2016 marks a full fifty four years of non stop touring for The Searchers and the 60s favourites that still comprise 60s line-up members John McNally and Frank Allen will return to South Wales next week with a date at Cwmbran’s Congress Theatre .
When the incredible beat boom of the mid sixties that saw so many bands riding on the crest of a seemingly unstoppable wave of success subsided many simply disbanded and got on with their lives as best they could. Not The Searchers.
They stayed firmly in place, a constant unit riding out the bad times putting the twilight years of the cabaret clubs, looked on as anathema by some, to good use as they diligently honed their stage craft and upgraded the quality of their shows to please the more mature audience who had replaced the screaming teenage girls who had mobbed them in those years of chart topping glory. Such dogged determination was to stand them in good stead for the momentous nostalgia revival which was to lift them once again to national and international prominence.
With a regular touring schedule of two hundred plus shows a year The Searchers seem to be both unstoppable and indestructible. They are arguably the hardest working band in showbusiness and their amazing datesheet is legendary in the music industry.
Their impressive run of hits including Sweets For My Sweet, Sugar & Spice, Needles & Pins and Don`t Throw Your Love Away in those glory years from 1963 to 1966 was worldwide enabling them to travel the globe constantly.
Andy Howells recently put questions to Frank Allen who joined the band in 1964 after a stint with Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers.
Why do you think The Searchers popularity has endured over the years?
We were part of the greatest change and the most important decade in the history of British pop music and our friendly and well groomed appearance had a very wide appeal. And of course we chose our songs very well – for a time until we finally lost the knack.
The Searchers took their name from a John Wayne film of the same name – when was the last time you watched the film?
The film actually came out I believe in 1957 but the band name was probably not chosen until around `59 or `60. I saw the movie when it first came out but haven`t watched it since. I`m not a fan of Westerns. It simply provided a very catchy name for the band. But if you like the genre it is a terrific film.
Which song gets the best reaction from the audience when you perform it?
Without a doubt When You Walk In The Room. What has been your personal highlight been a member of The Searchers?
It is difficult to choose between four memories, there’s my first trip to the U.S performing with legends like Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson , The Temptations, The Supremes, The Ronettes, The Shangri Las, The Contours, Martha and The Vandellas, Little Anthony and so many others at The Fox Theatre in Brooklyn in September 1964.
There was also being presented to The Queen at the 1981 Royal Variety Performance and playing in front of 80,000 people at Wembley Stadium on each of two days in 1981 as guests of Cliff Richard who was celebrating his 30th Anniversary in Showbusiness.
Finally, playing in front of 2,000 troops in Bosnia during the war there. The lads were too young to really know who we were but they went wild. We played Chuck Berry`s Johnny B Goode and two squaddies did the duck walk from either side of the stage using machine guns instead of guitars. Unforgettable.
Do you remember the first time you ever played Wales?
Not specifically but it would have been on a package tour in 1964 for me soon after joining The Searchers. Probably one of the Odeon or Gaumont chains in the major cities/ I do remember we used to play The Sofia Gardens in Cardiff regularly.
Whats your favourite album/ record by another artist that you constantly go back to?
I really don`t play much much at all these days. I suppose the Van Morrison album Moondance would be an all time favourite and my favourite track would be Into The Mystic.
What can fans look forward to about the 2016 tour?
As complete a look over the career of The Searchers as we can mange in two hours on stage complete with anecdotes that will hopefully amuse and interest the people sitting in front of us. I would like to think that they would go home feeling they had spent the time in the company of good friends as we ourselves do after a satisfying show.
- A version of this Q&A by Andy Howells appears in The South Wales Argus on April 22, 2016.
- The Searchers play Cwmbran on April 29, visit congresstheatrecwmbran.co.uk for details