Gary James' Interview With Frank Allen of
The Searchers

They were part of The British Invasion. They enjoyed world-wide success with songs like "Needles And Pins", "Don't Throw Your Love Away", "When You Walk In The Room" and of course "Love Potion Number 9". They toured Canada, Hong Kong, Thailand, Kenya and Singapore. Along with The Rolling Stones they toured the Philippines, Hong Kong and Australia. They are still around today. We are speaking of course about The Searchers.

Frank Allen, lead vocalist for The Searchers talked with us about the history of the group.

Q - Did you have any idea how big of a song "Love Potion Number 9" was? That it was constantly being played on the radio?

A - No and I'll tell you the strange thing is, when we came over in '64 to do the Murray The K Show at the Brooklyn Fox, we had three songs on that show. It was a whole line-up with ourselves, Dusty Springfield, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Martha And The Vandellas, The Contours, The Ronettes, The Shangri-Las, Smokey Robinson And The Miracles, The Temptations, The Newbeats, The Dovells, Jay And The Americans...a huge, huge bill. Six shows a day. We had three songs and we didn't even play "Love Potion Number 9". It didn't even occur to us. It's astonishing really and it had been number two or number three earlier that year.

Q - Didn't the fans scream out for that song?

A - No one told us. I can't remember anyone sort of saying "You must be mad, you're not playing this!" They kind of let us get on with what we did. I think on that show, we did actually. We opened up with a song that wasn't even a record, it was a song we were doing on our stage show at the time called "Red Sails In The Sunset". Then we went into "Needles And Pins" and "When You Walk In The Room". "Needles And Pins" was huge virtually everywhere in the world, except the US.

Q - Had I seen your group at that time and you didn't sing "Love Potion Number 9", I would've gone away feeling disappointed.

A - Well, I imagine an awful lot of people were. It just didn't occur to us, not for many years. We didn't even think about it. It's really, really odd. You go to a lot of countries and you don't realize what the successes have been. We go to Holland, not that regularly, but fairly regularly and it turns out that after all these years, a song we've never played out there, "Take It Or Leave It", which was a tune we got from The Stones and only a minor hit in the UK, was our biggest hit in Holland. And, we'd never played it there. We certainly have got the importance of "Love Potion" these days. In our show, we put it later in the program when we're over in the States to give it that sense of importance.

Q - Is that in fact the song you close with?

A - Yeah, but there are other songs that work better closing and they're not necessarily ours. It's a really strange thing. We put it a the end of the show, but not right at the end. Everywhere else in the world "Needles And Pins" was the biggest hit. It was absolutely huge. You say the name The Searchers and the song that comes to mind is "Needles And Pins". But even in the UK we don't finish with "Needles And Pins" because "When You Walk In The Room" is actually a much stronger 'live' song and ends the show far better.

Q - Besides The Beatles, you were the only group to have their records issued in stereo. I'm sure a lot of people, myself included, never realized that. Was that at your insistence?

A - No. I never knew they had been released in stereo. Stereo wasn't common in the UK. I wanted the records in stereo. In fact, I got Tony Hatch, our record producer, to send over to the States and have them sent over to me in stereo. We couldn't get them in stereo in the UK at the time.

Q - When was stereo available in the UK?

A - Oh, only a couple of years later. It wasn't that long. It very quickly took over. Things were moving on at quite a pace. Equipment was very basic at that time. I wasn't aware that ours was one of the only ones to be available in stereo. I just assumed that everything in the States was stereo. The record industry was so much more advanced in the US than the UK.

Q - You recorded your albums in England?

A - Yeah, at the Pye Studios in Great Cumberland Place. It was a very good kind of state-of-the-art studio, but a small one, not the big EMI set-up at Abbey Road. Pye only had two studios. They were a small one and a big one. They weren't as big as EMI's one, but extremely well equipped. It certainly worked for us.

Q - Could you have said at the time, "We want to record in the US"?

