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Gerry ’Cross the Mersey

Gerry Marsden, of ‘Gerry and the Pacemakers’ fame may not mean much to you, but he and his band recorded a handful of singles – ‘How Do You Do It’ (the single the Beatles rejected, with which the Pacemakers made their recording debut, and with which, had their first number one single), ‘I Like It’, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, ‘Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying’ and of course, ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’ – that are universally known and loved. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, from Marsden’s favourite musical, Carousel, was adopted as the anthem of the Liverpool Football Club. Marsden is currently in Australia with PJ Proby, as they undertake their ‘60s Gold – Fortieth Anniversary’ tour.

I know very little about Proby – except that he used to perform a stage manouvre that would see the seams of his jumpsuit split, that would have women decorating their cookies throughout the audience. As for Gerry, I was always a bit of a fan of that early 60s pop. Managed by Brian Epstein and produced by George Martin, the Pacemakers may appear to have been another besuited wannabe Beatles as far as latecomers are concerned. But they were the Beatles’ contemporaries. Indeed, there was an occasion in which pre-fame Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Beatles performed together, as the Beatmakers. However, whereas the Fab Four were always breaking new ground, exploring and exploiting sonic territory, the Pacemakers never really changed. So when the Beatles discovered psychedelia, the Pacemakers broke up so that Marsden could pursue a career in musicals.

Forty years on, he seems to have a pretty good life on the nostalgia circuit. A pleasant, happy, chatty interview subject, I can only hope I’m having half as much fun, still being paid for doing what I love to do, by the time I get to his age! (Although, let’s face it – what’s this ‘still’ business? I hope I get the opportunity to get paid to do what I love to do just once by the time I get to his age!)

A truncated version of this was edited into last week’s Music News and broadcast on ABC NewsRadio. I may even get around to posting a transcript of that broadcast. You can listen to the broadcast version – bookended by Music News banter – here. The transcript of the full, original interview follows.

GERRY MARSDEN: The last time I was here was a year ago. This is my twenty-third trip to Australia. I’m really a national.

Demetrius Romeo: So you must like it here!

GERRY MARSDEN: I love Australia. It’s great. I have lots of friends in Australia. I enjoy working in Australia, and I love the weather in Australia. So it’s great to be back!

Demetrius Romeo: If I didn’t have any scruples, I’d follow that quote with a snippet from your song ‘I Like It’!

Now, Gerry, when you started out, you broke a record by having three number one singles as your first three singles. Did you have any idea that you’d be that successful when you first picked up a guitar?

GERRY MARSDEN: No, not at all. Music was fun to me, and it still is today. When we had our first number one with ‘How Do You Do It?’, we thought, ‘bloody hell!’, you know, ‘we’re stars!’ Next thing was, we got ‘I Like It’ and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ as our first three number ones and there was a great surprise and a great pleasure to have them. We just loved them. That was what started my career in show biz and it’s still tremendous; I love it.

Demetrius Romeo: When you recorded ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, which was a song from a musical – apparently it was one of your favourite songs from your favourite musicals. How did you actually come to record the song?

GERRY MARSDEN: I saw the musical… the song itself is a lovely song. I love the lyrics. When we had ‘I Like It’ and ‘How Do You Do It?’, George Martin and Brian Epstein, our manager. I said I wanted to do ‘… Walk Alone’ as our third record and they said, ‘oh, it’s too slow, it’s wrong; it should be poppy!’ I said, ‘no, let me do it’. I won the fight, and when it got to number one, I rang them back and went, ‘nah nah ner-nah nah’. It’s just a song I loved and I still love singing it today. So God bless ‘…Walk Alone’.

Demetrius Romeo: It’s become an anthem; it’s still sung by hordes of people at the football in Liverpool.

GERRY MARSDEN: Yeah, it’s great. I go to the match when I’m at home, and my hair stands up and I get goose pimples when they sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. I stand with them and I’m singing it with them. It’s wonderful. It’s become the anthem of our football team. Wonderful!

Demetrius Romeo: Another anthemic song that you wrote was ‘Ferry Cross The Mersey’ which again sums up so much, and always brings a tear to the eye of people who can look back nostalgically on where they’ve come from and where they’re going. How did that song come about?

