The Searchers have a long and proud history of making great music. We catch up with Frank Allen from the band before their upcoming performance at Club Forster
>You are performing at Club Forster. Have you been to the area before?
Yeah, we have. We did a tour maybe three or four years ago. From what I remember, it’s a lovely little holiday area. We had a few days free while we were there; everyone was just so relaxed.
We spent a lot of time on and in the beautiful lake there. It’s very picturesque; we had a great time.
> What was it like being asked to join a band like The Searchers?
Pretty awesome, really. Pretty frightening as well, because I was with a band called Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers. We were a very highly respected band from London – a big band, seven piece with saxophone, piano and things like that.
I met The Searchers in Hamburg. They had only just gone there in the wake of The Beatles, probably expecting this professional career to last a year or two. My band had already been recorded; we had about six singles out at that time, and The Searchers weren’t a recording band at all.
Prior to 1962 they’d been a 5 piece with Johnny Sandon. I met them out there in Germany, and they were very much my kind of people.
It was a completely made place there. You could get anything you wanted in Hamburg – especially in the red light district where we were, and of course musicians being what they are, we took advantage of this!
But I was a pretty timid guy at the time. I didn’t drink, so I didn’t really fit in with that sort of living. So when I met The Searchers, who were very clean living, moderate lads, I kind of buddied up with them. We got on great; I enjoyed their company.
Then about six months later The Beatles had cracked, and everything just opened up for bands in the UK – and especially Liverpool.
The Searchers took their shot and went straight to number one with their very first record, which was Sweets for my Sweet.
Suddenly these friends that I had met with accidentally, were now global superstars – they had hits in the States. I just enjoyed hanging around on their coat tails, going to their shows, getting into some of the parties they were invited to and just loving the whole thing.
In ‘64 they weren’t getting along with their bass player, Tony Jackson. He was a few years older than them and completely wild – a totally different kind of person. So it was decided that he was going to be promoted as a solo act and the band was going to get another bass player.
So, they came to me and asked if I would like to join. I did actually say “No”, because I was a bit scared about upsetting things for Cliff Bennet and the Rebel Rousers. They had just been signed up by Brian Epstien as part of his stable, and I was scared it might rock the boat a bit.
Then we were doing a tour of Ireland and I was walking down an alleyway with one of our sax players. I hadn’t told anyone about this, and suddenly, for whatever reason, I told him about the offer. He said, “You mean, you’ve been offered a job by one of the top groups in the world and you turned it down? You must be MAD! Ring them, tell them you want it and ask if they want a sax player as well.”
So, I thought, “Maybe he’s got a point there.”
I thought about it over- night and realised I had to take this chance, so I rang them up and accepted the job, and the rest is history.
The first record I played on was When You Walk in the Room. We went into the studio straight after I joined, and then we went off to America. Our first tour of Australia wasn’t far behind. So big things were happening – it was a great time.
> You have been credited with influencing many artists. Who were the major influences on you?
Major influences on us were any of the Rock ‘n’ Roll people, I suppose. Mainly people like Elvis Presley … Buddy Holly, greatly, as he played the sort of light Rock ‘n’ Roll that we played. Tim Vincent, too.
Jackie DeShanon was great for us, because she used to write and record songs very much in a Searchers style, and she ended up writing to order.
It’s nice that we’ve influenced people like Bruce Springstein, and The Ramones were big fans of ours – in fact, we had Marty Ramone the drummer sitting in with us in New York two years ago. He emailed us when he knew we were coming to a club called the Cutting Room, and he asked us if he could sit in on Needles and Pins. So that was great – it was a knock out!
I remember Joey Ramone coming to see us in the mid ‘80s. Tom Petty was also a fan – it’s nice to know, when they tell you this.
> As with a lot of bands, there have been members come and go. Is the current line up the strongest?
I don’t know. Strongest … is depending on what kind of music you like, I suppose. Ideally, the fans know. No-one likes change, so the fans would dearly have liked to see the original line-up back together even before I joined. I don’t know … they can’t have that original line-up, because two of them are dead anyway.
But the current line-up is a great one as far as we’re concerned. We have just been through ten of the happiest years of our career, because we are just all getting on so astonishingly well. So I think that if you come and see the show these days, you will see a show that is infectious – not just because of the music, but because of the sheer enthusiasm of the people playing.
> There have been many hits for the group. What are your favourite all time tracks?
My favourite would be When You Walk in the Room. I think it’s the classic pop song; it’s a direct three minute pop song that has everything it should have from the music of that day. It was also the first record of The Searchers that I was involved with, but that’s not the reason, particularly. It’s just a special memory, and because of that it is the strongest song.
Next to that, Sweets for my Sweet would be my favourite, and I didn’t play on that one. It’s got a really terrific feel. Tony Jackson sang the lead voice on that one. He’s no longer around; he died about five years ago.
There are so many good records I’m fond of, but those two are the ones I would single out.
> We hear a lot about the good times of the ‘60s and ‘70s. What was it really like?
It was a fantastic time of opportunities to do whatever you wanted to do. I was in a moderate band with their whole approach to life, so there are no great tales of debauchery to come from The Searchers.
The closest we came to controversy was on our Australian tour of ‘66, when we were over there with the Rolling Stones. Chris Curtis, our drummer, always had a very fragile mind, but very off the wall and funny. A great character and great guy, but this trip he just pushed the pills and things a bit too far.
He was on a completely other planet by the time we left the Philippines and headed to Australia. We couldn’t communicate with him at one point. We had to call Harry Miller, our promoter, to threaten him, because he had fallen off the stage at one club, collapsed on a TV show and had to be taken to hospital. It was looking very dicey. So Harry threatened him and said if he didn’t get his act together, he would call the police.
So there we were on tour with The Rolling Stones. They were sailing through with no controversy at all, and we were getting threatened with the police.
By the time we were on our way home, Chris Curtis decided he didn’t want to be a Searcher any more. We tried to talk him out of it when we got back to the UK, but no luck.
> Highlight of your career to date?
There are three highlights.
The first tour of America in ‘64. The first time I was part of it was a week at the Fox Theatre in Brooklyn – 6 shows a day for a week with Dusty Springfield, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Ronettes, Smokey Robinson … and the list went on. It was an astonishing bill.
Secondly, the 1989 two days of Wembley Stadium – 80,000 people on each day – as guests of Cliff Richards on his 30th anniversary in show business. That was pretty phenomenal. If you’ve seen Live Aid, it was a bit like that, but for two days running. It was just mind boggling!
And the third thing would be the 1981 Royal Variety Show and being presented to the Queen. Whether you’re a monarchist or not, it’s a pretty unique experience that not many people have.
> Did you ever think you would still be playing?
Not on your life – no. I thought 3 years tops, but we dug our heels in during the bad times. And we have had some bad times, particularly the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. We had to cut down on transport – no luxuries, having to stay in dreadful bed and breakfast places all the time.
Trying to learn how to present a show when you didn’t have screaming girls out there did us a lot of good, though. But I wouldn’t like to go back to those times.
> If you couldn’t be a musician, what would you be?
Now I know I would like to be a writer. I’ve just done my second book. I had one out called Travelling Man in 1998, and this one is about The Searchers and me – the legendary ‘60s hit makers. I love writing. I have written articles for newspapers, so definitely writing, but I didn’t start to write until about ten years ago.
> Thank you Frank.