A - (laughs) No. I don't think so. I think they would have looked on that with disdain. There wasn't the money in the industry in those days, at least not money filtering through to us. I still think that the powers that be looked on us as a very short term prospect. They saw us a sort of a cash cow to make money while it was still the vogue. They didn't see things as worth investing money into. The first two albums were done more or less in straight-off takes, vocal and backing tracks together. No overdubs. You could record an album in about the same time it took you to play the songs. It wasn't 'til the third album that we really started overdubbing. We were still using a four track machine and then occasionally we would link up to eight tracks, link up four to four and get eight tracks out of it, but that was all that was available to us. They weren't going to give us any more money. Pye is still a fairly small set-up. They budgeted it extremely carefully. It was a very successful company. In the realms of The Big Three, which were EMI, Decca and Phillips, it was very much on the second rung.

Q - You played The Star Club in Hamburg, Germany in 1962.

A - Yeah.

Q - You played there for 128 days straight?

A - No. I think it would have been 128 days in total. First of all, when we were at The Star Club, I wasn't actually with the group. I was at The Star Club, which is where I met The Searchers. I was with a band called Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers at the time. We did the same kind of periods and I met The Searchers at the end of '62, beginning of '63, which is the same time I first met The Beatles. I was there at the time they recorded their famous Star Club tapes and the first time I met John Lennon. Most of the groups, and it didn't vary much, used to do one month at a time. So to make 128 dates, you have to multiply thirty days by whatever it took. I recall we did go there four weeks one time and it was extended by a week or two weeks. It was generally a four week period and you did between four and six shows a day of an hour per show.

Q - I have it that you played three one hour sets a day.

A - Yeah, it could easily be four. Three was the standard. It depends what time you went on. The club opened at either four or six o'clock. If you went on first, you would invariably end up with an extra late or early morning set at the end of the thing. You did an hour. Another group would take over, another group would take over. You'd probably have to start in the middle of that. Everyone would rotate again. Normally there was some period left at the end where one or two groups would do an extra period.

Q - How big was the stage?

A - It was a typical cinema stage. Imagine a normal size cinema. It was a converted cinema. It was a big stage. It could accommodate whatever bands you put on. It had Ray Charles out there. It had Fats Domino out there. All the big American stars. So it could accommodate quite a lot. It was sheer luxury for us. We never worked in those kind of conditions. And they had the best equipment. It was a pretty fantastic place.

Q - I've read that The Beatles were playing there eight hours a night.

A - They were playing eight hours a night, I think in their early days, before The Star Club. They never played eight hours a night at The Star Club. They kind of pioneered the way. They were doing these very little Teddy clubs, where the promoters out there were kind of using them as slave labor. They probably did get to something approaching that when they did the Indra or the Kaiser Kellar. The Star Club was a much more up-market place. They paid you good wages and you were treated in a very civilized way. It was actually wonderful place. I don't thing anyone ever played more than four hours a night at the Star Club.

Q - Eight hours a night must've been a killer. I don't see how any band could have done that.

A - Well, I suppose you could do it on pills. You wouldn't be able to do it for long, and even that was probably exaggerated. They would've played more hours when they were doing the Indra and The Kaiser Kellar.

Q - Did you ever perform at The Iron Door club?

A - I didn't. The group did. I wasn't there right from the beginning. You have to remember, I met The Searchers at the start of '62. They had their first hit in June '63. I joined August 3rd, 1964. So, my first record was "When You Walk In The Room". I missed out on that first period. The Iron Door was the regular club for The Searchers at that time. Groups were affiliated occasionally to a particular venue. The Beatles were always known for being associated with The Cavern. For The Swinging Blue Jeans, their home ground was a club called The Mardi Gras. For The Searchers, their home club was The Iron Door. I did play the Iron Door only once. That was again when I was with Cliff Bennett And The Rebel Rousers and they stiffed us for the money. We never got paid.

Q - What kind of club was The Iron Door? I've heard The Beatles, The Stones and Brian Epstein used to hang out there. If you weren't in the business, would it have been tough to get through the door?

