Gerry and the Pacemakers: The Abbey Road Years

Unpublished Record Collector Article, November 1996. Co-authored with Peter Lewry.

Gerry and the Pacemakers: The Abbey Road Years

Although everyone thought the Beatles made 1963 pop history when their first record Love Me Do went into the Top 20 and their second and third singles Please Please Me and From Me To You went to number one, it was one of their colleagues and closest rivals, Gerry and the Pacemakers, who made that 1963 pop history by taking their first three singles to the top of the UK chart.

Although it was a feat that was to be repeated some 21 years later when another Liverpool group, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, would take their first three singles to the top spot, back in 1963, no one ever thought that an identical achievement was likely to be equaled. Then it was totally unique to Gerry and co.

Gerry Marsden’s singing career began in his pre-teen years as a member of both the school and church choirs, and from there he graduated to making his first public appearance with his embryo group as a teenager at the age of thirteen.

It was not until four years later, in 1959, that his group, Gerry and the Mars Bars, consisting of Gerry on lead vocals and guitar, his brother, Freddy on drums, Les Chadwick on bass, and Arthur Mack on piano, started playing gigs. However, the chocolate bar manufacturer soon requested that they change their name, and that’s when they became Gerry and the Pacemakers taking their name from a sports commentary that described one the athletics as a “pacemaker”.

Like the Beatles, and most of the other Merseyside beat groups, Gerry and the Pacemakers soon began to gig in those now much talked about, gaudy, smoke filled, audience packed clubs of the sixties in Hamburg, where German teenagers would spend their nights, watching the Liverpool groups performing almost non-stop from dusk to dawn with a thunderous barrage of songs covering everything from rhythm and blues to rock’n’roll.

We must remember that the Liverpool bands were unique for having the Hamburg link, which never happened for those from Manchester like the Hollies, or from Birmingham, the Moody Blues, and London, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes. In the case of Gerry and the Pacemakers, they had been playing gigs around the Liverpool scene for twelve months prior to starting their first Hamburg engagement in early 1961.

Arthur Mack had by this time left the group, and by the May of that year, Les Maguire joined the line-up to play piano and saxophone before returning to Liverpool in time for Christmas and to resume playing the Mersey ballroom and club circuit, but not before rehearsing a song called How Do You Do It, which had been sent to them by Brian Epstein during the summer of their Hamburg dates, after both Adam Faith and the Beatles had turned down the Mitch Murray composition.

Gerry and the boys continued their club dates, building a popular and permanent reputation for themselves, largely as a result of Gerry’s on stage persona. His magnetism combined natural friendliness, with a frankness that was never superficial in his sincerity, winning him, and the Pacemakers, the affection of the Liverpool fans. They soon became the clear favourites of the Cavern and Iron Door clubs, and as a result, Brian Epstein signed them to a personal management deal as his second group to the Beatles in May 1962.

Epstein, of course, quickly brought them to the attention of EMI and Beatles producer George Martin, who within a few months watched the boys performing at the Majestik in Birkenhead, and signed them to the Columbia label without even a recording test because he simply wanted the boys to record How Do You Do It. What is interesting though, is that Gerry and the Pacemakers were probably the only group of this period to be signed on the strength of a live performance without a recording studio audition.

For their first session at Abbey Road in studio two on 22 January 1963, Ron Richards was brought in as recording engineer, to assist George Martin in producing both sides of their first single. How Do You Do It and Away From You were cut in three hours between 2.30pm and 5.30pm. The single DB 4987 released on 1 March went straight to number seventeen two weeks later, then to five, and eventually to number one on 3 April for three weeks.

As soon as the single had hit the chart, Mitch Murray began work on the follow-up, and so did John Lennon. Murray wrote I Like It, and Lennon Hello Little Girl. Gerry and the boys recorded both songs at their second session at Abbey Road on 24 April 1963, although these versions were never released. The version of I Like It chosen for Gerry’s second single was recorded the next day on the 25th, along with the B-side It’s Happened To Me.

Hello Little Girl was not attempted again until 17 July during the How Do You Do It LP sessions, but remained unreleased until 1991 when the track surfaced for the first time on a US compilation CD titled The Best of Gerry and the Pacemakers: The Definitive Collection (United Artists CDP 7-96093-2), and in the UK the following year on The EMI Years: The Best of Gerry and the Pacemakers (EMI CDP 7 99030 2).

EPs of this period generally culled tracks from albums, or collected both sides of two singles together. Gerry’s first EP, How Do You Do It released in the July of 1963 did the latter, while the second one You’ll Never Walk Alone in December of the same year pulled tracks from the album which with the EP included the title hit single. It is also interesting to note that the album was issued in both stereo and mono formats, which was the norm during this period. It is unclear, however, whether the sessions were recorded utilising two control rooms with two groups of engineers – one recording and mixing in stereo and one in mono, or whether alternate versions, which do show up on the Abbey Road tape report, were used on the stereo version. This had certainly been the procedure for recording in 1959 at Abbey Road when Cliff Richard had recorded his Cliff Sings album. We must also remember that this was a time when stereo releases were regarded of secondary importance to mono issues …