Monday 27 February 2017

The Searchers: Solo Recordings 1964-1967, 1984 (Tony Jackson/Chris Curtis/Mike Pender)

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Non-Album Recordings: 1964 (Tony Jackson #1)

Though former band members don't necessarily always have success when they quit bands, it would have been a brave person who'd have bet against Tony Jackson having at least some success on his own. He'd sung lead on a #1 hit, a #2 hit and played on a further two #1 hits while The Searchers had finally taken off in America with the last two songs becoming big hits there too. Unlike some musicians who hit the big-time and find it's not actually what they wanted, you sense too that Tony was still ambitious and yearned to be big in his own right and that he was going to do everything in his power to achievement. So it's a surprise to learn that Tony Jackson and his new group The Vibrations only ever had one charting single: [  ] 'Bye Bye Baby', which peaked at a disappointing #38 in the UK charts (even compared to nearest Searchers single 'Someday We're Gonna Love Again' this is cause for alarm). It could be that 'Baby' is just a little too retro for an increasingly sophisticated 1964 pop scene, with Tony making good on his promise to carry on making rock and roll records. The closest any recording came to capturing his earliest days (when he was a solo Elvis covers act), this is actually a Mary Wells song that originally came with a distinctly Motown flavour re-cut to sound more like Elvis. Jackson shines on perhaps the last full-throated roar he ever committed to tape, but the Vibrations' predominantly organ-based sound doesn't have the authenticity of The Searchers' Rickenbackers and the addition of an all-female chorus who parrot every other line is probably a bad move too. Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch Your Step!' (1991) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Bobby Parker's bluesy [  ] 'Watch Your Step' steps even further into this direction, sounding more like Manfredd Mann than The Searchers. Tony is again the best thing about a record that never really settles down, spending too long with his vocals being droened out by first a hammy Hammond organ and then even hammier girl singers. The original is one of the key pre-Beatles works of rock and roll, sexy sultry and infectious (it was another big Merseyside song, thought to have inspired The Beatles' 'I Feel Fine') but on this version Jackson passes over the riff altogether and tries to hang on by charisma alone, which he only half-succeeds in. Had he recorded it in the more thrash-rock style of the first two Searchers LPs he might have got away with it, but half dressing a rock song up in pop clothing leaves it feeling both under and over dressed. Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch Your Step!' (1991) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Second and rarer single [  ] 'You Beat Me To The Punch' is better, a revved up Smokey Robinson cover that's better suited to being given a harder edged rock format. Jackson, his voice by now clearly affected by his ill-advised nose operation, does a good job at trying to maintain the song's reflectiveness though and together with a moody haunting riff (played on a better sounding organ this time) it comes across as not unlike 'Needles and Pins'. The song still doesn't scream 'hit song material' though and would have made a better album track, not of course that Pye were offering Tony an album contract any time soon. Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch Your Step!' (1991) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Though 'only' a B-side, I like [  ] 'This Little Girl Of Mine' one of the best of the lot, with Jackson repeating the Searchers tradition of playing safe on the A side and trying something a little more adventurous for the flip that suits his sound a lot better. There are actual real live guitars on this one, with Ian Leighton doing a good job at filling in the Pender-McNally sound and this record also sounds like much more of a team effort with lots of band harmonies. Had the Vibrations been around in 1963 they'd have been a good fit with this style of song, but by 1964 it is perhaps a little too passe for the pop market. Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch Your Step!' (1991)

Sensing that the writing was on the wall, Jackson swallowed his pride and decided to make his third single a song he'd already has success with, [  ] 'Love Potion No 9'. It was a good choice in the sense that the song had only ever been a single in America (it was an album track in Britain) and had already done the business once, while it was always a good fit for Tony's voice. Jackson sings this re-make with even more gusto than the original and if you have to have a sequel then this one's as good as can be expected. Somehow though the band feel like they're trying to hard and this recording lacks the primitive innocent charm of the Searchers' original. Once again, the single missed the charts. Unusually the 'Hearts In Their Eyes' Searchers box contains both versions so fans can compare the two. Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch Your Step!' (1991)