A - No. Anyone could get into those things. There was no closed shop policy. They were ballrooms. They would take any one of us that paid to get in. I don't see the Iron Door as being the exclusive club, or even The Cavern. I think this got exaggerated as well. I don't think the Iron Door as a place where The Beatles would have gone to socialize. They would have gone to play. The places where The Beatles went to socialize is where the groups went after they'd done their spots in town, The Blue Angel.

Q - Would Brian Epstein have been there as well?

A - Yeah. Eventually, after he took on the management of The Beatles, he would hang out there. Brian was always a bit removed from the general scene because he was diametrically opposed. He was a very sophisticated, upper-class kind of person compared to the musicians in the town.

Q - If you were not in the business, would they have let you through the door at The Blue Angel?

A - If you weren't in the business, it would've been harder, particularly at something like The Blue Angel. The others were strictly pay to get in. If there was room inside, you would get in. The Blue Angel was much more a late-night club. As far as I can remember, it was supposed to be a membership place. If you were in a group, you would have got in. The closed door policy was much more in London than in Liverpool in those days. London was definitely a membership (policy). Britain has always been really a membership kind of place, especially if there was alcohol around.

Q - That policy would have discouraged US fans then from going over to England, hoping to see their favorite bands.

A - Yeah, because once The Beatles made it, they weren't in Liverpool anyway. The clubs that you would go to and meet The Beatles (were) in London, absolutely no doubt about it. The Beatles moved down to London once they made it and stayed there. The clubs they used to go to were The Scotch of St. James, The Speakeasy, The Bag Of Nails occasionally. My club was the Cromwellian. We used to get everyone there. I remember seeing Hendix for the first time when he came to England. Rod Stewart almost became the house band. He was with the Steampacket at the time. He used to play downstairs. But you had to be a member to get in those places. It was much, much more exclusive in London than say in Liverpool.

Q - What is a high-price membership at those places?

A - I don't know 'cause I never paid. If you were in the business they gave you an honorary membership. Even then, I don't recall it being expensive even in relative terms. The value of money has changed. I was still a very modest spender in those days. I was still a working class lad who suddenly kind of made it quite well. I was not earning an absolute fortune, but I would go to The Cromwellian. I didn't drink at the time. I didn't drink until I was in my 30. I was just buying Coca-Colas. Even then, it was very modestly priced. I remember going to the Ad-lib club with Peter Asher in '64 or '65. We'd both just been on a tour of Australia. We became great friends. I'd never been to the Ad-lib, so Peter took me and he paid the bill that night. I remember thinking what a horrendously expensive bill it was. (laughs) It certainly was much more expensive than the Cromwellian.

Q - Where you besieged by fans when you would try to go about your daily life?

A - In general, I didn't find it so frantic. You could walk down the Kings Road in Chelsea and it would not be surprising to see Mick Jagger and Keith Richards walking down or Brian Jones or even Paul McCartney. People didn't bother them that bad in London. I think it was more pertaining to he suburbs when one went on tour and yes, you couldn't go out because it was a much bigger thing. London was very blasť about those kind of things. I don't think it applied so much in the capitol, but the fan hysteria was there when you went on tour around the country.

Q - Why, at the height on The Searchers' career, did The Searchers' vocalist Tony Jackson leave?

A - They weren't getting on, to be quite honest. There was a lot of friction. First of all, Chris Curtis, who was the drummer and ostensibly the leader, although there was officially no leader, Chris had the most say in the band. He had the most contact with the management. He was the one who controlled the band onstage. He was the dominant force an he was the one who mixed with all the right people in London. So, people saw Chris as The Searchers. He never, ever liked Tony from the beginning. They never got on. On the third single, the vocals changed to Mike and Chris singing harmony. Tony, who'd done the lead vocal on the first two record, found himself second place. "Needles And Pins" had been so big. It kind of put his nose out of joint. There suddenly was a lot of friction in the band. They wanted him out and he was convinced he would be better out as a solo act. So, he left and that's when I joined.

Q - He put this group together, The Vibrations?

