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Oct
2018
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Issue 135 written exclusively for The Searchers Official Web Site by Searchers front man Frank Allen

©The Searchers Official Web Site. No unauthorised reproduction


Hi there,
I trust you are all well and happy. It`s time for another newsletter and I`ve done my best to keep you updated on the latest happenings in Searcherland. As always you will be aware that by the time you get round to reading this some of the ‘upcoming events’ may already be in the past.
Wendy Burton has been receiving enquiries about the availability of the projected double CD that I mentioned in my last newsletter, which celebrates the whole career of The Searchers as we near the finishing point.

I`m afraid I have no exact details but the information that was relayed to us is that general official release (i.e in stores and on line) is intended to coincide with the farewell solo concerts taking place between January and the end of March 2019.   We will however have a limited supply to be sold on the Sixties Gold tour (featuring ourselves, The Merseybeats, The Fortunes, P J Proby, Steve Ellis of Love Affair and Vanity Fare) which is just about to start as I write and continues until 2 December.

Speaking of which I was scanning through the tour dates and I spotted a venue that is a real blast from the past.  The Beach Ballroom, Aberdeen, was one of those regular spots in the late sixties. Every popular band visited the place, a traditional styled dance hall which was particularly noticeable to us Sassenachs because the couples danced arm in arm in a full circle around the room (twist-style dancing apart from one another was not high on the menu back then) and after every third tune a voice would be heard over the tannoy “next dance please”. And without fail those obedient and orderly Scottish terpsichoreans would move on to another partner. It was a truly astonishing and memorable sight to us from south of the border.
When we return there on November 4th the change no doubt will be very apparent. It has now been transformed into a fully seated concert auditorium and able to accommodate in cushioned comfort the popular touring shows of this new century. Is it an improvement?  We`ll see. I`m looking forward to it very much,

As always I have to say there is no startling news for me to pass on to you. Our lives and concerts run in a fairly orderly fashion and it is rare that anything goes amiss. When it does that at least gives me something amusing to pass on to you. But in fact we have just returned from a three- week break so any news is for the main part personal stuff.

The shows in the run-up to this hiatus were significant in that just about every one was to all intents and purposes a sell-out. We always do well but total sell-outs are not the norm. On our visit last weekend to the Pier Pavilion in Cromer it was announced that the tickets for next years show on March 28th would be on sale at the box office immediately after the concert. And lo and behold as I trudged back to my car I passed the long line of people patiently queuing in the cold night air for those precious stubs of paper.

It seems that everyone wants to catch us before we ride off into the sunset. And it is a lovely way to go. This Sixties Gold Tour is going to be special and the spring farewell concerts I`m sure will be very emotional and memorable.

Some of us took advantage of the three-week lay off to wander off to foreign climes. Scott in fact went with his wife Sam to Las Vegas and checked in at the exotic Excalibur Hotel. How very glittering and befitting of a rock star! The reason for the trip was to catch a concert by Queen, his favourite band, at the MGM Park Theatre on the famous Las Vegas Strip. Of course we all know that Freddie Mercury is no longer with us and his are large shoes to fill but apparently Adam Lambert, his appointed substitute, more than satisfies in his role. Scott’s verdict was that the show was spectacular and very Vegas.  Their tickets were arranged for him personally by Queen drummer Roger Taylor with whom Scott has a fairly healthy acquaintance. Oh that we all had friends in such high places. 

Sound engineer Phil Hayes took a two-week break in Hamburg to connect with his recently re-discovered German girl friend Barbara. They had a brief relationship during an earlier club tour of the band and just recently the friendship blossomed once more.

John and Spencer just took the time to relax at home for the break which is understandable considering the heavy schedule we always live with. And John Semark? Well, the romantic little chap actually went to visit his ex partner Laura from whom he has been, shall we say, estranged for quite a while now and at least temporarily romance has blossomed once again. Which is rather nice as they have been together since they were teenagers and have two lovely grown-up daughters together. It hasn`t been an easy ride for them over the years so let`s hope things are more hopeful for them this time round.

I had intended to take a vacation to the sun but the unexpected chance of buying a penthouse in the exact block and position I had envisioned for my retirement meant that everything had suddenly changed. It means a bit of downsizing – not too much as it`s a spacious split-level apartment – and I have been discarding whole heaps of items already from my ‘rather too large for one person’ house.  Negotiations are very much advanced and assuming nothing goes wrong I hope to be in before Christmas. But moving is certainly not a stress-free project. Quite the opposite. The last time I moved was 42 years ago and things have changed somewhat since then. Anyway, I`m sure I`ll survive the ordeal. And the final result will be very exciting indeed. Can`t wait.

One huge dilemma was the future of my extensive guitar collection. At my present home they have their own room. There was no chance they would all fit into the penthouse and so some or most just had to go. I eventually transported 23 of them down the M4 to Corsham near Chippenham, where a special auction house, Gardiner Houlgate, handles such things. They are up for grabs in December. I think it is the 12th or 13th.