It's hard to go wrong with Allen Toussaint's [  ] 'Fortune Teller', another contender for best pre-Beatles rock and roll song and a strong choice for the Vibrations. Though other bands had performed this 'Love Potion no 9' style comedy as a slightly silly song (The Who and to a lesser extent The Hollies), Jackson and band perform this tale of a boy getting his fortune read by a girl and slowly realising that, yes, she is right he is in love (with her!) with an impressively harder-edged sound, very on the money for the period when The Who and The Kinks were in vogue and something The Searchers never thought of trying. This version is still funny - it just sounds like a matter of life and death as well. Of all the Vibrations recordings this is the one that sounds now as if it stood the most chance of being a hit and really should have been the 'A' side. You can read one last go at a hit single by Jackson and the Vibrations and some EP tracks under our 1965 'non album recordings' listing.  Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch Your Step!' (1991)

Non-Album Recordings 1965 (Tony Jackson #2)

If The Searchers' grip on the charts was slipping in 1965 despite the release of much of their best material, then their former lead singer had all but disappeared from sight. The year 1965 was a difficult one for Tony who recorded two further flop singles with The Vibrations on Pye before switching labels and bands at the end of the year to record under the new name The Tony Jackson Group on CBS. Unfortunately the results were largely the same, even though Tony was arguably making some of his best material too having moved on from a faux Searchers sound to one of his own that was now looking forward more often than it looked back.

Easily the most ambitious single released by the Vibrations was [ ] 'Stage Door', an orchestral Goffin/King cover cut from the same emotional cloth as 'Needles and Pins' or The Searchers' most recent single 'Goodbye My Love'. It's very different to the R and B covers Tony was making in 1964 and his strong performance here on by far his most emotional vocal rather kills the idea that he was kicked out The Searchers because he couldn't sing the likes of 'Needles and Pins' with sincerity. Actually it's hard to think of anyone who could have done the song better, as Tony sings with hurt and not a little jealousy of meeting a girl he used to love at a 'stage door' and realising that she's now a big star while he's a worthless nobody who didn't realise how much she had to give to the world. In context and with a 'Needles and Pins' style Rickenbacker makeover that's even closer to aping the Searchers trademark sound than the 'Love Potion no 9' cover, it feels like Tony was offering up an apology of sorts to his old band while simultaneously proving to them how wrong they were (It also makes you wonder whether lyricist and husband Gerry Goffin was getting just a little bit sick of all the attention his wife and composer Carole King was receiving for her solo work round about now - theirs was a stormy relationship that makes even The Searchers look civil by comparison!) It's a clever song though, full of clever rhymes that in other situations would sound funny ('As your valet I carry...') - the sort of thing The Searchers did circa 'Love Potion no 9' in fact - but impressively Tony ignores all this and sings the song straight, as a tragedy. Tony doesn't sing a vocal purely with humility though: he also soars like a bird as he delivers the vocal with confidence as if vainly trying to prove to the girl how much she's missing by ignoring him too. Thankfully this single, largely ignored at the time of release, has undergone something of a renaissance in the past twenty or so years, appearing on a small handful of Searchers compilations and even a handful of 'Merseybeat' compilations (where, with The Searchers' own recordings largely cost-prohibitive, it makes a nice change from Mike Pender's re-recordings). Tony's true masterpiece, his Searchers success stories notwithstanding. A slightly more hesitant outtake of the song also appears on the compilation, but isn't all that different. Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch Your Step!' (2003) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

The B-side [  ] 'That's What I Want', was more business as usual but even this typical slice of 1965 R and B has a few extra twists and turns to keep things interesting. This time the Searchers style guitar is used in a way The Searchers had never used it - as an angry, relentless, pounding beast that dominates the sound as Tony and the rest of the band sound as if they're singing and playing down a tunnel. The Vibrations are clearly going for moody and magnificent here as Tony sings what's actually quite an emotional song about everything the narrator wants to happen in a relationship as cool and detached as if he's reading out the football results. Ian Leighton's guitarwork though, hints at the real desperate feeling underlying it all, with a short but glorious thrash of chords in a solo hinting at just how badly the characters want this to happen. Tony's best songs so far both on the same single. This can't last can it? Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch This Step!' (2004)

