By Ian & Lauren Wright
“The Searchers And Me” by Frank Allen: To commemorate the group’s golden anniversary, The Searchers’ lead singer and bass guitarist, Frank Allen, a 46-year veteran of the group, has just published “The Searchers And Me.”
At the height of their popularity, The Searchers were on a par with fellow Liverpudlian band The Beatles, following the Fab Four onto “The Ed Sullivan Show” in March 1964. With great success on both sides of the Atlantic, The Searchers had such hits as “Sweets For My Sweet,” “Love Potion Number 9,” “Sugar And Spice” and “Needles And Pins.“
Allen’s book, a most comprehensive historical volume, is produced with great pride and passion. Frank also shows great respect for fellow performers, revealing nothing that could offend any of the myriad of other artists they performed with. There are some wonderful anecdotes, particularly a treasure about Dusty Springfield. “The Searchers And Me” is filled with Allen’s detailed recollections of the group’s many guitars, as well the many, many cars he has owned over the years, even recalling the registration plate numbers.
While many of their contemporary groups succumbed to the staple rock-band diet of sex, drugs and booze, The Searchers stayed on the straight and narrow with no hint of scandal in 50 years. Bill Wyman says it all, “The Searchers opened for the Stones on our Australian tour in 1966. We weren’t even in our beds at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning, but The Searchers had already been to church. NOT very rock and roll.”
Allen’s charming biography describes The Searchers as no-frills guys who lead an uncomplicated life on the road, travelling coach, staying at modest hotels and writing postcards to loved ones back in “Blighty.” Their American agent Selwyn Miller says, “The Searchers are THE Almighty Road Warriors of the pop world.”
I first photographed The Searchers on a freezing cold July night in 1964 when they were the only act of an outdoor show, Big Beat Night, held on the seaside promenade at Seaton Carew, near Hartlepool, England. The North Sea served as a backdrop for a makeshift stage erected on the beach. Hundreds of differently colored ordinary house doors were stuck into the sand to act as a windbreak, which did absolutely nothing to stop the lazy North Sea wind. I say “lazy wind” because it didn’t bother to go around you, it went right through you!
Six of the local constabulary and a police dog stood in the front row of about 150 spectators all huddled together, listening to the band. During the interval, I photographed the band members — John McNally, Chris Curtis, Mike Pender and Tony Jackson — as they took a break in their touring caravan. While I set up the shot, the boys were signing autograph books and remarking with good humor, “If we’d known it was going to be this bloody cold on the Durham Riviera, we’d have worn overcoats, hats and gloves.” Then Curtis quipped, “You lot can’t play guitars with gloves, but I could play the drums with gloves.”
One of the show organizers banged on the caravan door with five white enameled mugs, a packet of McVitties biscuits and a galvanized bucket of steaming tea already sugared and milked. The lads put aside their bottles of the local Strongarm beer and ladled the tea from the bucket, trying not to drip on their smart stage suits. Though it was decidedly not the glamorous pop-star life one would expect, they were total professionals, didn’t complain and were ready for the call. “Right you lot, you’re on.” After the show, they packed up for the umpteenth time and headed off into the cold dark loneliness of the ever-increasing motorway network.
I didn’t photograph The Searchers again until 1967 when a new lineup — Frank Allen, John Blunt, John McNally and Mike Pender — were headlining a week’s cabaret at the Fiesta Club in Stockton on Tees, England. Their dressing room was only marginally better than the caravan, and they had upgraded to an E-registered Door Mobile van.
In 2005 my wife, Lauren, and I saw The Searchers on the bill of a nostalgic revival concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London. They were wearing the same style stage suits they had tried to protect from dripping tea that cold July night 40 years earlier in Seaton Carew, and they sounded every bit as good!
This year, we met up with The Searchers after their gig at The Cannery in Las Vegas and asked, “What’s the hardest part of touring today?” Making a fist of his right hand, John McNally patted his heart. “It’s seeing those little faces of my grandchildren watching me through the windows of the departure lounge at The John Lennon Airport as we’re about to fly out on another overseas tour. That’s a killer.”
The book is a fascinating tale of how, against all odds in an industry where respectability and longevity is unheard of, a legendary rock and roll band prays together, plays together and stays together.