Remembering Gerry Marsden

Gerry Marsden died on January 3. He was the leader of “Gerry and the Pacemakers,” a prominent British band of the early to mid-1960s. I wrote at some length about Marsden in this post, called “Remembering Liverpool’s other British invasion band.”

Marden’s obituaries have called Gerry and the Pacemakers the Beatles’ greatest early rivals. I don’t know whether Marsden’s band ever truly rivaled the Beatles, but the two groups were connected. On their way up, they played the same clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg, West Germany. They had the same manager, Brian Epstein, and producer, George Martin.

And, to be fair, the first three Gerry and the Pacemakers singles all reached number one on the charts in England. Even the Beatles didn’t accomplish this.

I view the British Invasion bands as, in part, a reaction to the gloomy, despairing British culture of the 1950s. The Beatles answered that culture with the verve, bounce, and exuberance of their early music. Gerry answered it with his lyrics in songs like “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” and “Ferry Cross the Mersey.”

The last of these songs contains this refutation of the culture of alienation:

People around every corner
They seem to smile and say
We don’t care what your name is boy
We’ll never turn you away. . .

So ferry ‘cross the Mersey
‘Cause this land’s the place I love
And here I’ll stay.

By the mid-1960s, the culture of alienation was back in full force. The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” (1966) was a return to something like the 1950s view of postwar Britain. So was “She’s Leaving Home” (1967).

The new landscape had neither appeal nor a place for Gerry Marsden’s band. It disbanded in late 1966 or early 1967. Gerry and the Pacemakers would return, but never as a force in the pop music world.

Gerry had the last laugh, though. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” became the anthem of Liverpool Football Club. It is sung with gusto, accompanied by Gerry’s recording, by something like 50,000 Liverpool fans at every Liverpool home game — typically more than 30 of them in a season. And it has been adopted by top teams in other leagues, including Scotland, the Netherlands, Germany, Ukraine, and even Japan.

Not bad for a local lad from Toxteth.