By the time Gerry and the Pacemakers peaked in the UK charts at number six in the spring of 1964 with Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying, there was already an ominous sense of their helium balloon of success beginning to deflate.
Ok, it turned out to be the group’s breakthrough single in the USA – where it reached number four, but when you’ve already gone into pop music’s pantheon hall of fame by becoming the first act to reach the UK number one spot with their first three singles (all in 1963) – and narrowly missing a fourth chart topper by just one place because of fellow Liverpool group The Searchers (with Needles and Pins), number six seems a bit of a warning sign.
After that it was a slippery slope – 24, 8, 15 and 29. By November 1965, apart from charity discs and re-issues the band’s chart days were over.
GERRY MARSDEN AND THE MARS BARS
It was probably to be expected. Despite frontman Gerry Marsden’s cheeky chappie charm, a distinctively husky voice and the gimmick of strapping his guitar so high it could have doubled as an underarm deodorant, there was always going to be a question mark over the commercial longevity of any band originally called Gerry Marsden and the Mars Bars (thankfully changed after a complaint from the chocolate bar manufacturers).
Not that transitioning from chart topper to cabaret and nostalgia tour stalwart seemed to worry the effervescent Marsden who fronted several subsequent versions of the band he first helped form in 1959 as well as carving out a solo career, only calling a day (so far) in 2018.
Not bad for an outfit which rode to chart fame on what started out as Beer Mat Music (hits one two How Do You Do It? and I Like It were hardly lyrically challenging) and ended up as Kop Classics (cashing in on Carousel’s tear jerker You’ll Never Walk Alone as well as every Scouser’s theme song, Ferry Cross The Mersey).
Despite sometimes sailing close to becoming the George Formby of Mersey Beat, Marsden certainly had an ear for an anthem. Pretty much any of the band’s biggest moments could be easily sung on the soccer terraces – even Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying sounds better when swaying from side to side whilst holding your favourite club’s scarf aloft. And/or a pint.
Gerry Marsden formed the group with his brother Fred, Les Chadwick, and Arthur McMahon. And short of the occasional barbershop quartet there has rarely been a less likely looking poster boy and his mates.
It didn’t stop them rivalling The Beatles early in their career, playing the same Hamburg and Liverpool club and pub circuit. McMahon (known as Arthur Mack) was replaced on piano by Les Maguire around 1961 by which time they were reportedly using the Cammell Laird ship yard at Birkenhead for rehearsals. At least they did rehearse.
Such was their reputation that they became the second act to be snapped up by Brian Epstein, who signed them to Columbia Records where they were presented with How Do You Do It? written by Mitch Murray and subsequently produced by George Martin – becoming the first number one by an Epstein-managed Liverpool group.
By the time of Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying, their fifth single, the group – mostly Marsden – were writing the majority of their own material. The song was given first to Louise Cordet, a singer who had previously toured with the group as well as with The Beatles. Her version was produced by former drummer with The Shadows, Tony Meehan, and released on Decca in February 1964. The group then decided to issue their own version in April that year.
It spent 11 weeks in the UK charts 12 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US and was also big in Canada and New Zealand. Gerry and the Pacemakers performed the song on their first US television show, The Ed Sullivan Show in May 1964. The group’s earlier UK hit singles were then reissued in the US to follow up its success, but Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying remains their biggest hit Stateside.
Over there, their recordings were released by the small New York City record label Laurie, with whom they issued four singles without much success.
The band’s American success was, as with various other British Invasion acts, thanks to their former rivals The Beatles.
When the Fab Four broke through in January 1964, Laurie tried again with Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying which became a big hit and prompted the label to couple How Do You Do It? with You’ll Never Walk Alone and I Like It with Jambalaya (On the Bayou), this time with some degree of success.
Despite the fact that by late 1965, their popularity was rapidly declining on both sides of the Atlantic (the original line-up disbanded in October 1966, with much of their latter recorded material never released in the UK) their legacy lives on. You’ll Never Walk Alone is still played at every Liverpool FC home match, Ferry Cross the Mersey is still a retro radio regular and the lilting nursery rhyme charm of Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying has been dusted down over years by the likes of Steve Lawrence (1964), José Feliciano (1968), Rickie Lee Jones (1989), Gloria Estefan (1994), Jeff Buckley (1998), Paul Carrack (2010), and Nellie McKay (2015).
|Gerry Marsden, Freddie Marsden, Les Chadwick, Les Maquire
|Gerry and the Pacemakers
|EMI Columbia (UK) Laurie (USA)
|Jose Feliciano, Jeff Buckley