Britain’s oldest pop band The Searchers remember Merseybeat, The Beatles and an abrasive John Lennon

Britain’s longest-running pop band The Searchers have spoken about coming back out of retirement for a brand new tour – and this time it really could be their last.

Rising to fame as part of the Merseybeat scene in Liverpool during the early Sixties, The Searchers enjoyed hits with songs such as their Jackie DeShannon cover “When You Walk in the Room”, and their No 2 single “Sugar and Spice”.

Originally formed as a skiffle group in 1957 (before The Beatles and The Rolling Stones), by the Liverpool-born frontman John McNally and Mike Pender, the band have barely stopped since. The current lineup consists of McNally, Frank Allen, Spencer James and Richie Burns.

Allen told The Independent that The Searchers initially decided to call it a day in 2019, after growing weary of non-stop touring.

“I thought it was… we decided to stop in 2019,” he said, “but at that time the fun had gone out of it a bit.

“We thought, well, we’ve been doing this for six decades, about time to have a rest. We were getting on, we were well past retirement age and we’d been doing 200 shows a year up until that point.”

After five years of “retirement” however, the band’s jokes about a comeback tour became reality, and the consequent shows turned out to be “a lot fun”.

‘We were on such a high’: The Searchers performing live last year (Press)

“By the end of it, we finished on an epic night in Liverpool at the Philharmonic and it was probably the best night we’ve had of our careers,” Allen said. “We were on such a high.”

Allen joined the band in 1964 after meeting The Searchers in Hamburg, at the newly opened Star-Club. At the time, he was playing with Cliff Bennett and the Rabble Rousers; his visit to Hamburg coincided with The Beatles’ final residency at the Star-Club.

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“We’d heard all about them, even though they weren’t anyone at the time – they’d had a tiny hit with ‘Love Me Do’,” Allen said. “But there was a lot of talk about them in the clubs, so you knew they were something special.”

Pictured: MikePender, JohnMcNally, Frank Allen and John Blunt (drums) in 1966 (Supplied)

Recalling an encounter with John Lennon backstage at the club, shortly before they were due to fly home, Allen said he introduced himself and said he was looking forward to the Fab Four’s new record.

“He looked at me like a snake before it eats a rabbit,” Allen recalled.

Lennon apparently told Allen that his harmonies were “f***ing ridiculous”, leaving Allen to work out whether he’d been insulted or if it was “Liverpool humour”.

The Searchers meeting Queen Elizabeth II in 1981 at the Royal Variety Show (Supplied)

Later, Allen ran into May Pang, Yoko Ono’s former secretary with whom Lennon had an 18-month relationship, in 2008.

He theorised that Lennon, despite “all his bravado and agression”, was “as insecure as anyone else” and just “wanted to get the boot in before anyone else had the chance to”.

“May said, ‘You’ve hit the nail on the head,’” he remembered. “That’s exactly what John was like.”

Cover art for The Searchers’ ‘Ultimate Collection’ (Supplied)

Asked about the secret to The Searchers’ longevity, he said it was down to being “being a part of one of the most important periods in pop history”.

“If you made it during that period, people are never gonna forget you,” he said. “We’ve influenced so many American names, from The Byrds to Tom Petty, Marshall Krenshaw, Bruce Springsteen. We’ve had our time in the sun.”

The Searchers are on tour until 13 June and are playing across England, Wales and Scotland. Tickets are available now.


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