 Well, sort of. [  ] 'You're My Number One' is a slightly flimsy pop song with typically 60s pop rhymes of 'eyes' disguise' and 'realise' over some chord changes so over-used they must have been used in thousands of songs even back then. However it's what The Vibrations do to this song that makes it (almost) work. Once again the playful guitarwork cuts past Tony's dark and bluesy lead, soaring when it gets the chance in a similar fat sound to what The Searchers came up with on 'Goodbye My Love' but used in the polar opposite way, to provide warmth rather than gloom. This gives the impression of an earth-bound Tony struggling to drop his rock past and embrace the warm sunshine of the psychedelia to come and if that isn't the best metaphor for what was happening in mid-1965 then I don't know what is. A charming, unfairly overlooked track and, frustratingly, the last A side by The Vibrations just as they were getting to be a good, potentially great, back-up band. Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch This Step!' (2004)

B-side [  ] 'Let Me Know' edges even closer to psychedelia, with a bed of guitars this time and lush harmonies singing across what sounds like a phased production epic. The lyrics may be simple ('Let me know, I'll be there, any time, I don't care!') but this is a song that at least sounds as if it's pointing somewhere deeper and Tony turns in another lovely vocal, softer than usual. However the song is one of those tracks that sounds naggingly like lots of other songs cobbled together and finishes before getting anywhere interesting, enjoyable as the journey itself was. Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch This Step!' (2004)

Non-Album Recordings 1966 (Tony Jackson #3)

Tony, now with CBS and a slightly modified band enjoyed their most prolific year though still ended it without any success or a second charting single. An understandable sense of frustration and confusion was by now seeping in, with Tony a little unsure whether to go back to his old style, stay with the one he'd just found or jack them both in for something else, leaving many of this year's singles an uneasy compromise of all three.. [  ] 'Never Leave Your Baby's Side' is a complete one off, with a noisy brass-filled cover of a Martha Reeves and the Vandellas B-side that comes off as a cross between 'Sweet Charity' and 'Got To Get You Into My Life'. It's a pretty horrible mix with Tony's over-vibratoed lyrics thrown in there too, but the horns and drums drown him out so much anyway his voice is hard to hear. A shame because the lyrics are probably the most interesting part of this track, hinting at a darker tale of jealousy and possession behind all that Motown cheerful goodness. Not a good idea I fear. Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch Your Step!' (2004)

B-side [ ] 'I'm The One She Really Thinks A Lot Of' is far more 1966: it sounds like a Monkees B-side with the same stabbing guitar chords and a slightly 'drunk' Jefferson Airplane style vocal, though it probably has it's DNA in blues rockers from 1964 (speed it up a little and it's a dead ringer for 'She's About A Mover'). Tony copes best either when drenched in stunning harmonies or raising his voice to a yell over a heavy backing track; by reducing the song to some simple stuttered guitar chords and open sparse drumming this track puts a lot of emphasis on his vocal and it's not one of his best, slurring all over the place at times. To be fair this sounds like an effect, a chance to sound 'psychedelic' and other bands of the period got away with far worse. Tony, though, is too 'direct' a vocalist to be messing around trying to sound like a tuba or something. A missed opportunity.  Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch Your Step!' (2004)

[ ] 'Follow Me' is more like it, with a piercingly direct vocal and guitar riff that's softened only by some fine psychedelic vocals that are very much of their period (though that's no bad thing - would that every period in music sounded as good as this one). The lyrics are an intriguing mix of the earthy and imaginative, as Tony effectively turns stalker and follows his beloved wherever she chooses to take him. There's a very clever moment when the rest of the band start 'following' Tony's lead, turning the song into a 'round', which is very apt given the circumstances (it's a very nifty 1966 idea to have a band following each other and going round in circles - see The Monkees again, whose music this bouncy pop song most resembles once more). Though another flop single, this track has arguably become the best known of all of Tony's work thanks to its appearance on various psychedelic one-hit wonder compilations.  Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch Your Step!' (2004)

