Appearing just outside Cardiff on the 9th February at Blackwood Miners Institute are The Searchers who celebrate their 60th year, Carl Marsh speaks with John McNally, and he chose to chat about the early days when he used to swap music with a fellow Merseybeat band called The Beatles, and Carl got to learn some unknown facts!
When you were performing in the late 1950s, did you save anything such as posters, flyers, tickets of yourselves or even from the other bands like Gerry and the Pacemakers or The Beatles?
That’s the annoying thing about it! My wife still has a signed picture of The Beatles that she got from when she used to go to the Cavern Club in Liverpool but, I didn’t think about it like that at the time about memorabilia. When I was performing at the same venue as say The Beatles, I just saw them as fellow musicians just enjoying themselves in clubs. You were so young that you don’t think about these things at the time, but with the footballers, and especially with the likes of the Anfield 60’s crowd, you would get their autographs.
So not even of your own band, you didn’t save anything advertising yourselves?
People will often say to me in the past, “Have you got any memorabilia for this charity/etc…” and I would send them something. Then I realise now that I’ve given everything away!
I have just rung a Liverpool phone number for you John, have you always stayed there all of your career?
Yeah, although when we initially had our first few hits, we all went down to London of course, as all the business was down there in the entertainment world, so we had an apartment in Knightsbridge, I didn’t like it, and with what was going on (in the London scene) at the time, I just didn’t like it. I wanted to come home and play five-a-side with the lads. Mike (Pender) and I used to go back home and just leave Tony and Chris to whoop it all up, and what they got up to is that only they can tell, but both have passed away now, but Mike and I are still going! So that says something, doesn’t it!
This must have lead to a bit of conflict at the time with two of you being up in Liverpool, whereas Chris and Tony were living it up in London?
No, not at all. Tony liked that lifestyle, he loved all of the drink and the birds (girls) while Chris was more showbizzy, he used to hang around with the likes of Lionel Bart, he even used to stay with him. He liked that life, and he actually stayed down there. In fact, Chris left the group in 1966 as he wanted to be a producer, and of course, he was on the silly things, you know, the drugs and all that, so by the time he was finished in the music industry, he came back home to Liverpool, he was just out of it. The drugs did his brain in that bad, and I know he was working in the Civil Service, as a close relation of mine used to work by his side, and he said he was crackers! He said one day that when they had been working on something big in the office, Chris just got up and ran down the room, grabbing everybody’s papers and just threw them out the window and then went home! In the end, they had to pension him off.
For yourself then John, what has been the most significant and then the most painful moment of your career?
Having our first hit was one of the most memorable ones, it’s a fantastic feeling. Then when the follow up “Needles and Pins’ is number one also, then you are in this world that nobody normally gets to see much of, you’re elated, it’s just a great feeling to be big. Then when (the interest) drops a bit, you realise it’s ‘back to normal’ (laughs).
One of my most painful moments was when we had a record flop, and I argued that this song wasn’t good enough, but Chris was arguing, and blah, blah, blah. It was a song called ‘When I Get Home’, and I thought it was absolutely awful, yet everyone disagreed. And then when it flopped, well, it was a painful thing to feel.
The Searchers had that Merseybeat sound but of the bands, which one started it all off, or did you all just drink the same water from the same tap, do you know what I mean?
Yeah, I know what you mean, but at the time we were all playing more or less as four-piece vocal bands, so you were all bound to nick each other’s sound, or at least bits and pieces of it. So that’s what created the Merseybeat. It was no big plan, for example, if The Beatles did ‘Twist and Shout’, we’d do it our way. It was a gradual thing, and then it was suddenly called the 60’s sound but the thing with our stuff, and John Lennon said this to me, that we didn’t sound like a Liverpool band, “You sound much more sweeter, and more like an American band!” I think that was the influence of us being a country and western band from the early days.
So your style of music branched over?
Yes, and put it this way, when The Beatles came on the scene they were very brash, basically, when they arrived on stage, the audience would stop dancing, and just move forward to watch. We all thought there was something special there. Very special. And they had Stuart Sutcliffe playing bass but he was facing the other way, he wouldn’t face the audience! All the others in the band would be doing all the Chuck Berry stuff. The bass was so powerful, and then you also had Pete Best on the drums; they were very loud, and the band were aggressive. We were dressed in red v-neck jumpers, white shirts and a tie, they were dressed in cowboy boots, jeans, black leather jackets, and black t-shirts; and they didn’t have them nice haircuts then either, they all had those Teddy Boy cuts. Then once they got a record contract, they were put in suits, with everything else changed for them too.
Some people say that The Rolling Stones are the best rock’n’roll band but if you’d seen The Beatles in those early days, then “Wow”, unbelievable. The good thing about them was that they were good looking, that’s only a small point, but all the girls liked it, and with all that looking dangerous in black leather jackets. What amazed us was that they were all smoking on stage, and the audience was probably thinking that this isn’t very much like Cliff Richard and The Shadows (laughs). That is the reaction they were getting from the audience.
Getting back to yourself then John, where did you get all your passion for the music?
It was my elder brother who brought back a guitar from one of his trips abroad. He couldn’t play it, so I picked it up, but I wasn’t that much interested either but once Buddy Holly came on the scene, I thought maybe I could do that. Then I went to a second-hand shop and got a guitar from a shop called Youngs that was in Scotland Road, it was quite a decent model, it was a jazz acoustic, and that was better for me to play. When the band began using electric, I brought a Futurerama guitar, George Harrison had one too, but the volumes were crap! So I ended up buying a Club 60, that was the original one I used on the records. Funnily enough, I had it sprayed black as it was blonde, and John Lennon had a Rickenbaker blonde, and he even had his sprayed black too! It really was a strange thing with both bands being in parallel with each other.