Who’s That Little Old Man?

“I rang up on the fourteenth of the fifth about Gerry and the Pacemakers…” the customer began.

He was a little old man in little shorts that were pulled way too high. His clean-shaven face had those errant patches of wiry grey strands that old-timers inadvertently sport – small clumps of whiskers that had somehow managed to elude the razor. His Buddy Holly thick-rimmed glasses had flip-top shades in the ‘up’ position.

“And we were holding it for you?” I enquired, slowly rising from the stool behind the counter as he nodded. “Was it a CD or a record?” I asked, about to make my way to the far end of the space behind the counter, to the milk crates on their side that constitute the ‘hold’ box. “CD,” he replied.

“What name was it being held under?” I asked, as I pulled out all the CD-sized bags from the milk crates. Although I didn’t catch his name, I realised that as it was now the thirteenth of the month, anything put away on the fourteenth was at least a month old; if he had phoned to ask us to put it away, there was little chance that it would still be in the ‘hold’ box. But I checked each bag just to make sure.

“I’m sorry, Sir,” I explained to him back at the counter. “Our policy is to only hold something for a day without deposit. We need a deposit to hold it for a month. When did you say you rang us to hold it?”

“The fourteenth of the fifth.”

This time I actually heard him. “Fourteenth of May?” I said, disbelief in my voice. It was now mid-November. But he was an old-timer after all; there was probably nobody to bring him into the city. “I’m so sorry, Sir, there’s no way we’d keep something on hold for six months even with a deposit. But let me check to see if it’s still in stock.”

Only the items deemed ‘collectible’, ‘fragile’ or still shrink-wrapped actually contain their discs – they are kept behind the counter or in locked cabinets. All the other CD and DVD covers on display are empty cases, their discs filed — alphabetically by artist — in a set of drawers behind the counter. And, luckily, there was a Gerry and the Pacemakers disc in the drawer – Ferry ’Cross the Mersey, a live collection of the band’s best-known songs with an additional smattering of unlikely covers, recorded and released in the 80s. Although it took a while, I located the case and, inserting the disc, popped it on the counter in front of the customer.

“Here you go,” I said. “‘Gerry and the Pacemakers’.”

“Yes,” he said, “that’s it. ‘Gerry and the Pacemakers’.”

“Yes,” I said, with a contented smile. “‘Gerry and the Pacemakers’. That will be ten dollars, thanks.”

“Isn’t it free?” the man asked me.

“I’m afraid not,” I said, proffering a brief courtesy laugh. “It’s ten dollars.”

I stopped laughing when I realised he was serious.

“I thought it would be free,” he said.

I felt myself stand a little taller, heard my voice hardening ever-so-slightly. This is an early step in a process of behaviour I regularly display that is best described as ‘turning into Basil Fawlty’. Under pressure, in retail, I frequently find myself turning into one of those tense, coiled, John Cleese characters that, on the verge of emotional explosion, enunciate every syllable through clenched teeth.

“I’m sorry, Sir, this is a shop,” I began to explain in a patronising tone. “The way a shop works is that I give you stuff in exchange for money. This is known, from my point-of-view, as ‘selling’. From your point-of-view, it is ‘buying’. So I cannot give you stock for free. You have to give me money for it.”

“Okay,” he said, never losing his pleasant, genial, shorts-too-high, some-whiskers-missed old man demeanor as he handed over two five-dollar notes.

I shook my head after he left, but didn’t have any time to think about it because I had a few customers in need of attention.

However, before long, the old man was back.

“Look,” he said, “I got to the corner and decided I don’t want it unless it’s free.”

I paused for a moment, attempting to process this information. But it was no use. “I’m sorry?” I demanded.

“Well,” he said, “I thought about it, and realised that it hasn’t been quite six months yet; this should still be free.”

“Tomorrow will be the fourteenth of November,” I explained, “six months after the fourteenth of May. We are shut tomorrow. This is as close to six months being up as we can get. But it doesn’t matter. I still don’t understand – why should the disc be free?”

“You said that you don’t need money after a day, but after six months…”

I took a deep, emphatic breath that cut him off.

“What I said was, we hold things for customers for a day without a deposit, or a month with a deposit. If we hold it for a day without a deposit, then you have to come in and buy it, or leave a deposit; if you leave a deposit, then, within the month, you have to come in and buy it, otherwise it goes back on the shelf.”

“Oh well, I don’t want it unless it’s free.”

Another deep breath.

“This is a shop,” I began again, carefully. “We sell stuff. Why should I be giving this to you for nothing? Do you go to other shops and ask for things for nothing?”

“No,” he said.

“Then why are you coming here to ask for free stuff from me?” I was uncomfortable. I didn’t understand. I really wanted to, but I didn’t.

“I don’t know,” he said, “I just thought of it.”

“You just thought you might come in here and ask for something for free?”


It was no use. Comprehension and I were not within spitting distance of one another. “Did somebody put you up to this?” I demanded, just in case.

“No. I just don’t want the CD anymore. I’d like my money back.”

“But I don’t understand. Why? You just bought it. I just sold it to you. Why should it be free?”

“I just think it should.”

