Gerard Marsden was born in Liverpool on September 24th 1942 and grew up in the Dingle area of the city. Gerry with his cheeky smile started his musical career aged 13 as a member of the Florence Institute Youth club. The young Liverpudlian and his mates performed for the Lord Mayor of Liverpool when he visited the club. In 1959 Gerry (vocals and guitar) and his older brother Freddie (drums) formed a band with Les Chadwick (bass guitar) and Arthur Mack Mahon (piano). They called themselves "The Mars Bars". It was clever idea and a play on Marsden but when they contacted Mars confectionary for sponsorship the company frowned upon the idea and asked them to change it immediately. Something they may have lived to regret. In any event whilst watching an athletics program on television, the commentator said one of the runners was a pacemaker and Gerry thought. “Pacemakers”, that is the name of our group. In June 1960 Arthur Mack Mahon left the band to get married and Les Chadwick switched to lead guitar, Gerry gave up his job as a tea chest maker to turn professional and to take up a 4 month contract in Hamburg. This tour marked the group's professional start.
Hamburg was the training ground for the beat groups of the early sixties with punishing hours of hard work. Bands held large repertoires to keep, the customers happy and many adapted an R&B influence to keep the GIs stationed in Germany happy. The Hamburg clubs (Star Club and Top Ten Club) were violent places where the wrong word could result in a right punch up. Lineup changes were common as players dropped out or switched from one outfit to another. In 1961 Les Maguire (ex The Undertakers) joined the band playing piano and saxophone. Back in Liverpool Gerry & The Pacemakers jammed on stage with the Beatles for a gig at Litherland Town Hall as "The Beatmakers" (October 19 1961). In Liverpool Gerry and the Pacemakers and Beatles were strong rivals for top club band (Cavern).
Brian Epstein, signed Gerry & The Pacemakers in June 1962 after the Beatles. Later that year EMI's George Martin saw Gerry & The Pacemakers at a gig in Birkenhead and signed them to EMI Columbia, at the same time offering to produce their records. In 1963 'How Do You Do It' was originally offered to The Beatles but John Lennon didn’t like it so they rejected it. The Beatles did record a version (found on the Anthology 1 release). Another artist who turned it down was Adam Faith, of course it was the first single for Gerry and the boys and got to No. 1 for 3 weeks selling 1/2 million copies.
Another Mitch Millet composition “I Like it" was written for Gerry & The Pacemakers and it too went to No. 1 and stayed there for a month.
The band had been given first refusal on Beatles composition “Hello little girl,” they refuses and the song was a minor hit for Epstein’s other group The Fourmost. Gerry and the Pacemakers completed their hat trick of Number One hits in the UK with a cover version of Rogers and Hammerstein composition from Carousel. The song was frequently played at the Cop (Liverpool Football Club) as a halftime filler and the fans adopted it to become one of the most famous football anthems. Gerry and the Pacemakers record of three number ones with their first three singles remained unbeaten for 21 years. Ironically it was Liverpool outfit Frankie Goes To Hollywood who did it in the 1980s.
The bands popularity spread far and wide and soon they were on sell out tours across the world. In the US on the Ed Sullivan Show they performed “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying" (a Gerry Marsden composition), which became their first U.S. hit.
The band toured Australia in 1964 with Brian Poole and the Tremeloes and Dusty Springfield. Epstien was keen to encourage his stable of talent to spread their wings and in 1964 saw the band start work on a movie written by Coronation Street writer Tony Warren. The story line was about an up and coming band (played by Gerry & The Pacemakers) who were taking part in a beat competition. Gerry wrote all the songs including the title song although he shared the credits with the band. Fellow Cavern artists Cilla Black and The Fourmost featured in the movie. When the film was released worldwide the title song charted in 1965.
Another hit followed with Bobby Darin’s, "I'll Be There".
Gerry Marsden continued to write a lot of the band's material, and penned most of their subsequent hits, including "It's gonna be all right" (probably their gutsiest and best performance) and "I'm the One."
By 1965, the Mersey Sound had peaked and the group's popularity in Britain was in serious decline, 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. In 1966 the band had their last American Top 40 hit, "Girl on a Swing."
Music tastes had changed and as the Beatles were able to metamorphose into psychodelica , Gerry and the Pacemakers were unable to transcend and disbanded in October 1966. Gerry Marsden became a popular cabaret and children's TV entertainer. He appeared in the musical Charlie in the West End and replaced Joe Brown. When the musical came to Australia, Gerry was unable to come with it and John Farnham took over the part. Gerry’s biography became the basis of a Musical Theatre production "Ferry cross the Mersey" and enjoyed a sellout premiere in Liverpool and went on to a successful tour of the UK, Australia and Canada. He contributed vocals to a rerecording of "You'll Never Walk Alone" and "Ferry Cross the Mersey" in the 1980s; both songs were released for charity after the football disasters. In the 1980s he returned to top the charts as part of The Crowd. Along the way the Pacemakers were reformed (1974) but not the original members, and Gerry and the band toured the world. He has visited Australia 23 times since 1964 and enjoys the lucrative nostalgia circuit. Apart from Ferry across the Mersey and Walk Alone the Australian audiences like to hear Girl On A Swing’ and ‘I’ll Be There’
What happened to the Pacemakers ?
Fred Marsden put his drum kit in his garage and never touched it again. He worked for British Telecom then later had a driving instructor business. Les Maguire joined the Royal Navy, and is occasionally seen playing piano in his native Wallasey. Les Chadwick moved to Sydney Australia, where he formed a successful employment agency.
Worth a Listen:
How do you do what you do to me
I’ll be there
You’ll Never Walk Alone
"Ferry Cross the Mersey" Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Twist and shout
Strawberry Fields forever