B-side [  ] 'Walk That Walk' aka 'Walk Walk Walk' is a real throwback though, a noisy Booker T and the MGs style blues pounder that doesn't really develop much from it's simple 12 bar blues beginnings. Tony, now a for-the-times elderly 28, sounds deeply embarrassed at trying to relive his teenage years and turns in another feeble vocal. Not that the rest of the band sound an awful lot better, despite the presence of a fuzz guitar. Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch Your Step!' (2004)

Tony's last single was [   ] 'Is There Anything Else You Want?', an explosive flop soul cover of a forgotten 1965 number by  Roddie Joy. It sounds like the band have poured everything into this song in the hopes of getting a hit - includes more brass and female singers - but again soul is the sort of thing other singers do; in Tony's case he can't lose himself in the music and voice so well when everything in the song's arrangement is shining a spotlight so firmly on him (most soul tracks do this to the singer). Jackson sounds adrift and uncomfortable and can't get into this 'pleading' style of lyric at all, while transposed to a pop performance this song's rambling nature (disguised on the soul original) is rather more apparent. The slightly less produced outtake also available on the compilation is a little easier on the ears though it sounds a bit unfinished (I know, you can't have it both ways on this site...) Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch Your Step!' (2004)

The B-side was  [  ] 'Come On And Stomp' - hilariously mis-spelt as 'Come On And Stop' on more than one compilation, which makes it sound like a far more profound song than it is! - which finds Tony on firmer ground. Unfortunately it's firmer ground circa about 1963 as the TJ Group plays wildly and adds some hilariously false falsetto harmonies behind Tony's grunting double-tracked lead. The stinging deep guitar lines at least sound closer to 1966, but the overall feeling is of a ship that's passed. I wonder if it occurred to Tony as he laid down the vocal for his last solo single how closely this song mirrors one of his earliest recordings on record at the Iron Door Club back in 1963, 'Let's Stomp!' Could this be a case of nostalgia? Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch Your Step!' (2004)

Non-Album Recordings 1966 (Chris Curtis)

Though he never technically sang lead on a Searchers single, back in 1966 I'd have put money on Chris Curtis clocking up a huge great discography. That work ethic and songwriting ability, combined with a near-endless record collection, an address book bursting at the seams with music contacts (you were a nobody if you were alive in the 1960s and hadn't been to one of Chris' parties!) and that combination of steel and charm made him very much the 'one to watch' amongst The Searchers even when peering behind a drum-kit. So it's sad to say that Chris only ever released one single away from the group, about six months after officially leaving the band. Chris considered [  ] 'Aggravation' a failure, after plugging away at the song and putting several hours in to make it a hit - but actually the UK chart position of #19 seems in retrospect a pretty brilliant achievement, outscoring every single Tony released and thrashing the contemporary Searchers stuff (it actually outscored every Searchers single since  'He's Got No Love' nearly eighteen months earlier). The title 'Aggravation' kind of sums up how Curtis was feeling, but it's actually a forgotten song by Joe South that got turned into a commercial pop power ballad with typical Curtis aplomb. It features yet another 'new' vocal style to go alongside the folk charmer and Scott Walker-style balladeer as Curtis turns 'soulful' complete with Tom Jones style coughs, Like everything else, though, the sound suits him well and Chris turns in a fun vocal, just the right side of parody, as he sings the lyrics about a girl letting him down as fast as he possibly can. In truth the song's more about frustration than aggravation: the narrator keeps trying to get a girl alone so he can pour his heart out to her but she's too busy in the corner dancing (harrumph!) It's fun to imagine too that he picked the song as a direct comment on his fellow Searchers, who'd always followed his lead till 'When I Get Home' and now simply weren't listening. The backing is as production heavy as any track from 'Take Me For What I'm Worth', but with added grit more like the early Searchers days, performed by a deluxe backing band picked from Curtis' phone-book including Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones (still years before forming Led Zeppelin) and female gospel group The Breakaways. Had The Searchers continued with Curtis in the band and gone in this direction, combining their two big styles of folk-rock and pure-rock with soul, they might have been on to something. As it is, though, Curtis' only solo single sounds unlike anything he'd ever done before. Find it on: 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012) and the occasional Merseybeat various artists compilation

