John McNally (gtr/voc) - Mike Pender (gtr/voc) Chris Curtis (drs/voc) - Tony Jackson (bass/voc)
John McNally - Mike Pender - Chris Curtis - Frank Allen (bass/voc)
John McNally — Mike Pender — Frank Allen — John Blunt (drs/voc)
John McNally — Mike Pender — Frank Allen — Billy Adamson (drs)
John McNaIIy — Frank Allen — Billy Adamson — Spencer James (gtr/voc)
John McNally — Frank Allen — Spencer James — Eddie Rothe (drs/voc)
John McNally — Frank Allen — Spencer James — Scott Ottaway (drs/voc)
If life were perfect then good things would never change and our memories would remain as pure and intact as the day when they were formed. But rarely are things that simple particularly in the world of pop music and groups. Pop groups are very much like many marriages. After a while the cracks begin to show and the strains of living in such close proximity to fellow human beings takes its toll. And like marriages separations occur, sometimes temporary and, more often than not for good. Small cracks might require just a touch of Polyfilla to make do and mend but when the cracks become chasms no amount of attempted restoration can bring about a reconciliation
The Searchers have gone through a number of changes throughout their long history but they have managed by careful selection and attention to detail to keep the feeling of continuity and to present a product in which, like a good wig you can barely see the join. It would take far too long and too much space to elaborate on all the changes in the lineup. For this we have included a 'family tree' (borrowed from Frank's book Travelling Man) to show you where and when they came and went. What we are concerned with right now is the current membership of The Searchers.
John McNally. Without doubt John, a founder member of the group from its earliest days as a skiffle group in Liverpool towards the end of the fifties, is the engine of the outfit content to take a background stance for most of the time he is the motivator and a true workaholic who cannot bear to turn down the chance of a gig no matter how punishing the schedule or how few the days off.
When the group first hit the charts with Sweets For Mv Sweet back in 1963 it was the distinctive sound of McNally's rhythm guitar chunking away in the background. A sound and a technique that has earned praise from many a renowned musician over the years who remember only a tiny number of impressive rhythm players. It is not an instrument that attracts a surfeit of attention. Bruce Welch comes to mind as another. And there the trail begins to get a bit thin.
As the years wore on John was no longer content to settle for chords alone, no matter how well he played them. Through many weeks of diligent effort he extended his skills to the art of the lead guitar. the star performer of any group's instruments. If you have listened to the excellent Sire recordings of the early eighties you might be unaware that almost the entire content of guitar work is McNally overdubbing again and again to achieve the rich full sound that is such a distinct part of The Searchers identity. Six string. Twelve string. All of the lead figures and the majority of the rhythm parts are due to John's hours in the studios at Rockfield.
On the early recordings John, like Ringo was allowed one solo piece per album. When the load had to be shared as the members changed and parts needed to be re-assigned John took over the falsetto role that once belonged to Chris Curtis and gradually gained the confidence to attempt more lead singing. Anyone who has attended one of the 'all evening' concerts can testify to the poignancy of John singing his own composition Till I Met You or providing the lead line to Frank's harmonies in Four Strong Winds. In both cases the original recordings featured other voices entirely but they still sound as perfect and as original as they always did.
All this just goes to prove that no matter how beautiful or flashy the car may be, it's pretty useless without the engine.
Frank Allen deserves to he called an original Searcher, for indeed he is in our eyes. To deny this would be like saying that Brian Bennett is not an original Shadow. As if Jet Harris's year ahead of him somehow relegated him to the position of an 'also ran'. Frank was still thumping the bass for Cliff Bennett's Rebel Rousers for the period from June 63 until his debut with The Searchers on August 3rd 64. Luckily for him the first record, When You Walk In The Room, was a memorable classic and one of the best pop songs ever written. While not as big a hit as Needles And Pins the years have proved it to be the winner, not only in the stage show when it is far and above the best received of the hits but also in that it has achieved the greatest number of cover versions from Bruce Springsteen to Paul Carrack.
And Frank got to sing a dual lead voice with Mike on this one. They wanted to make the song a hit more distinctive and powerful than the previous releases. It certainly worked. So much so that if you ever get to hear the version by Tight Fit they managed to qet a Frank Allen 'sound-alike' for the session. Its uncanny and for years the group weren't quite convinced that Frank didn't slip away and do a bit of moonlighting. Wonder who it really was.
In the early days when Curtis was still smacking the cowhide the other three Searchers were content to remain in the shadows when crowd control was required, while Chris utilised his zany, over-the-top personality to whip up the audience from the drum rostrum. This was an unusual situation in the world of pop where drummers usually took a background role. Even the eponymously named Dave Clark Five found its leader doing little more than announcing a title or two. But Chris was ever the exhibitionist and played the part to perfection. It was therefore a bitter blow when Curtis (nee Crummey) defected at the end of the Philippines/Australia tour 1966.
