Gerry Marsden, a Hitmaker With the Pacemakers, Dies at 78
Gerry Marsden, whose band Gerry and the Pacemakers proved to be formidable rivals for the Beatles in the early 1960s rock scene in Liverpool, scored hits like “Ferry Cross the Mersey”, “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” and ” You will never go alone, “died in the Liverpool area on Sunday. He was 78 years old.
His death at Arrowe Park Hospital in the Merseyside metropolitan area was confirmed in a statement by his family. British news outlets said the cause was a heart infection.
Gerry and the Pacemakers were the second band to be signed by Beatles manager Brian Epstein, but they earned a # 1 single on the official UK singles list ahead of the Beatles, with their 1963 debut single “How You do it. “It beat the Beatles’ first chart winner,” From Me to You “, by three weeks.
The Pacemakers’ next two singles, “I Like It” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, followed suit and made them the first act to hit the UK singles list with its first three releases. They held that record for two decades until another Liverpool band, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, hit it.
The pacemakers didn’t write their first hits; The first two were from Mitch Murray, while the band plucked the brave ballad “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the musical “Carousel” by Rodgers and Hammerstein. (The Beatles recorded an earlier version of the bubbly “How Do You Do It” at the behest of their producer George Martin, but they weren’t happy with the song, so it wasn’t released at the time, until three decades later it appeared in the collection “Anthology 1” by the Beatles.)
Mr. Marsden’s talent as a songwriter emerged in 1964, first as a co-writer with his bandmates of “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”, then as the sole writer of “Ferry Cross the Mersey,” named after the waterway that ran through Liverpool flows.
The melodies in these songs were of a size that exuded both melancholy and rapture, enhanced by Mr. Marsden’s surging voice. While he was able to pin down the bouncy flair of the band’s lighter singles and mirror it with his brisk rhythm guitar work, his rapid reach gave him the ability to turn songs like “You will never go alone” into hymns. His group’s version of “Walk Alone” became the trademark of Liverpool Football Club and later sports teams around the world.
Pacemakers started more slowly in the US. Their first trifecta of British hits missed the US charts before “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” rose to # 4 in Billboard Magazine and “Ferry Cross the Mersey” to # 6. The group had two more US scores, a newly released “I Like It” and “I’m Be There,” which were each named a Billboard Top 20 in 1964.
After his death, Paul McCartney wrote on Twitter: “Gerry was a buddy from our early days in Liverpool. He and his group were our biggest rivals on the local scene. His memorable performances of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Ferry Cross the Mersey” are remembered by many as memories of a joyful time in British music. “
Gerard Marsden was born on September 24, 1942 in the Toxteth section of Liverpool to Fredrick and Mary (McAlindin) Marsden. His father was a railroad worker who played the ukulele, The Guardian once wrote. His parents encouraged both Gerry and his older brother Fred to play instruments. Gerry chose guitar; Fred, the drums.
The brothers’ first band, Gerry Marsden and the Mars Bars, played skiffle music, a British precursor to rock and roll. After the Mars company objected to the band’s appropriation of the name of their praline, they became Gerry and the pacemakers, rounded off by Les Chadwick on bass and Les Maguire on piano.
The quartet honed their skills in the same clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg that promoted the Beatles. “We started playing German rock’n’roll in 1959,” Marsden told the New Zealand television program “The Beat Goes On” in 2009. “We used to play from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. with an hourly break of 15 minutes. It was a great education in music.”
Mr. Epstein met the group at the record store he ran, NEMS Music. After seeing her play, he signed her and secured a deal with Columbia Records. To Mr. Marsden’s delight, Mr. Martin produced her early recordings. “We’d only heard our voices on lousy tape recorders,” he told the Beatles Bible website. “We couldn’t believe we sounded that good.”
The group’s UK No. 1 run was nearly four, but their single, “I’m the One,” written by Mr. Marsden, missed first place by one position, just behind “Needles and Pins” by one another Liverpudlian band, the Seeker. In 1965, the group starred in the comedy film “Ferry Cross the Mersey”, which was not popular and drew unflattering comparisons with the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” a year earlier.
“It’s easy fun,” wrote the New York Times. “But we’ve seen it all before.”
The group got their final American Top 40 score in September 1966 with “Girl on a Swing”. A month later they broke up. Thereafter, Mr. Marsden worked as a soloist before reforming the pacemaker in 1974, to no avail on the charts.
In the 1980s, Mr Marsden regained the UK number 1 twice by re-recording his’ 60s hits for charity. After a fire at Bradford Football Stadium in Yorkshire in 1985 that killed 56 people, he formed a group called Crowd to edit a new version of You Will Never Walk Alone.
Four years later, after a deadly human crush during a football game at Hillsborough Stadium in South Yorkshire, he teamed up with Paul McCartney, Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and other artists to re-record Ferry Cross the Mersey to help families the US to help the victims. Mr Marsden continued to tour the oldies circuit until he retired in November 2018.
He married Pauline Behan in 1965 and she survived him along with their daughters Yvette and Victoria. His brother Fred died of cancer in 2006.
Even in his later years, the notoriously humble Mr. Marsden was surprised by the international success of his band.
“I used to think you had to be special to have a hit record,” he said on “The Beat Goes On”. “We were just kids from Liverpool.”
He recalled that even when his band’s debut single, How Did You Do It took off, his mother didn’t let it rise to his head, “When I told my mother that the song was going to be number 1, she said : ‘That’s great. Now finish your fish and chips.’ “