The B-side also sounded like nothing Curtis had ever done before, with [  ] 'Have I Done Something Wrong?' a plodding country blues song with a few doo-wop tinges. It's nice to hear Curtis reprising his 'smoky balladeer' voice and the song's feelings of guilt, coincidentally or not, reflect many of the songs Jackson had been recording since leaving The Searchers. However this time the experiment doesn't quite work and this Curtis original - the last of his songs ever to see release - is rather forgettable by his own high standards, simply slowly plodding it's way to an all too-welcome close. Find it on: 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Non-Album Recordings 1967 (Tony Jackson #4)

By now we've reached the end of the road for Tony, who releases one last EP with yet another new version of his Tony Jackson Group (Organist Martin Raymond has gone, to be replaced by a bassist named Denis Thompson to enable Tony to concentrate more on singing), before the band quietly called it a day and slinking away from the music business (though a few unreleased tracks from this period have since been released too, as detailed below). This EP, known as 'Tony Jackson Group', is generally referred to by fans as 'Understanding' after the most famous track, a cover of a Small Faces B-side, and sold so poorly that it even got a mention in the book 'Vinyl Junkies - Adventures In record Collecting' by Brett Millano in 2003 (and the collector's delight at finally tracking down a copy after many years of, ahem, getting his 'Searchers' to look for it after getting a lead from a collector in Belgium). Unfortunately for the collector, though, like the other Jackson recordings it was finally issued on CD a year later in 2004 on a useful catch-all compilation for fans who don't quite have the same resources or staying power to track down all these songs on the original vinyl (sadly an impossible task when collecting all of these groups except perhaps The Beatles - and even then there aren't many people around with an original 'Love Me Do' anymore).

The first track of the scrabble-board sounding TJG EP is [  ] 'Just Like Me', a catchy but definitely out of time release that sounds more like 1964 than 1967. Sounding not unlike a weaker version of The Troggs' 'Wild Thing' this is a riff heavy raucous rocker that sadly comes across sounding a little bit too 'polite' to come off as well as it ought to. The highlight by far is one last great solo from Ian Leighton (now using the stage name 'Ian Buisel') which in true 1967 style sounds more like a sitar raga chopped up into bits and played backwards, though without sacrificing the usual Searchers vibe. This is what the Searchers' own summer of love records should have sounded like. Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch Your Step' (2004)

I've always had a soft spot for relative Small faces obscurity [  ] 'Understanding', mainly because it sums that band up so well: a free-flowing unhinged vocal across a tight and rhythmic backing which passes off intense emotions with a singalong 'la la la' chorus for good measure. For a band who spent their whole career bouncing between the schizophrenia of daft pop ditties and intense soul, it's pretty much a template song. Unfortunately though the song choice is strong, the performance isn't, with Tony out of his depth on a song that finds him 'acting' rather than 'understanding' this song and too many blues hollers in the background. It's hard to beat Steve Marriott at his own game, but on this version the band don't even come close. There's some great drumming from Paul Francis, though, on the one and only recording where he's allowed to strut his stuff and really make the cymbals fly. Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch Your Step' (2004)

Over on the second side of the EP Tony doesn't even get to sing on a band cover of Sam Cooke's [  ] 'Shake' (made even more famous by another AAA star Otis Redding - it's nice to see how much Tony's record collection of the day seemed to mirror my own).  Though funky and played with a nice gritty guitar beat, this is perhaps a little too far away from The Searchers sound for most casual collectors and there are far better versions of this much-covered gem out there. You wonder why Tony doesn't sing on it, as a 'Money' style sneer through this track would have suited it nicely I'd have thought. Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch Your Step' (2004)