It was decided that each of the front-line members would take an announcement each. It seemed a sensible proposition. In practice though it simply did not work out as they discovered on their debut when the new line-up, with the temporary John Blunt on drums, performed at the Savoy Ballroom in Southsea. Confusion reigned. John spoke a little too quickly, Mike a little too falteringly. In the end it seemed to come most naturally to Frank although in those embryo days the technique was extremely primitive and far from satisfactory. Over the years, with a training of the Northern cabaret club circuit. Frank's skills in this area improved immensely and in the nineties he has received the accolade of being voted Best Front Man on a number of occasions. Together John and Frank are the team behind the organisation and the operation of The Searchers and complement each other to perfection Frank, the theatrically orientated communicator and John, the workaholic.
Spencer James, born Spencer Frederick James born in 1953. grew up in Hayes, the same town in which Frank was a resident. Although Frank doesn't remember meeting him before his joining The Searchers, apparently they did pass a few words in the seventies in the saloon bar of the Royal Standard pub.
Always heavily involved in music from an early age, he was quite a precocious talent becoming not only more than proficient on the guitar but also possessing a fine, powerful vocal quality that makes his singing quite distinctive. A voice like that was never going to go unnoticed and when a group was required to become First Class (a studio project of former Ivy League member John Carter) he was the ideal candidate to front it. Their success was fairly short lived but Beach Baby is a summer classic while they also charted with Bobby Dazzler.
When that had run its course Spencer went on to experiment with Zak Starkey and Boz Burrell as part of a band called Heyday. When that little adventure came to an end Spencer simply resorted to resurrecting The Spencer James Band, a group that he had on and off successfully toured the pub circuit in West London. One of those pubs was The Red Lion in Brentford as a support for The Searchers. The sixties were undergoing a fairly serious revival at the time and the repertoire Spencer had accumulated over the years contained enough from those heady days to complement the headlining act perfectly.
John McNally, ever interested in the current bands and players watched Mr James from the audience and took note, ostensibly in case a suitable support might be required at another venue in the future. He did not realise at the time that his call to Spencer would be for another reason entirely. The defection of Mike Pender at the end of 1985 left an important position to be filled. As it turned out Spencer James was the ideal person to fill it.
Audiences took to him immediately. He had a winning way and not one soul appeared to resent the change. They simply accepted this as another era in the history of the group. As he settled into the new line-up he augmented his guitar skills with the wizardry of the guitar synthesiser, enabling the sound to be filled out with strings and keyboards. In his spare time he built a professional recording studio in his new home (by this time he had relocated to Towcester in Northamptonshire) and it was a boon for the lads to nip in quickly and record tracks for television appearances as and when required.
Spencer is never one to stand still. He is a ball of enthusiasm. And busy as The Searchers are he will still find time to run his studio, write songs and learn about every innovation in the world of electronics.
Scott Ottaway was born in Aylesbury in 1972. Seeing great drummers like Roger Taylor and Phil Collins at Live Aid in 1985 showed him that drums was the way forward for him and his parents soon changed his lessons from guitar to drums.
Although he was part of a pro band called 'Jump The Gun', he decided to listen to his parent's advice and get a 'proper' job and turned to the print industry as a screen printer, where he would stay for 13 years. During this time he played in several cover bands and worked as a session drummer. He also depped for some of the UK's top cover and tribute acts, and in 2005 was asked to do a summer season for Haven Holidays in North Wales. This set him on a new path of being in house bands for Haven (North Wales, Great Yarmouth) Butlin's (Skegness), Park Resorts (Camber Sands) and the cruise company P&O.
In January 2008, he joined Slyde, a tribute to Slade and glam rock which had been going for over six years but needed a new drummer; Scott played with them all over the UK wearing outrageous clothes and emulating Don Powell. In 2009 he was put forward for the touring version of We Will Rock You, and was auditioned by his hero, Roger Taylor. Roger thought he was a great drummer, but gave the position to his son, Rufus Taylor.
He left Slyde in September 2009 and did his last stint for P&O in October/November on a Caribbean cruise on board the Ventura. Just before leaving he recorded drums and percussion for a charity Christmas single written by Mike Reid, Roy Wood (Wizard) and Elliott Frisby entitled “My Christmas Card to You”. He also featured on the video of the single which included Slade's Dave Hill and can still be found on YouTube.
It was during this period that Mike Reid, a good friend of The Searchers, asked Scott if he would like to audition for the band, to replace Eddie Rothe who would be leaving after their return from Australia in February 2010. He had no hesitation in saying yes, having met the Searchers three years previously at Camber Sands and he auditioned for them just before Christmas. He was proud and honoured to be asked to join them, his first gig being on 26 February 2010.
Scott's hobbies, in addition to music, are football (he is a major West Ham supporter and a qualified football referee), and Formula One motor racing.
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