Vicky Andrews looks back on a remarkable career
The music crackles from the boat’s speakers: "Life goes on day after day” he sings. “Hearts torn in every way.”
I’ve heard Ferry Cross The Mersey playing out on this river crossing countless times. I laugh at the cliché of the situation, but as I look up and see Liverpool’s magnificent waterfront, I still get a lump in my throat.
They were the second band to be signed up by Brian Epstein – the first being The Beatles
In an age when pop stars are made overnight and only seem to last as long as the latest iPhone, it’s incredible to think that the music of Gerry Marsden has lived on for nearly six decades. His legacy still strikes a chord with new generations, from boomers to millennials.
Born on Menzies Street, Toxteth, in September 1942, Gerry learnt to play guitar at Liverpool's Florence Institute (The Florrie) in Dingle, making his first public appearance at a skiffle gig in The Grand Hall. It was an age of opportunity for British music, where raw talent from working-class backgrounds could save and struggle to buy instruments, form bands with their mates for fun and end up in the pop charts.
Originally called The Mars Bars, Gerry and the Pacemakers formed in Liverpool in the late 50s and would go on to become one of the biggest success stories of the Merseybeat era. They were the second band to be signed up by Brian Epstein – the first being The Beatles.
In 1963, Gerry set a record that the Beatles could never beat, with his first three singles rocketing straight to Number One. On April 11, How Do You Do It? became the first record by a Liverpool group to top the charts. It was written for Adam Faith and previously recorded by the Beatles, but Gerry and his gang made this catchy pop classic their own. The songs I Like It and You’ll Never Walk Alone hit the top spot later that year and history was made.
Gerry gave the other ‘Fab Four’ a run for their money in movies too. Released in 1965, the film Ferry Cross The Mersey told the story of beat music in Liverpool during the Mersey boom. It was fast and furious fun as Marsden was filmed riding a moped around the gangways of the ‘Mountwood’ and George’s Landing Stage, guitar slung over his shoulder.
A talented singer and songwriter, Gerry’s biggest hit was in fact a cover version. In various interviews, he explained that in the early 1960s he’d gone to watch a Laurel & Hardy film at the cinema and because it was raining, decided to stay for the second part of a double feature. The film was Carousel and he was so moved by the lyrics of You’ll Never Walk Alone that he was determined the band should include it in their set.
After topping the charts in 1963, You’ll Never Walk Alone became a popular anthem on the terraces of Liverpool Football Club; the song was later used by Celtic FC, Borussia Dortmund, FC Twente, Feyenoord - and even Japan’s FC Tokyo.
Despite officially retiring from music in 2016, Gerry joined Take That on stage at Anfield in 2019 for a special rendition of his biggest hit. The following year, You’ll Never Walk Alone made it back into the charts once again with a new version for 2020 recorded in solidarity with the NHS, as well as a charity record by Captain Tom Moore and Michael Ball.
Fundraising was a big part of Gerry’s life and in 2003 he was awarded an MBE for services to charity, including aid for the victims of the Hillsborough and Bradford City fire disasters.
Tributes have flooded in from around the world for Gerry - who died at the age of 78 on 3rd Jan 2021 - including Paul McCartney, who wrote on Twitter: “Gerry was a mate from our early days in Liverpool. He and his group were our biggest rivals on the local scene. His unforgettable performances of You’ll Never Walk Alone and Ferry Cross the Mersey remain in many people’s hearts as reminders of a joyful time in British music...See ya, Gerry. I’ll always remember you with a smile.”
Watch: Gerry and the Pacemakers perform Ferry Cross The Mersey on TOTP 1965
Note: Main picture (c) Paul Schumach 1964