I have included in this sale my black Precision-style bass guitar which I used extensively in our concerts. It has my name in a block at the twelfth fret of the neck and the ESP designation Searchers 62-92 on the headstock.

Intriguingly the bass comes with two necks. Some of you may recall those concerts when at the finish of our spot I would throw the bass off to the side of the stage where John Semark was waiting in the wings to catch it. He was a very good catcher. Unfortunately I was sometimes not a very good thrower and one night the instrument clipped the floor resulting in a split in the headstock. It was still playable in that condition but as a precaution I had a replacement fitted. But I kept the original with the name block and the logos and the bass is being auctioned with both necks in the package, plus a photo of me playing it on stage.

In a strange coincidence it appears that someone had only a few weeks before I travelled down there been asking them if they ever got any Searchers instruments. The auctioneer in charge of guitars, an affable young man called Luke Hobbs, replied that they had not but you never know. And three weeks later I turned up. Strange how these things happen.

Our old Australian chum Rob Hall was over here recently on vacation with his wife Ann. He, who once promoted a show of ours at the Continental Café in Melbourne quite a few years back, brought with him a 1980 copy of the US Billboard magazine, the bible of the American music industry. The reason for this was that nestling in the lower regions of the album charts in 191st place was the first release on the Sire label by The Searchers.

Not impressed? You have to remember that the USA is a huge place and simply being in those charts at all is quite a special thing. Elsewhere in the mag there was a short piece about the band coming back to prominence on the rock circuit with a run of trendy venues in the UK.  Yes, it was an exciting time when it seemed that a resurgence for us was imminent. Alas it was never to be, but those Sire sessions, currently on release once more on the Omnivore label, were certainly something to be very proud of.

On the social side of things I had a very welcome phone call from Rainer Haas, Germany`s premier promoter of nostalgia concerts and who we worked for in the seventies when he was running the Easy Rider Club (formerly the iconic Kaiser Keller) in Hamburg.  We took to Rainer immediately and, with our encouragement and help in building up a roster of connections in the group fraternity, he went on to present almost every band from the fifties, sixties and seventies in stadiums across the length and breadth of Germany. Never one to do things in half measures he eventually married one of his major attractions, leather-clad rock chick Suzi Quatro.

The reason for his call was an invitation to help celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary for which he had booked a table at the exclusive China Tang restaurant at The Dorchester Hotel in Mayfair. He insisted I had to be there because I said at the outset that I didn`t give the marriage more than six months and Suzi never fails to remind me of this every time we meet. And I always reply that I think she only made it last to prove me wrong. Well, I may have been wrong but at least I ended up with a free dinner at The Dorchester.  One of my great chums, Bruce Welch, will also be a guest. I introduced Rainer to Bruce in the nineties, Herr Haas being an ardent Shadows fan, and they have maintained their friendship to this day.
It`s nice when you get the chance to give something back to people especially in an area with a personal connection. A couple of years back piano legend Bobby Crush was asked by the management at Brinsworth House in Twickenham if he would come and do a show for the residents. Brinsworth is the retirement home for theatrical entertainers and is operated by The Royal Variety charity and many of our best-loved performers who are encountering difficult times in their later years are looked after in this beautiful old house.

Bobby then asked me if I would help out with a few songs and the 45-minute set was great fun and a great success. Several times we have been asked back and we have now found a suitable free spot for both of us. October 10th will see us strutting our stuff in the lounge area to an audience of elderly and appreciative theatrical retirees. I am looking forward to it so much. By the time you read this the deed may well be over and done with and in the next newsletter I will try to remember to let you know how it all went.

The connection with Brinsworth for Bobby and me was our mutual friends Pearl Carr & Teddy Johnson, British music legends of the fifties and sixties who came second in The Eurovision Song Contest in 1959 with Sing Little Birdie. They found looking after their rather large house in Barnes too much for them in their latter days and rooms at the Twickenham home was the answer. Alas Teddy died recently and poor Pearl is not in a good mental state and not really aware of anything around her but at 96 years old it is an achievement simply being with us. I`m sure she will be there in the audience as we try to entertain and I hope there might be some kind of recognition.

The death of Chas Hodges came as a big shock to us all. I had no idea he was ill. I first met Chas in the early sixties when he was still one of The Outlaws and was recording at the legendary Joe Meek`s studio in London`s Holloway Road. I was one of Cliff Bennett`s Rebel Rousers then and we too had managed to secure a contract with Joe.

I have often been asked if Chas was my replacement in The Rebel Rousers when I joined the Searchers. Almost but not quite. My position was in fact taken by Liverpudlian Bobby Thompson who we had met in Hamburg as one of Kingsize Taylor`s Dominos.  He was eventually poached away by The Rockin` Berries who had achieved some success in the charts and that was when Chas was brought into the picture.

