Gerry Marsden (1942-2020)

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“Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”…Gerry Marsden, front man of Gerry and the Pacemakers, died yesterday, aged 78.

Gerry and the Pacemakers took a rejected Beatles song, which had also been turned down by Adam Faith, and turned it into the first of a string of 3 UK Number 1 hits on the bounce, culminating in “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. Along with The Beatles, they were right at the spearhead of Merseybeat.

As such, and as a son of Toxteth, he would always be associated with the town of his birth and it was in this context I enjoyed my one and only meeting with him. My brother Paul had cause to work with him in a live context on occasion but a few years ago whilst working as a national press and media officer with the Plain English Campaign, I attended a dinner with him on the occasion of his award of an honorary doctorate from Liverpool John Moores University.

The ceremony took place in Liverpool’s huge and impressive Catholic Cathedral and afterwards we were at dinner and I found myself sharing tables with him and playwright and ‘Brookside’ creator Phil Redmond.  Queen guitarist Brain May, who was vice chancellor at the time, was also present. Gerry was charm itself, very entertaining and good company, just like the simple, smiley pop songs he took to the top of the charts.

But of course “You’ll Never Walk Alone” became a monster song, with far greater relevance than as a UK chart-topper for a Merseybeat group. And to an extent, so did “Ferry Cross the Mersey”, which I can remember singing drunkenly along to with a bunch of mates on a retirement ‘do’, whilst swaying from side to side on such a ferry, on our way to drinking the Wirral dry one afternoon.

And for me, his finest recording was the American top ten and last big UK hit, “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”, which I absolutely will play next Sunday on my Caroline Flashback show on Sunday. Radio Caroline was instrumental in ‘breaking’ these hits, they were absolutely typical ‘beat boom’ songs of the period, emerging with that first great rush of offshore pirate radio; so it is only right that I should.

Gerry succumbed to a short illness not connected to COVID 19 in hospital. A blood infection had caused problems with his heart, which, following a triple bypass had, yes, a pacemaker fitted.

Gerry and the Pacemakers fitted that classic marginally pre-Beatles ‘beat group’ mould. They had a run of big hits, expanded into big production ballads with their main man looking for a career either on the stage or the telly as an all-round entertainer and when that started to dry up, made a good living out of cabaret and revivals and sixties package tours. Because at the end of it, try as they might, they couldn’t quite break out of being frozen in time, in a particular moment of social and musical history. 

Our contributor Steve Jenner now presents a two hour show on Caroline Flashback every Sunday morning between 8 and 10 am.