National Post (Latest Edition)
Singer’s band once rival to Beatles
Gerry Marsden, who has died aged 78, was the lead singer of Gerry and the Pacemakers, a band indelibly identified with the “Merseybeat” sound and briefly the Beatles’ closest rivals.
The first act to top the charts with each of their first three singles, Gerry and the Pacemakers emerged from the innovating Liverpool scene at exactly the same moment as the Fab Four. But although they shared the bill when the two bands toured together and had recorded the three No. 1s in 1963, the distance between the Pacemakers and the Beatles swiftly grew.
While the third of those hits, You’ ll Never Walk Alone, became the unofficial standard for Liverpool and its football club, the band’s light, catchy pop, upbeat lyrics and clean- cut image could not match the power and originality of Lennon and Mccartney.
Nor could it compete with the increasingly complex sounds emanating from Britain and America. By the late 1960s, Merseybeat was for music historians chiefly, and Gerry and the Pacemakers, alongside other exponents, like the Searchers, were largely relegated to the cabaret and variety club ghetto.
In the 1980s, Marsden returned briefly to the limelight when You’ll Never Walk Alone and Ferry ’ Cross the Mersey recharted as charitable records, released to raise money for the victims of the Bradford City and Hillsborough football stadium disasters.
Marsden was a singer who lived to perform. For more than 60 years after his golden year he cheerfully trooped around drafty concert halls, delighting aging fans with renditions of his most famous hits. He revived memories of his part in that joyful moment when Liverpool exploded in creativity and rock music and R & B crossed the Atlantic and established themselves permanently on these shores.
He was born in Liverpool on Sept. 24, 1942; his father was a railwayman who played ukulele in a bar on Saturday nights. As a teenager Gerry was a promising boxer, a profession he considered but rejected after a “battering” from the future bantamweight champion, Alan Rudkin.
In 1965, Marsden married Pauline Behan, the secretary of his fan club. They had two daughters and divided their time between Chester, England, and Spain.