by Mike Prendergast
In more recent times I told Chris all about my involvement with Merseycats, a fund-raising organisation. Formed in 1989, Merseycats consists mainly of current players and ex members of the many groups from the Merseybeat days (many of whom were and still are household names) along with their wives, families, friends and supporters. We organise shows with the original Merseybeat-era bands to raise money for sick, disadvantaged and under-privileged children in the Merseyside area. Our weekly jam nights have become a focal point, and an important part of our fundraising, as well as providing a meeting place for the many musicians united by the happy memories of the Merseybeat days. Something I know many Searchers fans can relate to.
It took me a long time (about six months) to finally persuade Chris to come to one of our jam session nights (then held at the Marconi Club, Huyton, South Liverpool). I think I convinced him that he would enjoy the crack and the camaraderie of his fellow musicians. Little did I realise at the time that he would get up on the stage and perform..... and perform he certainly did !! In spite of his increasing frailty, Chris still had a good voice and had never lost his stage presence. Rattling through songs, Needles and Pins, Matchbox, and Hound Dog. Although his memory of the words failed him at times it didn't matter one little bit, we all enjoyed his performance (many standing to applaud and cheer him) and what's more Chris enjoyed it. He enjoyed meeting old friends and people coming over to shake his hand and asking for his autograph, to use a modern word, it gave him a great buzz. He sang to my wife and I in the car as we drove him back to his home in Aintree.
In the following weeks Chris attended several times. If I was unable to take him in my car then John Booker (brother of a Searchers ex-roadie) would oblige. I remember seeing the glee in Chris's face when my sister brought along an old Searchers scrapbook to show him, he would tell us of his recollections pointing to photos in the book. On another occasion he brought an acoustic guitar and had us all singing along to Love Potion No 9. It was evident though that Chris was not in the best of health, and one night in an attempt to shuffle off stage, Chris tripped over a speaker cable and fell to the floor. Thankfully he wasn't injured, but he was badly shaken up. More than anything his pride had been dented. Needless to say Chris didn't come to "Cats" any more, I think it was getting a little too much for him.
It's ironic, but due to the closure of the Marconi Club, we had our jam night venue moved to a new home .... on my recommendation .... my old local .... Aintree Royal British Legion Club. Less than 100 yards from Chris's home, the very place where we gathered after his funeral to talk and remember Chris.
Chris was a rare talent, an exceptional performer with a razor sharp wit ... sometimes a bit near the knuckle with his humour, but you couldn't help but like him. He was an important cog in the machinery of our pop music history. I thought Frank Allen summed him up brilliantly in his tribute on the Searchers website. His contribution to Merseycats, which I believe was his last public performance, will be cherished for a long time. He will be sorely missed.