Gerry and the Pacemakers in 1964 (Gerry Marsden at centre, bottom row)
By Keith Sharp & Best Classic Bands Staff
Gerry Marsden, the singer who led the Liverpool band Gerry and the Pacemakers, died January 3, 2021, at 78. The news was reported by Pete Price, a friend and broadcaster.
“It’s with a very heavy heart after speaking to the family that I have to tell you the Legendary Gerry Marsden MBE after a short illness which was an infection in his heart has sadly passed away,” Price wrote.
The 60s group shared a manager and producer with the Beatles. Decades after the British Invasion, it’s easy to overlook their impact.
Gerry and the Pacemakers earned numerous top 10 singles in the U.S. including the ballads “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” and “Ferry ’Cross the Mersey” and the rocker “How Do You Do It?,” the latter also recorded (but not released) by the Beatles.
Upon hearing of Marsden’s passing, Paul McCartney remembered a “joyful time in British Music”.
Gerry was a mate from our early days in Liverpool. He and his group were our biggest rivals on the local scene. His unforgettable performances of You’ll Never Walk Alone and Ferry Cross the Mersey remain in many people’s hearts as reminders of a joyful time in British music… pic.twitter.com/t1COAIwZVM
— Paul McCartney (@PaulMcCartney) January 3, 2021
In 2018, Marsden, born Sept. 24, 1942, announced his retirement after six decades in the music business. In a July 26, 2020, interview with the British tabloid, The Telegraph, the singer revealed he had two heart operations, including a triple bypass.
When the paper asked him if it’s “funny” to have a band called the Pacemakers, Marsden replied: “No. I’m wearing one, for Christ’s sake.”
Reports of his passing note that Marsden died from a heart infection.
Other hits by the group included “I Like It,” “I’ll Be There,” “It’s Gonna Be Alright” and a cover of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” from the musical Carousel. In their home country, they set a record for being the first act to reach #1 with their first three consecutive singles: “How Do You Do It?,” “I Like It” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” The latter also became a popular football anthem in the U.K., played at every home game at Liverpool’s Anfield ground.
In explaining the impact of that song, Marsden told Music Express publisher Keith Sharp that he was originally exposed to the tune when he went to see the musical, Carousel (music by Rodgers And Hammerstein) at his local cinema.
“I just loved that song and I told the boys in the band (drummer brother Freddie, bassist Les Chadwick and guitarist Les McGuire, right lads we’re going to record it as our third single.”
During a memorable one-hour interview staged with Marsden on the patio of the Madison Pub in Toronto before his reformed band played at the Diamond Club (now the Phoenix Concert Theatre) in August 1989, he explained how that song became the official anthem of Liverpool Football Club.
“I those days (going back to 1963) football teams used to just play records over the stadium tannoy system at half time and Liverpool, knowing I was a fan of their team decided to give our new single a spin at one of their home matches,” Marsden explained. “ So Liverpool won that match and during the second half, the home supporters started to sing that song and it just caught on from there.”
The impact of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was never more evident when Liverpool played arch city rivals Everton in the 1989 English FA Cup Final. During Liverpool’s Semi Final game against Nottingham Forest, 96 supporters were crushed to death in what became known as the Hillsborough Disaster, named after the Sheffield stadium that was the site of the April 15th tragedy.
When Liverpool advanced to meet Everton in the Final at London’s Wembley Stadium, the call went out for Gerry and The Pacemakers to lead the crowd in an emotional sing-along before the match.
“We were in Australia at the time but when we got the message to fly back and sing the song, we could not possibly refuse,” Marsden reflected. “It was obviously, a very moving occasion.”
A Nov. 28, 2018, report in the U.K.’s Daily Mail, said Marsden, then 76, wants to spend more time with his family. “Gerry would like to say a special thank you to all his fans for the unconditional support down the years, and will sadly miss them all. He looks forward to this new chapter in his life,”
Gerry Marsden formed Gerry and the Pacemakers in 1959 and they were the second band to be signed by Brian Epstein, who also arranged for George Martin to produce their recordings. Their first hit, “How Do You Do It?,” written by Mitch Murray, became their first chart-topper in Britain, on April 11, 1963, after the Beatles decided not to release their version. In the U.S. in 1964, they first charted with “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” which reached #4, but their reign was brief—by the end of 1966 they were no longer scoring hits in the States, and they disbanded. Marsden starred in a few musicals in London following the split.
The group appeared on the famous rock concert film The T.A.M.I. Show, trading off songs with Chuck Berry. They also starred in their own film, Ferry Cross the Mersey, a knockoff of A Hard Day’s Night. Marsden reformed the group in 1974 and played the oldies circuit. His brother, Fred, an original member, died in 2006.
Gerry Marsden’s memoir, I’ll Never Walk Alone, was published in 1993. He underwent heart surgery in 2003 and again in 2016. In 2017, Gerry Marsden collapsed onstage during a concert in the U.K., telling the audience he was scheduled to undergo knee surgery. He did not return to performing.
On a personal note, sharing that pint with Gerry on the Madison Pub patio was one of my most treasured experiences in this music business,” noted Sharp. “To spend so much time with a bona fide legend, chatting about the Mersey music scene, football (even though I am a devout Manchester City supporter) and the great anecdotes he shared about his illustrious career was pure magic.