The year 2000 started with another tour of Australia and New Zealand, followed immediately by the 15th Anniversary Solid Silver 60s UK Tour - with Gerry & the Pacemakers, Peter Sarstedt and the Swinging Blue Jeans. The summer saw a brief return to the USA for shows in casinos in Connecticut and Atlantic City, a run of UK seaside theatre shows with Gerry again, and a fortnight’s Mediterranean cruise on board the P & O "Arcadia". In the autumn, amongst all the one-nighters, they played two nights at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in Birmingham.
2001 began with a six-week tour to Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the Gulf States, followed within a few days of their return by a completely new innovation - a 3-month long "Searchers Solo" tour of UK theatres. This was the first time they’d ever undertaken such a tour, but they took the risk - based on the fantastic reception they had received at their occasional "all evening" shows - and it was a great success, at last giving them the chance to show a wider audience than their regular fans just what they can do given the time and the artistic freedom that a solo tour affords, and to introduce some completely new songs into the act. Later in the year they joined P J Proby, Billie Davis and Peter Sarstedt on “The Beat Goes On” UK tour. The Searchers had long been fans of “Jim” Proby, and in fact he was on the bill with them the previous time he did a UK tour in the late 60s.
2002 went by with plenty of the one-nighters at theatres and clubs throughout the country; they also played in Bahrain, Spain, Denmark and Germany, headlined two big outdoor shows in the grounds of National Trust properties, and spent another week on board the P & O “Arcadia”, this time on an enjoyable but decidedly rough-weather cruise to Northern Spain and Portugal. In October the Searchers Appreciation Society held its 5th Convention, where in addition to an on-stage Questions & Answers session with the Searchers before their very special show for the die-hard fans, a lot of money was raised for charity through an auction of interesting and collectable Searchers memorabilia and a raffle of Searchers-related goods. A special guest at this event was Tony Jackson, who left the group in 1964; he was one of the founder members, its original bass player, and the lead singer on the first two singles.
Both 2002 and 2003 could have been counted as 40th anniversary years for The Searchers. 1962 was the year that the original group turned professional (and founder member John McNally still leads the group today) and June 1963 was when their very first record - Sweets for My Sweet” - went to the very top of the charts, their first of three Number Ones and seven other Top 20 hits. It was also the 40th anniversary of the Merseybeat phenomenon, of which - after the Beatles - the Searchers were the one of the main instigators; but unlike the Beatles who broke up at the end of the 60s, the Searchers continued going strong, more than 40 years on.
They celebrated 2003 by headlining another successful "Solid Silver 60s Tour", along with Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, Wayne Fontana, the Dakotas and Barry Ryan. There was great sadness, however, for all Searchers fans in August 2003, when Tony Jackson died after some years of poor health. There were no package tours in 2004, but the Searchers continued their very busy schedule throughout the UK, and also fitted in short visits to Germany, the Philippines, the east coast of the USA and Sweden, plus several trips to Denmark.
2005 started with a three-week club tour of Australia, followed by another “Solid Silver 60s” UK tour, this time with Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Merseybeats and the Swinging Blue Jeans. Tragically, though, at the end of February, only a few days into the tour, the news came that Chris Curtis, the Searchers’ drummer from 1962 until 1966, had died at his home after some years of failing health. Chris was very much the leader of the group in their hit-making years, and the choice of songs was very much down to his immense musical flair. To have lost both Chris and Tony so relatively close together was very sad indeed for Searchers fans everywhere.
In August the Searchers spent two very enjoyable weeks on board the brand new P & O liner “Arcadia” on its “Northern Capitals” cruise, following which they went straight into a two-month long solo tour – these all-evening shows, with no support acts, are becoming increasingly popular and an excellent way to showcase much more of their repertoire than can be done on the club dates or package tour shows.
The next four years followed a similar pattern – New Zealand and Australia in January and February each year, regular runs of solo shows and other one-nighters and club shows throughout the UK, visits to the USA and Canada (mostly casino shows including appearances in Las Vegas, Niagara Falls and Epcot Disney in Florida), outdoor shows at stately homes, flying visits to Germany, Holland, Sweden, Norway and runs of shows in Ireland and Denmark. The Searchers headlined the Solid Silver 60s Tours in 2007 and 2009, both times sharing the bill with the Merseybeats, Wayne Fontana, John Walker (of the Walker Brothers) and the Dakotas.
In May 2008 Universal Music, who had bought the rights to all the Searchers’ back catalogue, released a compilation CD “The Best Of The Searchers”, supported by TV advertising, which reached Number 11 and stayed in the album charts for several weeks. It was awarded a much deserved Silver Disc, a tremendous achievement more than 40 years after their last appearance in the charts.
The following spring, after four years of detailed research and writing, Frank Allen published his second book “The Searchers And Me” – a very comprehensive biography of the group, and running alongside the early years Frank’s own story with Cliff Bennett & the Rebel Rousers, the group he left to join the Searchers in mid 1964. The book also contains a full discography and over 160 photos, many of them from private collections never previously published.
Life went on in a similar vein until late in 2009, when Eddie Rothe - after eleven years on the drum stool - decided to leave the band to spend more time with his fiancée, the singer Jane McDonald, but he agreed to stay on until after the early 2010 tours of Ireland and then Australia. It was sad to see him go, but everyone wished him all the best for the future.
His replacement, who joined the Searchers at the end of February 2010, was Scott Ottaway, a young (well, relatively young!) drummer with wide experience including playing with tribute bands, resident holiday resort bands and on the big cruise liners. He arrived to the Searchers’ normal hectic schedule, with a spring and summer full of solo concerts and club shows, followed by a Solid Gold autumn package tour in the company of Gerry & the Pacemakers, P J Proby and Chip Hawkes (former lead singer of the Tremeloes).
And so the Searchers entered another era. Still full of enthusiam they hopefully look forward to many more years of their career, thus keeping their ever-growing band of loyal fans happy too. They still sound good, they still look good, they still enjoy what they do, and there can hardly be another group that pays so much attention to their good reputation and the quality of their performance.
The members of the group of today are founder member John McNally (lead guitar, 12-string guitar, vocals), Frank Allen (bass, vocals and "front man"), Spencer James (lead vocals, synthesiser guitar) and Scott Ottaway (drums and percussion)
With thanks to Wendy Burton