Want To Go On Without You”. I believe this would have made a strong single and indeed The Moody Blues and another Liverpool based band The Escorts both released singles of the Song. In fact The Moody Blues clearly had high hopes for the track, as it was the follow up release to their number one smash “Go Now”. Biased as I undoubtedly am, neither of the versions I have mentioned was as good as the Searcher’s version.

The song that was chosen as the next single “He’s Got No Love” was a Searchers original, the first “A” side to feature a number written by The Searchers, or Curtis & Pender to be precise.

The song failed to make the top ten and the view was probably taken that the next release would be back to cover’s of other artist’s songs and that a pattern had emerged of Minor hit, Big Hit. “When I Get Home” A number originally done by Bobby Darin was chosen and despite a appearance on “Sunday Night at the Palladium” a major TV show here in England at the time, the single failed to make the top 30.

"Blunt Drums For The Searchers"
McNally, Allen, Blunt and Pender

~ Goodbye Chris Curtis Hello Johnny Blunt~

By now the group’s clean cut image seemed incongruous beside the likes of The Stones, The Kinks and of course the public’s fascination with the Liverpool Sound was on the wane, virtually all of the Group’s, with the notable exception of the “Beatles”, who shot to fame on the strength of the “Merseybeat” phenomenon, were now desperately trying to find another hit.

December 65 saw The Searchers swansong, at least in terms of Top 20 chart success, with the excellent “Take Me For What I’m Worth” peaking on the bottom rung. The same month saw the release of the album of the same name. For me, this is the best album they recorded during the PYE years and the track “Each Time” was in the same vein as “When You Walk in the Room” and should have been the next single. It was later to emerge though, that this album had been recorded some 5 months previous to release, so in theory “Take Me” could have been released as a single before or instead of “When I get Home”.

1966 saw Chris Curtis leave “The Searchers”, Frank Allen’s book “Travelling Man” implies that his behaviour had become intolerable to the other band members and that basically he’d “Lost the Plot”.

In came John Blunt on drums, who to me never seemed to fit in. This year saw the band release two singles, both releases having been written by other Groups. “Take It Or Leave It” having been written by Jagger and Richard of “The Stones” and “Have you ever Loved Somebody” by “The Hollies”. Both were excellent singles but the former peaked chartwise at number 31 and despite the fact that the band were able to promote “Have You” on a primetime TV show of the time “Deetime” it proved to be the last ever chart single for the band scraping in at number 48.

In a ironic twist however a rival version of the song was released by Paul and Barry Ryan, the latter of whom was to later have a number one with a single here in England, which became a classic “Eloise”, I say ironic because the producer of their version was none other than Chris Curtis.

PYE persevered with “The Searchers” and three singles were released in 67, “Popcorn Double Feature” a statement type song again, great sound, but 34 years on and still I have not got a clue what it was about. “Western Union” had been a hit for “The Five Americans” in the states and “The Searchers “ cover version was great but getting radio airplay for the band’s songs was now proving difficult, coupled with the fact that the cleancut, matching suits image of the band was now “Old Hat”, after all, Flowerpower, Hendrix, Cream and “Sergeant Pepper” had arrived.

November saw the band’s final PYE release “Second Hand Dealer” a self-penned number by Pender/Allen or Pender/McNally according to the actual single and I have a sneaking suspicion that the “Searchers” only contributed vocals on the recording. However the “B” side “Crazy Dreams” (again a self penned number) was just different enough and more in keeping with the spirit of the times, to have been a hit.

It was probably something of a shock to the band, not to have their recording contract renewed by PYE. The days of the “Pop Package Type Tours” were on the wane and by mid 67 the band were onto the mostly northern cabaret circuit. 1967 was in fact the first time I actually got to see the band play live and it came as somewhat of a surprise to me, to find that Frank Allen was the frontman, namely because the band were and still are I believe synonymous with Liverpool and I expected Pender or McNally to be the voice of the group. Clearly however the cabaret scene was a new experience no doubt and supposedly they all had a go initially and Frank Allen emerged as a natural to some degree.

It was at this venue that I realised John Blunt’s days in the band were numbered, during one number in a fit of what can only be described as a fit of pique, he kicked his bass drum over, Frank made a joke of it, but you could see in his face, he was thinking PLONKER!

Part Two: 1968 - 1989

Submitted July 4, 2001
© 1991-2001 Roy Clough. All rights reserved.

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