Funnily enough, Tony's released career ends with a third song better known in a different AAA version, with a decidedly dreary take on Bob Dylan's [  ] 'He Was A Friend Of Mine', as recycled (un-credited) from The Byrds' JFKified version re-written by Roger McGuinn and David Crosby. This could have been great done as a folk-style protest with that fat guitar sound - think 'What Have They Done To The Rain?' - but instead this sounds like a rehearsal, with some overly simple boom-di-di-boom drumming, a rather nasal Jackson vocal that's rather hard to hear and an out of tune female folk group who seem to have wondered in from the folk-club down the road. Tony takes a long time to warm up and only sounds earnest and truthful on the last reprise of the 'his killing had no purpose' verse - the rest of the time he sounds like he's reading the lyrics, not feeling them (his fellow Searchers' old bugbear with him). It seems odd too that a group trying so desperately hard to get a bona fide hit to rescue their career should record a song so far out of its time: by 1967 Kennedy's assassination seemed like it belonged to another era while folk-rock was about a dozen crazes ago and about a dozen further still from coming back into fashion. Perhaps the worst of Tony's recordings, released or otherwise, and a sad way to go out. Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch Your Step' (2004)

Not that we're quite at the end yet thanks to the discovery of a series of outtakes included on the 'Watch Your Step' compilation. For the life of me I can't work out why the pretty [  ] 'She Wanted Me' was left to rot in the vaults for a quarter of a century before first coming out in the early 1990s. A sweet, dreamy song (not unlike 'It's All Been A Dream' in fact) this is a rare case of the TJGroup doing better by playing softer, taking out the hard edges and going for beauty rather than noise. The narrator's humbleness and surprise that someone might actually love him is a nice touch from a singer too often blamed for having an ego the size of Merseyside and Tony sounds great on this one, with a warmth in his voice that hasn't been in his music for ages. There's a nice guitar riff in there too, making this better than all the A sides Jackson released except 'Stage Door'. Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch Your Step' (2004)

Sadly Tony never got as far as recording a vocal for a surprisingly jazzy version of The Beatles' [  ] 'We Can Work It Out'. This is a shame as it's the only instance of any of The Searchers actually recording a Lennon/McCartney composition and you sense that had Tony approached it with the same mellow humility of 'Stage Door' he might have been onto a winner there. The decision to slow the song down and turn it into more of a smokey bar-room track than a pop single is actually not the sacrilege it might have been and band member Martin Raymond acquits himself well on what was probably one of his last recordings with the band. An intriguing unfinished curio that promises much but can't quite deliver as it is left here - a thought which is not a million miles away from Tony's career as a whole. Find it on: 'Tony Jackson - Watch Your Step' (2004)

Non-Album Recordings: 1984 (ish) (Mike Pender #1)

There's a running tradition in Searchers splits that the band and fans never see them coming. Tony's fall from grace from the band he'd been leading took everyone by surprise in 1964 including him (with reports of big-headedness, wild behaviour and possible blackmail countered by tales of jealousy and spite), while Chris was so central to The Searchers by 1966 that few would have out money on the band lasting without him, even if drugs and instability and constant grinding touring seemed to be taking their toll to insiders. Mike's loss in the mid-1980s though was even more swift and sudden - after all, by now The Searchers had lasted some fifteen years with an unchanged line-up (pretty darn good going with a band that faced as many ups and mainly downs as they had in that time) and Mike had been in the band since, if not quite day one, then pretty close to day two. However a lack of success with the Sire albums and Pye single with no prospect of recording another in the foreseeable future led to Mike wondering if the band's name was actually more of a problem than a gift. Quitting the band,  his intention was to go solo but if The Searchers couldn't get arrested (or make a record, which was a lot harder back in the 1980s than getting locked up) then Mike couldn't even get an asbo. The result was a half-finished six-song solo album that was stalled for years, until Pender wearily revived the Searchers name to maintain an income and - eventually - got a record contract for his new-look Searchers as late as 2004, some twenty odd years after these recordings were first made (dates are a bit sketchy, but 1984 - immediately after leaving The Searchers - is generally agreed to be about right). Even then, Mike was asked not to record the rest of his album but to re-record all his old hits - even the ones he didn't originally sing lead on. Given that Mike had already been on all the originals and the RCA re-makes this marked a third time for most of these songs (with a couple of more obscure songs like 'Take It Or Leave It' thrown in) and predictably the 1980s sound suits the song even worse than the 1972 sound did. Still Mike was left with six 'new' recordings and twelve extra 'oldies' from which he'll pick and choose seemingly endless variations for a total of seven different record labels between 2004 and 2012. It's a bit of an odd situation, unprecedented in AAA circles and more than a few fans have been 'conned' into thinking they were getting original recordings, but musicians do need to make money; it was only the horrifically packaged 'All Time Greatest Hits' CD (that pretended it was a 'proper' Searchers album) that overstepped the line. The only CD so far to include all eighteen songs complete is 2005's 'Rock Masters: Needles, Pins Potions'. Needless to say the re-re-recordings are pretty awful, given such a 1980s makeover everything seems to be wearing shoulder pads and deely boppers. 'Someday We're Love Again' wins out through sheer rarity value, with a joyful 'Love Potion no 9' (with Mike on sole lead for the first time) close behind; everything else, though, is fairly worthless.

