With his toothy smile and cheeky manners, Gerry Marsden, who died aged 78, was one of the main drivers of the Merseybeat sound of the early 1960s. For a time, Marsden’s band Gerry and the Pacemaker, competing With the Beatles as Britain’s leading pop group, both been part of Liverpool-based Brian Epstein’s management.
In 1963, the Pacemaker topped the UK charts With their first three singles, How do you do it?, I like it and the composition of Rodgers and Hammerstein You will never Walk alone (which became the theme song for Liverpool FC). In this sense, the Pacemaker had surpassed the Beatles, who did not manage to reach number 1 until their third single, From me to you. It was only in 1984 that the Pacemaker’ feat was repeated, coincidentally, by another Liverpool group, Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Rightly, the B-side of Frankie’s first big hit, Relax, was a version of the composition of Marsden Ferry Cross the Mersey, a Pacemaker stroke since 1965.
After their dazzling salvo of hits, Gerry and the Pacemaker could not match the extraordinary track record of the Beatles, but, as Epstein predicted: ” Gerry will be With us for many years because natural ability cannot be exhausted.” The group enjoyed more hits With the Marsden song. I’m the one, which reached number 2 in 1964, the poignant ballad Don’t let the sun catch you crying (written by Marsden and credited to the entire band, and which peaked at # 6 in 1964) and Ferry Cross the Mersey, which peaked at # 8 in early 1965.
Ferry Cross the Mersey was the subject of the film of the same name, written by Coronation Street writer Tony Warren and starring the group playing non-fictional 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 both sides of the Atlantic, and their last chart entry in Britain was Walk hand in hand, which reached 29 in late 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 learned to box and play guitar at the Florence Institute’s youth club. 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 changed the name of Mars Bars, hoping to gain sponsorship from the Mars confectionery company. Instead, Mars demanded that they change their name and, in 1959, the group became Pacemaker. In June 1960 they played for the first time With the Beatles (later Silver Beetles) and in December of that year they been hired to play for four months in Hamburg, prompting the group to quit their day jobs and become professional musicians. “We went With the Beatles, and we laughed a lot,” Marsden later recalled. “All they had there been oomph 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 on numerous occasions over the following year, and on October 19, 1961 the two groups teamed up to play Litherland town hall as the Lawmakers. In June 1962, Epstein signed them into management. In December of that year, Beatles producer George Martin saw them perform 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 didn’t like the song and Martin took it to Marsden and company. It became his first number one hit, in April 1962, selling half a million copies.
In May 1967, With their chart appeal waning, the band announced their intention to resign, With Marsden planning to take on the title role in Joe Brown’s West End musical Charlie Girl. The following month he released his first solo single, Please let them be, which failed to graph. In 1968, he moved to the London stage and released the single Liverpool, in 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 spot on the children’s television show The Sooty Show.
In 1973 he put together a new Pacemaker for the British Re- Invasion Show at Madison Square Garden, New York, where they appeared With other contemporaries of British pop, including the Searchers and Herman’s Hermits. In 1974, the appeal of the concert stage and the requests from fans proved irresistible. He hit the road With another version of Pacemaker and released the single Remember (The days of rock and roll) Like Gerry Marsden and pacemakers. Marsden would continue to tour With the band, as well as cabaret shows in Europe, the United States, and Australia, while continuing his television work.
In 1985, he supervised the recording of I’ll Never Walk Alone by the crowd – a host of names from show business, including Bruce Forsyth, Peter cook, Rick Wakeman, Dave Lee Travis, Motörhead and many more, to raise funds for the victims of the Bradford City football stadium fire in May of that year. It reached No. 1 in June, making Marsden the first artist to top the UK charts With two versions of the same song.
On April 18, 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 crossing the Mersey three days after the Hillsborough disaster, which killed 96 Liverpool fans. Marsden delivered an emotional performance of the song at the Liverpool-Everton FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium that year.
In1993, hee published his autobiography, I’ll Never Walk Alone, co-written With the former editor of Melody Maker. Ray Coleman. The book became the basis for the stage musical Ferry Cross the Mersey, which toured the UK, Canada and Australia.
In 2003 Marsden was named an MBE for his services to charity, and in 2010 he received an honorary scholarship from Liverpool John Moores University. He underwent heart surgery in 2003 and 2016, and in 2018 he announced his retirement.
However, she made a surprise appearance With Take That at their concert at Anfield on June 6, 2019, and sang You will never Walk alone to celebrate Liverpool’s Champions League victory over Tottenham a few days earlier.
He is survived by his wife, Pauline (née Behan), whom he married in 1965, and his daughters, Yvette and Victoria.
• Gerard “ Gerry” Marsden, singer, songwriter and actor, born September 24, 1942; died on January 3, 2021
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