A - Yeah. He auditioned people. He had people in the Tito Burns office searching out people for him. He put the group together, went out as Tony Jackson And The Vibrations. They did a re-recording of "Love Potion Number 9". It's ironic really that the new sound became the big thing for The Searchers. Everything changed from that point on. The biggest hit in the States was actually with Tony's voice on, 'cause he did "Love Potion Number 9".

Q - So, how successful was Tony Jackson And The Vibrations?

A - It wasn't. He had a couple of minor entries in the charts, but it didn't do what it was supposed to do. Whether this was his fault, the management's, bad choice of records or a combination of all of them, I really don't know. Tony was a bit of a loose cannon anyway. We did a tour with him in '65. We were headlining the tour. We had The Zombies on actually. I think Bobby Vee was on that one as well. Tony Jackson had been put on as a support act; Tony Jackson And The Vibrations. On the first night, I don't know whether he was trying too hard to make a point, he loves to be drinking quite heavily before he went on. We went out to watch him to see what he was going to be like. He was like falling off the stage. He actually fell off the front of the stage into the audience and had to be kind of helped and half crawled back up again. It was not a very good sight.

Q - What did the audience think? They might have thought he was the greatest thing in the world.

A - Well, Tony wasn't a very big deal. His career had gone wrong. He was OK as a support act, but Tony was no star at that time, despite that he'd been the lead vocal on the number two record in the States. It didn't mean anything to the people in Britain. He was a guy who left a band that was still having hits and who didn't have a hit of his own. I think even they realized he was, shall we say, tired and emotional.

Q - You were in The Searchers when they were touring with The Stones?

A - Yeah. That was across Australia and New Zealand. That was kind of sold to us as a Double Top, with them closing the show and us closing the first half. (laughs) The state of The Stones career at that time and the way our was, there was never a Double Top. They were the stars of the show and we were trying to hang on as best we could.

Q - So, what was it like opening for The Stones?

A - It wasn't that bad. We weren't opening. We had support acts in the first half and in the second half. We're fine. We coped with is as best we could. Chris Curtis didn't cope with it at all well. I think it kind of send him over the edge. He didn't like the fact that our records weren't as high. He hated being second fiddle to The Stones. He was taking solace in all sorts of pills by that time. At the end of the tour, he was no longer as Searcher, by his own choice I have to say.

Q - There are actually two Searchers bands performing out there today?

A - Well, I wouldn't like to put it quite like that. In fact, I don't think there even are anymore. When Mike left, the band split. After all the legal discussions and court cases, he was only allowed to call himself Mike Pender's Searchers. So, there are in fact, in law, only one group called The Searchers. There is a group called Mike Pender's Searchers, which was Mike and anyone he happened to recruit to be in the band and that's a non-specific band. Although he did have a permanent four piece band initially, that kind of dissipated and he started going out on his own and using fully formed bands and kind of re-naming them for the night. Even recently he went out with a bunch of musicians who actually didn't know any Searchers songs, which is a bit of a disaster, especially in Liverpool. For the last few years he doesn't seem to actually have a band 'cause he's been doing these things where Mike joins a small tour of lead singers backed by one band for the whole of the tour. There's one going on at the moment. He's doing it with P.J. Proby, Brian Poole and somebody else I can't remember. Although they're entitled to be a band called Mike Pender's Searchers, there is a band called The Searchers, which is myself, John McNally, Spencer James and Eddie Roth. There isn't even in fact a Mike Pender's Searchers at the moment because as I say, he is more or less operating as a solo performer and just re-titling whoever he works with.

Q - Is it true that you brought the gaming tables to a complete standstill at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut in the summer of 1998?

A - (laughs)

Q - How did you do that?