As for the 'new' (unless you were in the backing band or an engineer anyway) songs [  ] 'Red Ferrari' is a slightly noisy but also rather fun rocker that picks up where Searchers song 'Hollywood' left off. The Searchers never did a 'car' song till now and it's long overdue, although it's more of a song about longing for what you can't quite have. There are better songs around on the same theme, especially given the terribly 1980s backing which isn't exactly 'vintage', but at least this song has wheels and doesn't take itself too seriously. Find it on: 'Sweets For My Sweet' (1994), 'That Was Then This Is Now' (2000), 'Needles and Pins' (2001), 'Rock Masters: Needles, Pins, Potions' (2005), 'All Time Greatest Hits' (2013) and 'Red Ferrari' (2014)

[  ] 'Blue Monday' is probably the best of the bunch, an unusual emotional ballad that pushes Mike into delivering more than his usual vocal. Mike's narrator has woken up from a nightmare and feels lost, completely unsure as to where his path should take him. This song could have been a hit at the time, with the right promotion, as it fits well into that slightly darker and creepier vein of pop that was around in the mid-80s before things started getting silly again at the end of the decade. Sadly, though, for once the guitar solo isn't played on a Rickenbacker with Mike clearly trying hard to ditch his old sound for a more generic 80s howl. Still, if you can recognise a good song and a good vocal whatever fancy clothes they're dressed up in, this song is for you. Find it on: 'That Was Then This Is Now' (2000), 'Needles and Pins' (2001), 'Rock Masters: Needles, Pins, Potions' (2005), 'All Time Greatest Hits' (2013) and 'Red Ferrari' (2014)

[  ] 'Broken Hearts' is The Searchers candidate for Eurovision that never was, an earnest torch ballad that's the closest thing any of the band ever came to making into a second 'Solitaire' but isn't really in the same league. Filled with too much production suger and spice, this isn't very nice, with Mike's vocals strangely overcooked on a song that could have done with more going on in the backing. It's been a long time since Mike's heart was broken and he doesn't think he's ever going to get over it. Hearing this recording I know the feeling. Find it on: 'Sweets For My Sweet' (1994), 'That Was Then This Is Now' (2000), 'Needles and Pins',(2001)  'Rock Masters: Needles, Pins, Potions' (2005), 'All Time Greatest Hits' (2013) and 'Red Ferrari' (2014)

[  ] 'Two Hearts', meanwhile, is a chirpy pop song complete with the sound of what appears to be a door-bell played underneath a gritty Rickenbacker riff. Mike's narrator's love conquest is one all his friends and family frown upon but he doesn't care as long as they're happy ('You takes your chance and you pay the price - tomorrow's another day, another roll of the dice'). Unfortunately most of what seems to keep her 'sweet' (as in 'sweets for my...') seems to be repeating clichéd chat up lines but, hey, whatever turns you on I suppose. Some fans may well find themselves turned on by this song in general, although it feels like it's lacking something (mainly depth) compared to the greatness of the past. Find it on: 'Sweets For My Sweet' (1994), 'That Was Then This Is Now' (2000) and 'Rock Masters: Needles, Pins, Potions' (2005)

