Spectropop remembers

FREDDIE MARSDEN (1940 - 2006)

Of all the successful Merseybeat musicians, Freddie Marsden was the most down-to-earth. He was a friendly, charming man who enjoyed his success in the '60s as the drummer with Gerry and the Pacemakers and then happily settled down to the routine of a daily job.

In late 1962, Gerry & the Pacemakers were the second band to be signed up by Brian Epstein - the Beatles were the first. When the Beatles rejected Mitch Murray's light-hearted 'How Do You Do It', Epstein told the record producer George Martin that he had just the group to do it. On January 22nd 1963, Gerry and the Pacemakers travelled from Liverpool to London to record the song, as Marsden recalled: "We were sat in the back of a freezing van for 10 hours in the worst weather you can imagine. The road manager slept through it all because he was shattered. We knew that the Beatles had turned down 'How Do You Do It' and I thought they were silly to do that, as it was a much better song than 'Love Me Do.'"

The single went to #1, as did its cheeky follow-up, 'I Like It'. Having seen Paul McCartney's success around the Liverpool clubs with 'Over The Rainbow', Gerry and the Pacemakers wanted a similar, emotional showstopper and they picked 'You'll Never Walk Alone' from the 1945 Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Carousel. With George Martin's arrangement, they became the first UK beat group to record with strings. They also became the first act to reach #l with their first three singles. 'You'll Never Walk Alone' was subsequently adopted by Liverpool football club and became the Kop anthem.

Freddie Marsden was born in the working-class Dingle area of Liverpool in 1940 and his brother, Gerry, followed two years later. Their father, Fred, was a railway clerk who entertained the neighbours by playing the ukulele. With the vogue for skiffle music in the mid-'50s, he took the skin off one of his instruments, put it over a tin of Quality Street and said to Freddie, "There's your first snare drum, son." In 1957 the brothers appeared in the show Dublin To Dingle at the Pavilion Theatre in Lodge Lane. Studies meant little to either of them - Freddie left school with one O-level and worked for a candle-maker earning £4 a week, and Gerry's job was as a delivery boy for the railways. Their parents did not mind and encouraged their musical ambitions.

The Marsdens' first group was called the Mars Bars, but when the confectioners complained, they became Gerry & the Pacemakers. The line-up changed from time to time and, in 1959, Les Chadwick joined on bass. They were featured on a beat show with Gene Vincent at Liverpool Stadium in 1960 and, later in the year, followed the Beatles to Hamburg, with a residency at the Top Ten Club, playing for five hours a night. "We had to drive from Liverpool to Hamburg," Freddie Marsden recalled. "We had our own van and I did most of the driving. We got to Hamburg about two o'clock in the afternoon and when we got to the Top Ten Club, the manager said that we were on at seven. We were given [the slimming drug] Preludin to keep awake. Gerry was our main singer, and all the singing and the smoking battered his voice. When he was 12 or 13, he was in the church choir and his voice was absolutely brilliant, but he got that huskiness from Hamburg."

In 1961 they were joined by Les Maguire on piano and thus the hit-making Pacemakers line-up was complete. They alternated at the Cavern club's lunchtime sessions with the Beatles and, one famous night at Litherland Town Hall, they combined their talents to form the Beatmakers. Freddie Marsden had his 21st birthday party in the Dingle with the Beatles as guests. It is sometimes reported that he was considered as a possible replacement for the Beatles' drummer Pete Best after Best was sacked in August 1962, but "That's rubbish," he told me. "Look at my high forehead. I could never have had a Beatle haircut for a start. I considered myself a very basic drummer. I laid the beat down and didn't do anything fancy. I knew my limitations and I stuck with the strong off-beat and it seemed to work. We were nice and tight. Ringo was definitely more technical than me."

After the three #1 hits for Gerry & the Pacemakers in 1963, their fourth single, Gerry's own song 'I'm The One', went to #2 the following year. Freddie felt that they would have had a fourth chart-topper if they had picked their stage favourite, 'Pretend'. Freddie co-wrote 'Don't Let The Sun Catch You Cryin'', which became their biggest US hit, reaching #4 in 1964. He was immensely proud when José Feliciano recorded the song. Freddie Marsden also co-wrote 'Why Oh Why' and 'You've Got What I Like', and sang the occasional vocal, joining Gerry on harmony for 'A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues'.

The group were featured on scooters for the film Ferry Cross The Mersey (1965), which was written by the creator of Coronation Street, Tony Warren. Although the plot is trite, the film offers invaluable views of Merseyside sights and clubs of the '60s. The title song, written by Gerry Marsden, charted for the group in 1965. "There were lots of songs about Chicago, Broadway and London," said Freddie, "but nobody had mentioned Liverpool until then."

In 1968 Gerry Marsden replaced Joe Brown in the West End musical Charlie Girl, and effectively broke up the group. Freddie never criticised his brother publicly but I always sensed some resentment. "We were left without a singer and instead of looking for another one, we called it a day," he said. "The two Leses got a garage and I had no qualifications and despite what people thought, I hadn't got much money. Looking back, I underrated myself as a drummer. I was always more into sport than playing drums and when I compared myself to some of the drummers I'd heard in America, I didn't fancy getting up to their standards."

Freddie Marsden became a telephone operator for £14 a week but later opened the Pacemaker driving school in Formby. Although he was always courteous to his fans, he never returned to music. A few years ago, when I asked him if he still had his drums, he said, "No, I got rid of them. They took up too much space in the garage."

(Spencer Leigh, The Independent)

Frederick John Marsden, drummer and songwriter:
born October 23rd, 1940 - died December 9th, 2006