A - A slight exaggeration. A good way of putting it. What happened was, the Mohegan is a great place for us. We've actually just came back from there. We must've done it about four or five times now. We play the Wolf's Den. It's a place where people wander in, sit down and they'll watch, but nothing; people really don't take notice. But, when we were on, not only did the people in the circular part, the cordoned off part in the front of the actual arena there, sit and watch us, but people crowded all around from where the slots were. They came away from the slots. They were about three deep all around the thing, fascinated by the show and loving it. We went down very, very big. As a consequence, we've been back again and again and again. It gets better every time. I love the Wolf's Den. In fact, the States have really opened up to us again. It's a yearly thing now. In this latest tour we did, we've been back about a month and a half now, we're mainly doing casinos now 'cause they have the best arenas and they pay the kind of money we need to go to the States. We did two days in the Falls View Casino in Niagara and went on to do a theatre at Festival Place in Edmonton, Alberta. Then on to the River Rock Casino in Vancouver. Then we went on to Las Vegas to do the Cannery Casino there. On to New York to do The Cutting Room, which is a place we've done three times now. That's a terrific Rock venue in Manhattan. Not on this occasion, but the time before we had Marky Ramone, who's a big fan coming in and sitting in on "Needles And Pins". So, that was great. From there we went on to The Mohegan to do two days this time. They're probably the best two days we've done at the Mohegan. It really does get better. We finally finish up the tour at the World Theatre in Epcot Disney in Florida. The States is becoming a very important part of our yearly itinerary now. Disney was so impressed that they came in the second night after the first show; you did three half hour shows per night. The powers that be came in to persuade us to come back next Spring. In fact, we couldn't do it 'cause we're heavily booked about a year ahead. But we will be back next Fall.

Q -You still enjoy performing then?

A - I love performing. I love it probably more than I ever did in the old days. We tackle it better. We take it much more seriously. The show is very carefully constructed. In the old days when you were a Pop star, you just had to get onstage, do six songs and you were a Top Of The Bill act. Once we were no longer Flavor Of The Month, we had to construct an act that would please another audience. They weren't screaming anymore. They were appreciating music. There had to be light and shade and pace. You had to communicate with them. We spent years trying to make that better and better all the time. I think that's what does give us the edge these days. I have to say among our contemporaries, we do have an edge. I don't think you'll ever see a work schedule for a band in anyone's book like ours. That includes top touring bands. You may get a band touring for a year, but then they won't tour for two years after that. Our schedule is non-stop, year after year after year.

Q - I almost forgot to ask, were you managed by Brian Epstein?

A - No. He stated in the press one day that his biggest regret was not signing The Searchers. The reason he didn't sign The Searchers is, when he came to see them play at The Cavern in '62, they were on late and the band got drunk and popped the grapes along the road and it was a pretty shabby show with all sorts of things going wrong. So, Brian passed. But of course that wasn't really typical of the band and he regretted not signing them later on. There was a time when it was also reported in the British papers that our contract had been sold to Brian by our then British agent, Tito Burns. We got a telegram the next day from Tito Burns saying "It's all lies. I wouldn't sell you like a can of beans," (laughs) which is rubbish 'cause if there was enough money in it he would sell us like a can of beans.

Q - When you were in a band in England in the early 1960s, did you see something or hear something that you felt was going to take the world by storm?

A - No. It came as much of a surprise to us as everyone else. The first time I saw signs of it was actually in Germany. I went to The Star Club in June '62 with Cliff Bennet And The Rebel Rousers. It was a revelation. It was a magnificent club as I've already told you. There were some great bands from Liverpool. I never knew anything from Liverpool before that. I never knew the place existed really. While we were out there, we would hear about all these bands. We would hear about The Beatles because the barmaids were always going on about "Oh, The Beatles are coming back." Betina would say "Oh, my John is coming back." You kinda felt there was something special about this band, but you couldn't believe that it could be special. It seemed ridiculous. I was with a band in the UK. It was a musicians band. We had seven pieces. We had baritone and tenor saxes, piano player. I couldn't believe that this Beatles band from Liverpool could be anything. I got out there the end of the year and I say we saw them for the first time on what would've been the 30th of December. (1962) And they really were good. There was something very special about them. Extremely raw. Nothing sophisticated about the whole thing at all. They had charisma. You certainly can't say how that comes about. People have either got it or they haven't.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.