Sweet search for success

Mar 2013 Sweet search for success


Making your first record as a teenager your thoughts are only about ‘whether it will chart?’, ‘will it make number 1?’, and I’m going to enjoy this ride for as long as it lasts.

All of the stars of this year’s Solid Silver  Sixties Tour, Mike Pender, Dave Berry, and Wayne Fontana would have had those thoughts in 1963, never imagining those songs and the subsequent hits that followed would keep them on the road, playing to packed houses, for the next 50 years.

The tour begins on March 7 in Sheffield, with three dates in Kent at The Orchard Theatre, Dartford on March 24, Assembly Halls, Tunbridge Wells on April 5 followed by Leas Cliff Hall, Folkestone on the 17, concluding on April 28 in Norwich.

In July 1963 Miker Pender went into the studio with his fellow Searchers to record the first of their three No.1s –  ‘Sweets For My Sweet’.

I asked Mike what was the significance of the anniversary and the forthcoming tour.

“The Solid Silver is probably the most important of all of the sixties tours, definitely: if an artist wants to tour, this is the one to do, and this year is especially important as it’s 50 years since we went into the studio to record our first No.1,” said Mike.

I saw you in the September of that year on the Roy Orbison tour which featured you, Freddie & The Dreamers, Brian Poole & The Tremeloes, half of that week’s Top 10, in fact.

“I remember it well: can you remember how much it was to get in (8s/6d), I can remember Roy Orbison fondly, he was a lovely guy. We actually took him to a football match on that tour. I don’t think he understood what was going on, as most Americans don’t understand English football either.

“Roy was the ideal person to tour with, because when we went on, or The Beatles, or one of the other groups, there was so much screaming, you couldn’t hear a sound; but when Roy went on they listened, you could actually hear a pin drop – he was brilliant’.

One thing that was particularly good about that time – ignoring The Beatles – is that both you and Gerry can go on-stage today and sing virtually any track from your first albums and the audiences know them as well as your hits.

Mike-Pender-beat-magazine“I suppose that even if they don’t remember the name, as soon as the music starts, they recognise it instantly and love the song.’

This year is your 50th Anniversary of The Searchers first hit. “That’s right, it was 1963 was big, but probably the following year, 1964, was even bigger because that was when we first went to America and had the big success with ‘Needles And Pins’. That was when we really became – maybe not the right word, but – household names, ‘Needles’ and ‘When You Walk In The Room’ are the songs that most people remember. They’ve both got great guitar riffs, both notable songs.”

You always used to dig deep to find great songs to cover.

“In those days most people didn’t know them as covers because they didn’t know the original versions, let’s face it all of The Searchers songs were covers, but nobody had heard ‘Someday We’re Gonna Love Again’ or ‘Don’t Throw Your Love Away’ before, there was so much good stuff around to pick up.”

I’d always go and hear the songs you and the other beat groups would play, and next day I’d be out tracking down the original versions.

“Doing that becomes a great hobby: Chris Curtis used to do that, and I’ve said in my memoirs – which I’m writing now – that, without Chris in those early years, I doubt if we would ever have made it to The Star Club in Hamburg. He wasn’t that good sound-wise but, visually, Chris did it for us. He attracted all the attention, especially from the girls.”

Unlike The Beatles you had to rely on songwriters because you didn’t write many of your own songs.

“If you can write and perform your own songs in this business, you’ve got it made. I’ve written songs but most of them finish up in the wastepaper bin, but one that I’m proud of is ‘He’s Got No Love’ which I did with Chris, although, to be fair, he came up with most of the lyrics, while I provided the tune and the riffs.”

Your last albums for Sire were very creditable and adventurous albums.

“Again it comes down to, if you’re not writing your own records you need to be pointed in the right direction to find the great songs, Seymour Stein of Sire Records saw us in a club, somewhere like Southend doing all our old hits and said: ‘You’ve still got great voices, we’re gonna put you back in the charts’. He gave me so much confidence, so they signed us. We made some good records, especially ‘Hearts In Their Eyes’ which should have been a hit, but it just didn’t happen for us”.

With the 50th Anniversary coming up, is there any chance of a reunion, even just a one-off gig?

“I’ve got to say: I really don’t think so. I’m not one to say ‘never say never’ but I don’t see it happening.”

Jim Stewart