26 August 1941 – 28 February 2005
by Frank Allen
Over the last month or two John McNally and I had been talking about contacting Chris Curtis with a view to inviting him to one of the upcoming Solid Silver Sixties shows on Merseyside, perhaps the Empire in Liverpool or the Southport Theatre. Any problems we had following the split way back in March 1966 were water under the bridge and any bad feeling, minimal at worst, had long since dissipated. Indeed John had been in touch with Chris sporadically over the past few years and was pleased to have reconciled any differences with someone who we genuinely liked and who was not only extremely clever and talented but who was also a really good person.
As the tour got under way last week and the Liverpool concerts came closer we figured we had better do something about it. We both wanted Chris there but knew he was not well, on top of which we weren`t altogether sure what his feelings were with regard to such a reunion. Over the years he had blown hot and cold over his connection with the past. For a long time he would not talk about it and refused interviews. But lately he had taken to phoning John and Mary to talk about anything and everything from his current life to plans for a musical future, whether it be his or ours.
The only thing that marred these areas of renewed contact was that once Chris had decided you were a 'phone friend' you could expect a call at any time of the day or night. Four or five times a day was not unusual and a telephone ringing at two in the morning was unfortunately quite typical. Being woken from a deep sleep was not always a welcome intrusion. It was hard to be annoyed with Chris, who was one of the kindest people you could wish to have known, but it did tend to strain relations a tad which was such a shame.
Chris was the kind of guy who, if he thought he had upset you in any way, would brood upon it afterwards and more often than not a present would be delivered as an apology and a peace offering. I had perhaps more reason than most to be grateful to him. He was the main force in enlisting me into the group and fought my corner so many times.
It is no secret that he was a most important person in the history of The Searchers. The most important many would say and it would be hard to argue with that, although of course everyone contributed to one degree or another. His knowledge of music was encyclopaedic and his collection of records vast and eclectic. It ranged from hard rock and roll through meaningful and thought-provoking folk and protest to the best of Broadway. His skill in arranging vocal harmonies was superb and his soft and tuneful voice embellished and enhanced the lead lines of others.
He had an unshakeable faith in his taste and his choice and, though not right one hundred per cent of the time, he was right more often than not. As a personality he was unparalleled. There are not many inhabitants of a drum stool who can command attention and front a band from that awkward position like he did. In those early days before I was reluctantly forced to take over the role, when he decided to quit following our tour of Australia in `66, the show was completely in his control and we could relax on stage knowing we were in safe hands.
We didn`t want him to quit. We desperately tried to talk him out of it but he had made up his mind and once Chris had made a decision there was no going back. It is astonishing that he was unsuccessful in his chosen field. Chris appeared to have it all. He was gregarious and was friends with all the people who mattered in London. Lionel Bart. Brian Epstein. Alma Cogan. Dusty Springfield. Madeleine Bell. Vicki Wickham. Chris was one of the 'In Crowd'. He produced discs for Paul and Barry Ryan, Alma Cogan and others and some of his productions made their mark, but the big one proved elusive and eventually, when the money ran out, he returned to Liverpool and his family and turned his back on the fickle world of showbusiness.
After working for many years for the government as a civil servant his health began to deteriorate and he was forced into early retirement. Occasionally he would turn up at gatherings of the Merseycats, a Liverpool musicians' charity, and could even be persuaded to get up and sing. Even though his movements were restricted his voice, reports had it, was as pure and as haunting as ever. Click here to read a tribute from one of his Merseycat friends
I got in touch very recently with Spencer Leigh from Radio Merseyside for a contact number and his thoughts on the proposed invitation to one of the shows. Spencer replied that he didn`t think Chris was up to it or mobile enough but
There was no animosity towards Chris. We only remembered him as a great friend and a wonderful character. Charismatic and sensitive. Sometimes wild with a uniquely 'off the wall' sense of humour, a razor sharp and sparkling wit and a heart as big as Liverpool itself. It is easy to regret now and to think that it would be worth the 2 a.m. phone calls just to have him back with us again. He will be very much missed.
3 March 2005
(Copyright – Frank Allen/The Searchers Official Website)