Look here, still Searching after all these years...

‘60s legends The Searchers are still on the road and Lancashire-bound. MARTIN HUTCHINSON spoke with founder member John McNally about the band’s enduring appeal.

Saturday, 20th June 2015, 12:00 pm
The Searchers on stage at Theatre Royal Wakefield.
The Searchers on stage at Theatre Royal Wakefield.

The Searchers’ back catalogue is so vast that in order to keep their fans happy, the band is constantly on the road.

Formed in 1959, named after the John Wayne film of the same name, one man has been at the heart of the band from the start, guitarist John McNally.

Speaking from his Liverpool home, John tells me why he thinks the band has continued to be popular.

“Oh, it’s a pretty hard one that. We originally started as a skiffle band and have just gone on and on.”

“The hits we had were such amazing three-minute pop songs and we were lucky the hits were not just in Britain but all over the world.”

“We covered all territories like America, Australia and Europe, in fact all the places we still tour today. It was vast.”

The Searchers had hits like ‘Sweets for my Sweet’, ‘When You Walk in the Room’, and of course ‘Needles and Pins’. In all that time was he ever tempted to join another band?

The Searchers: Frank Allen, John McNally, Spencer James, Scott Ottaway

“No, not at all.

“I started the band with a mate who had just come out of the Army called Tony West, and people came and went but I recruited the rest of the lads and kept it going. I enjoy it as much today as I did then.”

Of all the great 60s hits it is perhaps surprising the music of which John is most proud comes from a later period.

“It’s the Sire period (they signed to Sire Records in the late 70’s/early 80’s),” he says.

“They believed in us and we were able to make a couple of great albums.”

Of the ‘classic’ Searchers’ songs, John has no hesitation naming one particular hit.

“Definitely ‘Sweets for my Sweet.’

“We owe so much to it. It was our first big hit and the atmosphere when we play it is great.”

For this year’s dates, the band have included a few songs they haven’t played in a long time.

“Yes, that’s right,” John agrees in his Liverpool accent. “From the very old stuff, we’ve got ‘Sea of Heartache’ and ‘He’s Got No Love’. Plus from later we have ‘It’s Too Late’ and ‘Hearts in Her Eyes’.”

“In fact, we’d like to put more Sire stuff in, but we have to cater for all the fans and some of it is a bit too ‘heavy’ for the theatres.”

The trademark sound of The Searchers is the distinctive sound of the 12-string Rickenbacker guitar, but here John puts the story right.

“That’s a myth.” He is keen to point out.

“There was no 12-string guitar on the early material. We used Burns 6-string guitars and on ‘Needles and Pins’ the engineer and Tony Hatch the producer put some reverb on and got that sound.”

“But then, to get the right sound live, we had to get a couple of 12-strings. And that’s why we have never bragged about being the originators of that particular sound, even though people think we did.”

Today’s band is made up of John, Frank Allen (bassist since 1964), Spencer James on guitar and vocals and Scott Ottaway on drums.

John is now 73, so I wondered if it was difficult to keep touring.

“No,” he says firmly, “it’s not difficult at all. It’s the adrenalin when you get on stage that keeps you going, plus we change the set night after night to keep things fresh.

“I just want to keep enjoying it and to keep healthy. A lot of guitarists tend to get arthritis in their hands, but luckily I’m OK.”

“I know it’s going to end at some point and I just want to enjoy it as long as I can.”

The Searchers will be appearing at The Lowther Pavilion, Lytham St Annes on Thursday July 30.

Tickets for shows are available from the Box Office and all the usual agencies.