Chas was a fine musician and before he invented what we lovingly call Rockney he was a highly skilled purveyor of Jerry Lee Lewis`s material. Bass, piano, guitar. Whatever it was he could play it. He is a great loss to popular entertainment and his partner in music Dave Peacock must be missing him greatly, as we all will.

Another connection is Mick Burt, Chas and Dave`s drummer seen at the back with his pork pie hat and fag dangling from his mouth. Mick had been the drummer in my semi pro group The Skyways back in the early sixties and followed on to be a long standing Rebel Rouser. Mick alas has also gone from us. Yes, I`m afraid there is an awful lot of doom and gloom as we keep losing our contemporaries.  We are all of that age group.

We were so sad to hear of the death of playwright Stephen Jeffreys who passed away recently at the terribly young age of 68. He entered the world of The Searchers in 1989 following a request from the management of London`s Hampstead Theatre Club for me to record an interview for use in an upcoming presentation at the venue, a play called Valued Friends. It had been written by this up-and-coming talent who in 1977 had been hailed as that year`s best new playwright, following a production of  Like Dolls Or Angels at the National Student Drama Festival.

Stephen was an immense fan of The Searchers and of the beat boom of the Sixties in general. For my part I was required prior to production to record a mock interview with one of the characters in the play, a music journalist who is sharing an apartment with friends who have together managed to pool resources to buy a property amid the high-rising economics of the Thatcher era.  In the opening scene he announces that he is holding `a piece of pure gold, an interview with Frank Allen of The Searchers’, the player having just returned from an anniversary concert of ours. At the end of the scene the cassette is replayed (that gives a clue to the age of the piece) as the lights fade and the scene ends.

The interviewer was Tim McInerny, a little-known name at the time but whose career was to blossom soon with many successes such as the marvellous Lord Percy Percy in Blackadder. In fact the production was jammed with names soon to achieve national renown. Martin Clunes, Jane Horrocks, Peter Capaldi, Jimmy Mulville. The cast of Valued Friends was as impressive as the play was excellent.

Another little surprise was in store for us when virtually the whole cast came along to one of our concerts to enjoy the show and to mingle awhile after the performance. If my memory serves me right it was in St Albans. I don`t know if it was an enforcement in their contracts that they had to endure a Searchers performance but they seemed very happy about it.
I was not paid for my work but I was amply rewarded with a magnum of Pol Roger champagne. They had obviously researched my weaknesses.

Some years later at Stephen`s personal invitation Wendy Burton came with me to enjoy it again during a revival at a north London college. We both enjoyed this new presentation and Stephen`s very affable company. He was an easy person to know. Both talented and charming he was soon to raise his career onto another level entirely as the writer of a movie The Libertine starring Johnny Depp. And perhaps a little nearer to your hearts he also scripted Backbeat, a play and movie depicting the pre-fame Beatles when they were still John, Paul, George and Pete.

Stephen will always be missed as a writer, as a husband and father and perhaps most importantly as a friend to so many.

And I think that`s about all I can manage to dredge up right now so I`ll say goodbye and maybe I`ll have some more tittle tattle soon.

Take care

Frank Allen.
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HERE ARE SOME MORE ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS SENT TO FRANK
VIA THIS WEBPAGE:   If you would like to ask him a question, which will be answered by e-mail, and might even appear at the end of a future issue of this newsletter, please e-mail it to:  wendy.burton@the-searchers.co.uk

Question 1:  Apart from “Move it” and “Shaking All Over”, are there any other early British Rock and Roll records that you think stand up to the Americans?
Answer:  Please Don`t Touch (again by Johnny Kidd). Maybe Brand New Cadillac (Vince Taylor). But the two you mention, Move It in particular, are way above the others.

Question 2:  What was your first guitar as a teenager, and if it was a six-string, why did you switch to bass?
Answer:  My very first was a primitive and almost unplayable six string flat top called a Palm Beach. The name was stencilled in white against the brown stained wood. The only other one the same I have seen is held by a very young Bernie Taupin at the front of the Two Rooms book that came out a few years ago.  I switched to bass as a Rebel Rouser because our bassist left, we couldn`t get the one we wanted and it was easier and cheaper for me to switch from rhythm guitar to bass, thus reducing the wages by one person.

Question 3:  Would you liked to have been signed by Brian Epstein?
Answer:   It might have been great for us but he had so many artistes signed to him that maybe we would have been lost in the crowd.

Question 4:   In the sixties and seventies you did several tours of America - did have a favourite part of the country?
Answer:  Not really. Every state is so different you could never get bored. But in these last few years I have taken to heading for New York for my break. I love the place. So much life, theatre the arts. Everything.

Question 5:   Would you have added another member to the band in the late-sixties, if you’d all thought him a good songwriter?
Answer:  I don`t think so. It`s a four piece band and that has always seemed right.. But it would have been great to have a good songwriter at hand because we never found terrific songs coming thick and fast and so we made quite a few silly compromises.


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