The term ‘legend’ is often over-used but, for Gerry Marsden, who died on the 3rd January, at the age of 78, it was never more true. Gerry, and his band The Pacemakers, were right at the forefront of the Mersey Beat movement, along with The Beatles, a movement which spear-headed an unprecedented change in music and culture and the birth of the ‘Swinging Sixties’.
Indeed, Gerry and The Pacemakers became the first artist to have their first three releases all top the UK single chart, a record that would stand unequalled for over twenty years until fellow Merseysiders Frankie Goes To Hollywood repeated the feat. Gerry would continue to perform, well in to his seventies, as the frequent headliner on every popular Solid Silver Sixties Show tours.
Gerry Marsden was born on 24 September 1942 in Toxteth, Liverpool, developing an interest in music from and early age and forming The Pacemakers in 1959 with brother Freddie on drums. Gerry and The Pacemakers were one of the most popular groups on the Mersey Beat scene and regulars at Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club.
Under the guidance of Brian Epstein, they secured a record deal with EMI’s flagship Columbia label. Their first single was How Do You Do It?, written by Mitch Murray but rejected by The Beatles and Adam Faith. Produced by George Martin, Gerry and The Pacemakers’ How Do You Do It? topped the UK chart on 11 April 1963 and stayed there for three weeks, the first of the new wave of home-grown talent to do so as The Beatles had, at that point, only made number 2. They followed up with another Mitch Murray composition, the similarly upbeat I Like It, which would spend four weeks at the top of the charts in June and July.
By now the music industry had woken up to the musical revolution taking place in the UK and talent scouts descended on Liverpool looking for the ‘next big thing’ before scouring other musical hotbeds in Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield. The world of contemporary music would never be the same again.
Gerry and The Pacemakers then scaled unheard-of heights when their next release You’ll Never Walk Alone gave them a third consecutive UK number 1. This ballad marked a complete change of direction as it came from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel but again topped the chart for four weeks late in 1963. The song also became part of the folklore of Liverpool when adopted by the supports of Liverpool Football Club as their anthem, sung with great passion by the home fans at every game.
The hits continued into 1964 with the self-penned I’m The One, a return to the up-tempo numbers that captured Gerry’s smiling, affable personality and the ballad Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying, a group composition. Their final top ten hit was Gerry’s emotive title track to the film Ferry Cross The Mersey, a light-hearted look at the city and it’s music scene starring Gerry and The Pacemakers and Cilla Black.
By now the music scene was changing at an enormous rate and Gerry and The Pacemakers popularity was overtaken by a plethora of new stars. They disbanded in 1967 before Gerry assembled a new line-up in the seventies and returned to the stage with the Solid Silver Sixties Show which became hugely popular for many years as interest in the classic sixties music returned.
Gerry and the Pacemakers were frequently the headline attraction on these tours which continued until recently, reuniting him with many of the great names of the period including PJ Proby, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky Mick and Tich, Wayne Fontana and Dave Berry to name but a few. The love of their music never waned for Gerry or the fans and he was always entertaining with his easy manner, ready wit and infectious smile.
In 2003 Gerry was awarded an MBE for his charity work which included raising funds for the victims of the Hillsborough disaster and the fire tragedy at Bradford City. He was awarded the Freedom of Liverpool in April 2009. To mark the occasion, Gerry took a ferry across the Mersey with his guitar to sing that famous song.
Gerry Marsden announced his retirement on 29 November 2018 to enable him to spend more time with his family but, on 6 June 2019 he surprised Take That fans by singing You’ll Never Walk Alone at their show at Anfield. to commemorate Liverpool’s win against Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League.
Gerry passed away at Arrowe Park Hospital on Merseyside on 3 January 2021 after a short illness.
In tribute, Sir Paul McCartney described Gerry and the Pacemakers as The Beatles’ ‘biggest rivals’ from those early days on the Liverpool music scene, adding “I’ll always remember you with a smile.”