In 1962, they appeared in Hamburg, and after sending a demo tape, they were signed to Pye Records the following year. Guitarist Michael Pendergast shortened his surname to ‘Pender’ while drummer Chris Crummey changed his name to ‘Curtis’.
Their debut, Sweets For My Sweet, was a memorable tune with strong harmonies and professional production. By the summer of 1963, it climbed to #1, establishing The Searchers as rivals to Brian Epstein‘s celebrated stable of Liverpool groups.
The album Meet The Searchers was swiftly issued and revealed the group’s R&B pedigree on such standards as Love Potion Number 9. Meanwhile, Tony Hatch composed a catchy follow-up single, Sugar And Spice, which just failed to reach #1
The band toured constantly and embraced an exhausting schedule of TV and radio spots and other promotional necessities. High points included a weekly Radio Luxembourg series and package tours on the “scream circuit” with Roy Orbison, Freddie & The Dreamers and Tommy Roe, where they were constantly mobbed by teenage fans.
With two smash hits in rapid succession, The Searchers caused The Beatles some nervous backward glances by the close of 1963. It was their third single, however, that won them international acclaim.
Needles And Pins was a superb song, written by Sonny Bono (of Sonny & Cher fame) and brilliantly arranged by the group, it was a striking chart-topper of its era.
It also broke the group in the USA, reaching the Top 20 in March 1964.
Earlier that year, the band released their superbly atmospheric cover version of The Orlons’ Don’t Throw Your Love Away, which justifiably gave the group their third UK #1 single.
The pop world was shocked by the abrupt departure of bassist Tony Jackson, whose falsetto vocals had contributed much to the group’s early sound and identity. He was replaced in the autumn by Frank Allen (real name Francis McNiece), formerly of Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers.
When You Walk In The Room was another highlight of 1964 and showed their rich Rickenbacker guitar work to notable effect – as demonstrated in their promotional film clip shot outside the (unfinished) Sydney Opera House.
What Have They Done To The Rain? indicated their folk-rock potential, but its melancholic tune and slower pace were reflected in a lower chart place. The track offended hard-line Searchers purists with its use of strings.
A return to the ‘old’ Searchers sound, with Goodbye My Love, took them back into the UK Top 5 in early 1965, but the #1 days were over. They enjoyed further US success when their cover of The Clovers‘ Love Potion Number 9 was a Top 10 hit at the end of 1964 and on into 1965.
Instead, their commercial fortunes rapidly declined, and after Curtis left in 1966, they were finally dropped by Pye.
Curtis worked in A&R and production and tried creating a new band called Roundabout.
The band failed, and the other members of Roundabout went on to form Deep Purple. By the end of the 60s, Curtis had left the music world for the Inland Revenue.
The Searchers’ last UK hit was a version of Paul and Barry Ryan’s Have You Ever Loved Somebody? This proved to be their penultimate success in the USA, which ended with Desdemona in 1971.
Cabaret stints followed, but The Searchers continued playing and underwent minimal line-up changes.
They threatened a serious resurgence in 1979 when Sire Records issued a promising comeback album.
The attempt to reach a new wave audience was ultimately unsuccessful, however, and after the less well-received Play For Today (titled Love’s Melodies in the USA), the group stoically returned to the cabaret circuit.
Mike Pender left the group in 1985 and set up an alternative Searchers, prompting his former bandmates to take legal action over the name. Tony Jackson was imprisoned in 1997 for making threats with an offensive weapon. He died penniless in Nottingham in August 2003, at the age of 63.
Chris Curtis – always a man with a “difficult” reputation – passed away on 28 February 2005 after many years of suffering from depression, diabetes and high blood pressure. He was 63.
Chris Curtis (Crummey)