Her Majesty’s Theatre, Fri Feb 6
The Searchers’ concert was always going to be a walk down memory lane. First formed in 1959 and responsible for a half dozen or so mega hits in the sixties, The Searchers are still performing to packed houses around the world 55 years on. The two remaining original Searchers, Frank Allen and John McNally are in their ‘70s. That puts them in the elite category of veteran pop/rock stars who are still performing in the same band decades after they began. Another band that comes to mind in the same category and who also graced Australia’s shores recently are of course The Rolling Stones. But that’s about where the similarity ends.
The Searchers represent the state of pop/rock music before the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones turned it and the rest of the world on its head. Neat, suited, and conservative, they stand and deliver that same engaging brand of poppy tune that catapulted them to pop fame, and in pretty much the same way. Not much rocking or wild cavorting around the stage here – just standing and delivering. And that is entirely appropriate for their style of music.
They play all their hits – the biggest of which arguably were Love Potion No 9 and Needles And Pins – and they still sound brilliant. There was also Walk In The Room, an acknowledged classic originally written and recorded by Jackie DeShannon but driven to international fame via The Searchers’ version. A curious thing about The Searchers is they didn’t write any of these songs. Occasionally songs were written for them, but most of their success came from songs written or recorded by others before The Searchers turned them into hits. And as good as these songs are there are probably around 6-8 gems all up. So the playlist for their two hour concert includes many cover tunes. Del Shannon’s Runaway, Buddy Holly’s (apparently spontaneous) Peggy Sue were obvious choices from their era. A kind of reverse acknowledgment of The Byrds and the role they played in preserving The Searchers’ legacy for another decade or so was the reason for the inclusion of Mr Tambourine Man. (The now famous signature ‘jingle jangle’ guitar tone of The Byrds was first created by John McNally, and The Byrds always acknowledged their debt to The Searchers as their own fame grew).
A few numbers were clearly included to highlight and exploit the lovely voice of Spencer James – Roy Orbison’s Runnin’ Scared, Neil Sedaka’s Solitaire, and Bette Midler’s The Rose. But the inclusion of Young Girl, originally recorded by Gary Puckett and The Union Gap had me puzzled. I loved it when I was a child, but these days it has a few unfortunate undertones.
The voices of the two original Searchers are still in fine fettle. Sadly though there was a muddy tone to the mix much of the evening with the vocals too far down in the mix and for a band whose songs depend on multiple vocal parts this was really disappointing. Ironically the time when the three singers could be heard most clearly was not on a Searchers song – they sounded clear and pitch perfect as they sang The Rose.
Bass player Frank Allen chatted to the audience throughout the show, filling in bits and pieces of the band’s history, and explaining why each song was chosen. Audiences really appreciate this thoughtful kind of communication. But I found the constant jokes about aging, illness, dementia, etc a bit tiresome. As I’m a way short of 70 maybe it’s something I need to grow into (!) but I’d be pretty sure The Stones weren’t cracking jokes about nursing homes and dementia on their recent tour.
Still, it was great to see, be present, and hear live The Searchers’ contribution to the legacy of pop music. It’s a phenomenal achievement to be still doing live shows after 50 years. Testament to their importance in the history of pop is the fact that several Searchers songs will be remembered long after they finally hang up their guitars. An enjoyable night.
by Michael Coghlan