2021-01-03 20:12:43 UTC
Gerry Marsden obituary
Leader of the chart-topping 1960s Merseybeat band Gerry and the Pacemakers whose hits included You’ll Never Walk Alone
Sun 3 Jan 2021 13.18 EST
With his toothy grin and cheeky manner, Gerry Marsden, who has died aged 78, was one of the prime movers of the Merseybeat sound of the early 1960s. For a time, Marsden’s band, Gerry and the Pacemakers, were vying with the Beatles as Britain’s top pop group, both of them part of Brian Epstein’s Liverpool-based management stable.
In 1963 the Pacemakers topped the British charts with their first three singles, How Do You Do It?, I Like It and the Rodgers and Hammerstein composition You’ll Never Walk Alone (which became the theme tune of Liverpool FC). In this respect the Pacemakers had outstripped the Beatles, who did not manage to reach No 1 until their third single, From Me to You. It was only in 1984 that the Pacemakers’ feat was repeated, coincidentally by another Liverpool group, Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Aptly, the B side of Frankie’s first big hit, Relax, was a version of Marsden’s composition Ferry Cross the Mersey, a Pacemakers hit from 1965.
After their dazzling early salvo of hits, Gerry and the Pacemakers could not match the extraordinary trajectory of the Beatles, but, as Epstein predicted: “Gerry will be with us for a great many years because you cannot exhaust natural ability.” The group enjoyed further successes with Marsden’s song I’m the One, which reached No 2 in 1964, the poignant ballad Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying (written by Marsden and credited to the whole band, and which reached No 6 in 1964) and Ferry Cross the Mersey, which made No 8 in early 1965.
Ferry Cross the Mersey was the theme of the film of the same name, scripted by the Coronation Street writer Tony Warren and starring the group playing thinly fictionalised versions of themselves. The song gave the group a No 6 hit in the US in 1965, but it was their last Top 10 appearance on either side off the Atlantic, and their last chart entry in Britain was Walk Hand in Hand, which reached 29 at the end of 1965.
Marsden was born in the Dingle district of Liverpool, to Mary (nee McAlindin) and Frederick Marsden. He attended Our Lady of Mount Carmel school, and at the Florence Institute youth club learned both how to box and how to play the guitar. At 14, he joined a skiffle group, the Red Mountain Boys, with his brother Freddie (who was two years older) on drums, Les Chadwick on guitar, and Arthur Mack (real name McMahon) on piano.
They renamed themselves the Mars Bars, hoping to obtain sponsorship from the Mars confectionery company. Instead, Mars demanded that they change their name, and in 1959 the group became the Pacemakers. In June 1960 they played for the first time with the Beatles (then the Silver Beetles) and in December that year they were contracted to play a four-month stint in Hamburg, prompting the group to give up their day jobs and become professional musicians. “We went over with the Beatles and had a good laugh,” Marsden later recalled. “All they had over there were oompah bands … we took over this music, and they loved it.” In 1961 Les Maguire replaced McMahon.
They played on the same bill as the Beatles numerous times over the following year, and on 19 October 1961 the two groups joined together to play at Litherland town hall as the Beatmakers. In June 1962 they were signed for management by Epstein. In December that year the Beatles producer George Martin saw them play at the Majestic Ballroom, Birkenhead, and signed them to the Columbia label (then part of EMI). Martin had recorded How Do You Do It? with the Beatles in 1962, but they did not like the song and Martin took it to Marsden and co. It became their first No 1 hit, in April 1962, selling half a million copies.
In May 1967, with their chart appeal waning, the band announced their intention to quit, with Marsden planning to take over the lead role in the West End musical Charlie Girl from Joe Brown. The following month he released his first solo single, Please Let Them Be, which failed to chart. In 1968 he made his move to the London stage, and released the single Liverpool, a duet with his Charlie Girl co-star Derek Nimmo. After the show ended in 1971, Marsden starred in another West End production, Pull Both Ends (1972). In 1970 he was given a regular slot on the children’s TV programme The Sooty Show.
In 1973 he put together a new Pacemakers for the British Re-Invasion Show at Madison Square Garden, New York, where they appeared with other British pop contemporaries including the Searchers and Herman’s Hermits. In 1974 the lure of the concert stage, and requests from fans, proved irresistible. He went back on the road with another version of the Pacemakers, and released the single Remember (The Days of Rock and Roll) as Gerry Marsden and the Pacemakers. Marsden would continue to undertake tours with the band as well as cabaret shows in Europe, the US and Australia, while keeping up his TV work.
In 1985 he oversaw the recording of You’ll Never Walk Alone by the Crowd – a host of show business names, including Bruce Forsyth, Peter Cook, Rick Wakeman, Dave Lee Travis, Motörhead and many more – to raise funds for victims of the fire at Bradford City football stadium in May that year. It reached No 1 in June, making Marsden the first artist to top the British charts with two versions of the same song.
On 18 April 1989, Marsden recorded another charity effort, when he joined Paul McCartney, the Christians, Holly Johnson and Stock, Aitken and Waterman in a new version of Ferry Cross the Mersey three days after the Hillsborough disaster, which cost the lives of 96 Liverpool fans. Marsden delivered an emotional performance of the song at the Liverpool-Everton FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium that year.
In 1993 he published his autobiography, I’ll Never Walk Alone, co-written with the former Melody Maker editor Ray Coleman. The book became the basis of the stage musical Ferry Cross the Mersey, which went on tour in the UK, Canada and Australia.
In 2003 Marsden was appointed MBE for services to charity, and in 2010 received an honorary fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University. He underwent heart surgery in 2003 and 2016, and in 2018 he announced his retirement.
Nevertheless, he made a surprise appearance with Take That at their concert at Anfield on 6 June 2019, and sang You’ll Never Walk Alone to celebrate Liverpool’s Champions League win over Tottenham a few days earlier.
He is survived by his wife, Pauline (nee Behan) whom he married in 1965, and their daughters, Yvette and Victoria.
• Gerard “Gerry” Marsden, singer, songwriter and actor, born 24 September 1942; died 3 January 2021
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