[  ] 'Falling Apart At The Seams' was the only song here to ever see release in the decade it was made, as part of a rare-as-unicorns various artists set entitled 'The Class Of '64'. The song is a pleasant track with perhaps the most Searchers feel of all the six 'new' tracks - the rhythm guitar part even plays a riff suspiciously similar to 'Needles and Pins', though the track itself is rather more upbeat. Things may be going wrong for the couple in the song but this is still pure singalong pop, a little too simple to be amongst the top rank of Searchers recordings but heading in the right direction. Find it on: 'Rock Masters: Needles, Pins, Potions' (2005)

Last comes the rather final-sounding [  ] 'It's Over', one of the better period songs with Pender singing prettily over a sparser backing track than usual (at least until he hits a surprising falsetto and sounds like his old Searchers jacket has suddenly become too tight). He's lamenting the fact that a relationship doesn't feel like it used to 'with no hope of compromise' and it's run through my head before now that he might be aiming this song squarely at his old band. After all, what to make of lines like 'It's just a memory'? Unfortunately the song goes on too long, with an instrumental section lopped round to nearly seven minutes making it the longest released song by any of The Searchers, but if you had to choose one of these songs to outstay it's welcome then at least it would be this one. Of all the six songs recorded in these album sessions, this is the one that most sounds like Pender could have made a career out of it back at the time. Unfortunately for us now that times was the 1980s, but at least there's some heart and soul in this music, unlike much in that decade, and this song is something of a lost classic more fans deserve to know. Find it on: 'Rock Masters: Needles, Pins, Potions' (2005)

Non-Album Recordings: 2013 (Mike Pender #2)

Mike, meanwhile, celebrated The Searchers' anniversary (the 'real' anniversary as well if you count the first recordings the band made - and if you count when they formed they should have put their 50th anniversary box out as long ago as 2007...) with a new recording of his own. [  ] 'Weather With You' was an unexpected beauty, a cover of one of Crowded House's better songs, frittered away on a 'various artists' collection of 1960s bands covering more modern tracks (though 'modern' in this case still meant twenty years ago! At least it makes a for a nice twist on new bands covering old songs all the time. I haven't forgiven The Ramones for their version of 'Needles and Pins' yet...) This is a song that suits the Rickenbacker treatment very well, while the reflective lyrics suit Mike's voice as he looks back on a past (albeit not his own), remembering singing 'Stormy Weather' in his living room, a nobody, before the fame arrived. However he's not returning a triumphant hero but more a changed person whose realised the fallacy of ever wanting to be a big 'star'. It's done him no real good, he's not changed the world the way he wanted and he's suddenly realised no one person can ('Even Julius Ceasar and the Roman Empire couldn't conquer the blue sky'). Only a repetitive end, also there on the original, marks the song down ('Everywhere you go you take the weather with you' repeated twelve times, which makes the song sound more like a weather report). Still, this is a fine cover of what is a surprisingly good non-AAA original that deserved to do better than a mere #7 in the UK charts back in 1992. Actually the whole of the 'various artists' set this song is taken from is rather good and a lot better than I feared when I bought it, the highlight being a reformed Dave Dee Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich (well, some of them anyway) covering Oasis' 'Don't Look Back In Anger' and Chris Farlowe having a good try at Paul Weller's classic 'Changing Man'. Find it on: Various Artists - 'Back To The Future: Contemporary Classics From The Beat generation' (2013)


'It's The Searchers' (1964)

‘Sounds Like Searchers’ (1965)

'Take Me For What I'm Worth' (1965)

'The Searchers' (1979/1980)

'Play For Today' aka 'Love's Melodies' (1981)

‘Hungry Hearts’ (1988)

Surviving TV Clips  and The Best Unreleased Recordings

Solo Recordings 1964-1967 and 1984

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1963-1967  

Non-Album Recordings Part Two  1968-2012 

Live/Solo/Compilation/US LPs/'Re-Recordings In Stereo’ Part One: 1964-1987

Live/Solo/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part Two:  1990-2014

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