GERRY MARSDEN: ‘Ferry…’ was from a film. We made a film called Ferry Cross The Mersey because in the early days, we didn’t have videos, so we couldn’t actually send videos around the world for kids, and the Beatles did A Hard Day’s Night and Help! and Brian said we should do one. A guy called Tony Warren, who wrote Coronation Street originally, wrote Ferry Cross The Mersey the film, and asked me, could I do the songs for the film. I said yes, and he said, ‘well, we need a good theme song’. So I wrote ‘Ferry Cross The Mersey’. I wrote it about Liverpool people and why a ferry should cross the Mersey to get to Liverpool, and it worked and it’s became a great standard for me. All over the world, wherever I go, people say, “please sing ‘Ferry Cross The Mersey’!”

Demetrius Romeo: How do you feel that you had these massive hits at the front end of your career? Does it effect you as you go on as a musician?

GERRY MARSDEN: Not at all. You can’t continue having hit records. But the thing those records gave us – ‘Ferry’, ‘Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying’, things like that – they gave us a longer life in the business, because people liked the songs, they liked the lyrics, they like to come and see the shows. So it doesn’t matter now, not having hit records, truthfully. It would be nice to have one, of course, but it doesn’t matter not having one because people still love to listen to the records of those days. I’m just glad that they still do, and I can still work and enjoy myself. And travel the world. And come to Australia every year. Yeah, yeah, bloody great!

Demetrius Romeo: One of the problems for the music industry at the moment is that people are downloading songs illegally. If what you are, primarily, is a live performer, does that affect tour career as a musician?

GERRY MARSDEN: It doesn’t affect my career as a musician… Downloading is a thing they do that’s just life. It might affect me if I’m making millions and millions of pounds out of records, but I’m not; I’m making millions out of singing and entertaining, and they can’t download me – ha ha ha! I wish they could – ha ha ha. So no, it doesn’t matter to me, really.

Demetrius Romeo: What sort of audience do you draw in Australia?

GERRY MARSDEN: The nice thing is, we get kids of sixteen to kids of ninety-three coming into the show, because you get the parents, you get the grandparents who know the songs, and you get the young kids who like the sixties music and they want to see the artists who actually recorded the songs. So it’s massive. The audience is a vast array of ages, and it’s great, because the kids love the music. What you get is another bonus for us: they’re grateful and they know the words and it’s easy to sing ’em.

Demetrius Romeo: Do the kids sing along with you?

GERRY MARSDEN: Of course they do. The kids and the old kids all sing along. It’s like a party. I could go out on stage, start my first song and leave until the end because they sing every song with me.

Demetrius Romeo: Do you find, as you play different territories, that different songs are the ones that get the crowd rolling for you?

GERRY MARSDEN: Maybe so. Yeah, like, in Australia, a song called ‘Girl On A Swing’ is very popular, which isn’t really popular in England. And in the States, ‘Girl On A Swing’ and ‘I’ll Be There’, songs like that which aren’t massive in England, are big in Australia, so you find that you do have to change the act slightly. And half the time, I’ve forgotten the words to the songs, so I’ve got to relearn them. But never mind: it’s worth doing!

Demetrius Romeo: What’s your favourite part of coming to Australia?

GERRY MARSDEN: I don’t know my one favourite thing… Maybe the beaches – I love the beaches. I’m a sun worshipper, so I love the beaches. And I love the people because I just think Australians are great; they’re mad, and I’m mad, and I think it’s great fun to be back in Aussie.

Demetrius Romeo: The Pacemakers broke up in the mid 60s. How did you progress after that? Did you think it was the end, for a little while?

GERRY MARSDEN: What we did, we decided to split in 1967 – the original band – because I was going into the West End, into theatre, to do a show called Charlie Girl and I loved it. I did that for nearly three years, and the show actually came out to Australia but I couldn’t sign the contract for twelve months because I wanted to be home; I couldn’t be away for that long. And a great guy called Johnny Farnham did my part in Australia; Johnny’s a great artist, a great singer and a great guy. So I did that and then I did another show – a West End show called Pull Both Ends. Then, in about 1975, I said ‘right, I want to tour’ because I would get letters from the States and Australia saying “What are you doing? Where are ya?” So I thought ‘right!’ and I re-formed me band, just to re-tour again. And since that day, I’ve been touring and I’ve had about three thousand Pacemakers in my band since the early days.

Demetrius Romeo: Freddy, your brother, was an original Pacemaker. Is he still in the band with you?

GERRY MARSDEN: No, Fred finished with the other boys in ’67, and all he’s done since then is play golf. He’s a great golfer and enjoys playing golf, so, no, Fred isn’t in the band, but I still see him a hell of a lot of course because he’s mah bruddah. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother!

Demetrius Romeo: Gerry, thank you very much.

GERRY MARSDEN: The pleasure has been all mine. You take care and look after yourself. God bless you.

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