Five decades on the road and The Searchers still going strong

The Searchers
The Searchers

After 55 years of non-stop touring you would imagine that a group like the Searchers would be either ready to finally hang up their high button black stage suits or at least severely trim their punishing schedule. In fact the last year’s datesheet of 150 shows is already a cut back on their regular run of 200-plus concerts a year.

But stop? Looking at the dates ahead of them there is precious little chance of that in the near future.

“It always seems quite amazing but the years pass so quickly that it really doesn’t seem that long,” said bassist Frank Allen. “August this year will mean 54 years for me and of course John McNally was there at the very outset when it was just a little amateur group in the late fifties.”

The last few months of 2017 saw the band – Frank and other stalwart John McNally aided and abetted by Spencer James, now virtually an old timer of over thirty years service, and ‘new boy’, Scott Ottaway on drums – close the show as a headline act on an all star bill that also boasted Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Tremeloes, Love Affair vocalist Steve Ellis and Vanity Fare and which sold out almost every one of the performances.

Far from losing any of their following it proved to be the most successful sixties package of the last two decades with the vast Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow not only having to sell the orchestra seats set high up behind the performers but also obtaining special permission to make standing room only spaces available, a first for this kind of show at that very prestigious venue.

Original Searcher John McNally having been laid low by a stroke was forced to rest for that Sixties Gold Tour but such a trifling problem was not going to have him sitting at home for long.

By the end of the year, after only a three-month lay off for what could have been a life threatening situation, he was back on stage and pounding out the hits again, much to the relief of his devoted admirers

And the Searchers are once again on the road heading to Dunfermline in April.

“It’s always good playing in Fife,” Frank said. “Scotland is special. I am from a Scottish family. Both my parents were from Greenock as was my older brother. I was the first to be born in England.

“We always get a wonderful welcome although I have noticed that the custom of the lovely ladies at the venues bring ing tea and home made cakes on our arrival seems to have died out.

“Please reinstate this as soon as possible,” he added laughing.

“The main downside of Scotland is that they put it so far away and travelling at our age is no fun.”

Certainly no spring chickens, they can still give younger bands a run for their money when it comes to being on the road, but how do they get themselves ready for the hard slog of being on the road so much?

“These days we prepare for a show by resting,” Frank explained.

“John McNally always has a sleep in the dressing room and I try to do that but I’m too restless most of the time.

“Certainly no superstitious rituals for me. I am the least superstitious person you could meet.

“We don’t do sound checks unless we are in a situation where we are using equipment that is not our own regular stuff.

“Our crew knows exactly what we want.

‘‘And we only rehearse if there is a new song we want to put in the show or if we need to correct some bad habits playing wise that we have lapsed into.

With an extensive back catalogue of hits inlcuding Needles and Pins, Goodbye My Love, Take Me For What I’m Worth, Love Potion Number Nine, and of course When You Walk In The Room, can the fans expect all this and more?

“It’s pretty much a complete history of the group both in music and anecdotes, or as complete as we can manage in the two hours we have on stage, “Frank said. “We do put in a lot of early album tracks and B side to please the real long-standing diehard fans.

“They like that side of things probably more than the hits which they know they are going to get anyway.”

The Searchers have fans all around the world , and they also have fans in high places including The Ramones, Tom Petty and The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen.

“It’s very gratifying and quite humbling,” Frank said.

“Marky Ramone sat in on drums at The Cutting Room in New York a few years back and Joey Ramone came to see us and chat with us at The Bitter End in New York in the eighties.

“Bruce Springsteen has played When You Walk In The Room on stage a few times. I’m pleased that we made our mark some very important people.”

The latest string of dates keeps Frank and the rest of the band on the road until the summer, but what’s next for the Searchers?

“Just the usual round of shows, most of which are our all evening concerts, Frank continued.

“They constitute the major portion of our schedule and it’s what Searchers fans prefer in the main.

“At the end of the year we will be touring on yet another package show with The Merseybeats, The Fortunes, Steve Ellis, Vanity Fare, and P J Proby. It’s a Sixties Gold Tour and we are headlining.

“The dates are already listed on our site and tickets being sold at some theatres already and we are still about nine months away. In 2019 we intend to wind down and have a break, at least for a while.

By that time I will be 75 and John will be 78. As fit as we are the bodies tell you to slow down. Will it be the end? Who knows?

“We may want to come back and do selected dates if everyones agrees and are available, maybe a comeback tour a bit further down the line.

“But rest assured any halt is because we want to and not because of any decrease in popularity.

“The hardest thing is saying no to all the places that want us,” Frank added.

The Searchers play Dunfermline Carnegie Hall on Saturday, April 21.

For tickets, go here OnFife