The Searchers were formed in the late fifties as a skiffle group by John McNally who was quickly joined by guitarist Mike Pender, drummer Chris Curtis and bassist Tony Jackson. With the addition of lead vocalist Johnny Sandon they soon grew into a solid five piece unit who commanded an impressive following in their home town of Liverpool and rated high in the local rankings.
When Sandon left the outfit in 1962 the remaining four quit their jobs in order to take up the offer of a short residency at the famous Star Club in Hamburg playing alongside The Beatles, Gerry & The Pacemakers and a host of other beat groups trying to make their mark in the world of youth music.
When The Beatles started the storm that became tagged Merseybeat The Searchers took their chance in the middle of 1963. Under the guidance of PYE Records` Tony Hatch, they shot to number one in the charts with their debut disc Sweets For My Sweet, quickly followed by a sound-a-like tune penned by Hatch, Sugar & Spice and a third though slightly less successful Someday We`re Gonna Love Again.
The lead vocal had been taken by Tony Jackson, but for the third single the style changed to a softer and more harmonic sound for Needles & Pins and then Don`t throw Your Love Away. Jackson left in the middle of 1964 and his place was quickly filled by Frank Allen. The new lineup went straight into the studios and emerged with the classic When You Walk In The Room, a release that was to prove one of the band`s most enduring records and which has proved to be unbeatable in a live situation. The run of hits continued with much loved songs like Goodbye My Love, What Have They done To The Rain?, Take Me For What I`m Worth, Bumble Bee (a U.S and Australian hit), Love Potion Number Nine (their biggest American success) and others.
By this time the group had started to feature heavily the electric 12 string guitar which became the definitive instrumental sound of The Searchers.
Drummer Chris Curtis left in 1966. There were to be four more changes on drums through to the present day, but the band surmounted these small obstacles with a relative ease.
A tougher task was the departure of Pender at the end of 1985. The replacement was a young singer/guitarist from Frank`s hometown Hayes in Middlesex, Spencer James who had been with the British ‘surf sound’ group First Class. His youth and good looks attracted a whole new audience to boost the stalwarts who stayed loyal to The Searchers who had begun to develop an impressive show which presented the group`s history both in music and anecdotes, a formula which sets them apart from other groups of that era today.
There have been many highlights during their seemingly unending travels. Tours of America which saw them headlining such Motown legends as Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Smokey & The Miracles, The Temptations and many others. They were presented to Queen Elizabeth II at the 1981 Royal Variety Performance and enjoyed two sold out shows at Wembley Stadium in 1989 as guests of their friend Cliff Richard.
They have performed for the British forces in The Falklands, Belfast and Bosnia where 2000 squaddies honoured them with an emotional mass demonstration of the Wayne`s World bow while chanting “We are not worthy”.
The Searchers have toured constantly throughout their five decades and continue to play between 150 and 200 concerts a year across the globe.
The line-up today is John McNally, Frank Allen, Spencer James and Scott Ottaway on drums. This hugely popular group is making a welcome return to King’s Hall, Ilkley for an evening of classic hits and entertaining anecdotes on Friday 25 May.