On the verge of losing it, I tried one more time.

“I still don’t understand,” I began, relatively calmly. “Shops have been in existence almost from the beginning of time, and they all work the same way: you want something, you exchange something of value for it, in this case, money. When do you get stuff from shops for free?”

“Sometimes things are free,” he reasoned, hitching his shorts up that extra half a centimetre or so for emphasis as he delivered what he must have imagined was the clincher. “Sometimes you might win something when you go to the club. Then it’s free.”

I didn’t know anything about any clubs, but I knew about give-aways on th radio, so I tried to run with that example.

“Okay, so, say you ring a radio station and win something from them, they have to send it out to you.”


“So why are you trying to get this CD for nothing from a shop?”

“Because I thought it would be free.”

Now we were going in circles. Ten dollars was not enough justification to embrace the insanity that was slowly creeping over me. I wondered who’d believe me when, some time in the future, I try to re-tell this story.

“I’d really just like my money back,” the old man said. “If it isn’t free, I just don’t want it.”

I’ve never been in this position before, but I’d been near enough to it to know that no matter how you try to rationalise what has happened, no matter how calmly and sensibly you attempt to reason, there is no way out, really. It’s much easier just to give in.

“You know what?” I said, “I’m gonna give you your money back, and then I want you to leave this shop and not come back. Is that okay with you?”

“Yes,” he said, all genial shorts-too-high old man again.

I took ten dollars out of the cash register. But before I handed it over I decided to have one more go.

“Okay. Let me try to understand. Six months ago you rang us and asked us to hold a ‘Gerry and the Pacemakers’ CD for you.”


“You wanted it then?”


“But you don’t want it now.”


“Because we didn’t keep it on ‘hold’ for you.”

“That’s right.”

“Would you want it now if it was still on ‘hold’ for you?”



“Okay,” I said, taking the plastic bag with the compact disc in it over to the ‘hold’ box, and then sauntering back to the counter.

“Hello, Sir,” I said pleasantly, as though I’d only just caught sight of him. “I suppose you would like the ‘Gerry and the Pacemakers’ CD we’ve had on hold for you for nearly six months.” Before he could trick me by saying “no”, I dashed to the ‘hold’ box for the disc, and handed it to him. “Here it is, that’ll be ten dollars thank you, you wanted it, now you have it. The transaction is over.” I put the money back into the cash register as he shook his head and walked out, a little older and somewhat less genial, his shorts still way too high.

I was reeling from the experience, and needed to tell someone about it in order to try to make sense of it, so I rang the boss. When I got to the “… and he thought it should be free,” part of the story, he said, “Why? Because it wasn’t delivered in thirty minutes?” He couldn’t make sense of it either.

Suddenly, a slightly younger, taller, bald man with a moustache underlining an aquiline nose — essentially the spitting image of Jerry’s Uncle Leo on Seinfeld — was standing at the counter with that damn Gerry and the Pacemakers CD.

“That old guy’s an idiot,” Uncle Leo announced, before I - goggle-eyed and open-mouthed - could say anything about the CD in his hand. I assumed he worked in one of the other music shops along the street and he was going to tell me that shorts-too-high old man had been performing his routine in there as well. I didn’t care. I’d gotten him to take the CD and give me money. The transaction was over.

“He certainly didn’t seem to understand the concept of ‘retail’,” I agreed, hoping Uncle Leo did. I didn’t want that bloody CD back.

“He won a competition for a free CD of his choice from the shop two doors down,” the man said, pulling a second, and, truth be told, better Gerry and the Pacemakers CD out of a bag.

Jesus H.M.A.S. Christ! Now it all made sense. The little old man had phoned six months ago about a Gerry and the Pacemakers CD that would be held for him to pick up for free, because you can win free stuff in competitions at clubs. He had won such a competition. It was just that MY SHOP WASN’T THE SHOP RUNNING A COMPETITION THROUGH THE CLUB!

All of this must have gone through my head in an instant, because my immediate reply consisted of the following sentence fragment:

“But I’ve just been…”

After a pause, I started to feel remorse. “I absolutely tortured…”

“Yeah, he’s an idiot,” Uncle Leo let me off the hook again.

“That’s as may be, but, knowing that he’s an idiot, shouldn’t you have come with him?” I demanded.

“I had to wait in the car,” he explained. “I was in a loading zone.”

“Oh, you bloody idiot...” I thought to myself, putting the CD on. “Life goes on day after day/Hearts torn in every way,” Gerry Marsden reminded me as I withdrew those ten dollars one last time from the cash register, defeated.


That shop I was in when visited by the little old man has subsequently closed. That fact that it was on a clear slide towards its ultimate end - too many 'ten-dollar shops' and eBay teaching everyone the cost of everything and the value of nothing - explains why I went to some length to become the sort of shop assistant who would impress Ronnie Barker’s ‘Arkwright’ character from Open All Hours.

However, imagine how much funnier the whole ‘theatre of the absurd’ incident would have been had we not had a Gerry and the Pacemakers CD in stock. Pants-too-high would have made me search the entire premises, ‘cheese shop sketch’-like, until I found something that he actually wanted… and then he would have wanted to have it for free!

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.