By Duncan Eaton

IF all goes to plan next March will be Brexit but it will also be POPEXIT for a legendary Liverpool band.

After a musical journey which began nearly 60 years The Searchers are bidding farewell with their last major tour. They are headlining the Sixties Gold which will be stopping off at Southampton’s Mayflower on Sunday November 25.

The Searchers, second to The Beatles in the Mersey beat pecking order, are retiring next March but before then fans will be able to savour those timeless hits which became the soundtrack to many teenagers’ lives

And there is a veritable treasure trove including Needles & Pins, Sugar and Spice, Don’t Throw Your Love Away, When You Walk In The Room and Love Potion Number 9.

The Searchers spent 128 weeks in the charts with sales of more 50 million including three massive UK hits.

And the group’s history goes beyond the sixties. It has its roots in a skiffle group formed in Liverpool in 1957 by John McNally who is still there today.

Alongside him is Frank Allen (bass guitar and vocals) who joined in 1964 and has become The Searchers’ historian, writing some fascinating books on the band. Completing The Searchers line up is Spencer James (rhythm guitar and vocals) and drummer Scott Ottaway.

Sharing the Sixties Gold bill is pony tailed pop legend P J Proby who is celebrating his 80 th birthday with his final major tour. It is fitting that he should be part of the Searchers’ sixties swansong.

For the band gave him a career lifeline when PJ’s well documented trouser splitting incident on stage consigned him to the pop wilderness. His career hung by a thread but a phone call from The Searchers got him back on the rock & roll circuit.

The Sixties Gold bill also includes The Merseybeats, another success story from the Liverpool beat boom years, The Fortunes, the UK’s premier harmony groups, Steve Ellis, original lead singer with Love Affair who had a mega hit with Everlasting Love. Vanity Fayre, who had three top 20 hits in the sixties including their catchy Hitchin’ A Ride complete the star studded sixties line up.

Sixties Gold promoter Alan Field says: “Audiences absolutely love the music and the added attraction to this current Sixties Gold is that it is The Searchers last last major tour before they retire next March. It also the last major tour for PJ Proby.”

He said: “The sixties were a defining period in all sorts of ways including culture and fashion. It was the start of the teenage revolution. Suddenly they had an identity and a voice in society and it was a considered a pioneering era.”

As the years roll by and promoters begin to run out of artistes and audiences it is more difficult to put together sixties package tours.

But those timeless hits are still being passed down to generations of music lovers.

Ahead of the sixties gold tour Duncan Eaton spoke to Frank Allen who gave a candid interview as he prepares to go into pop retirement

Q: How many times have The Searchers appeared on the Sixties Gold package tours.

A: Without checking all through my diaries I`m not sure but it will be about half a dozen. Before that we were on the Solid Silver sixties Tours which were presented by a different promotion company.

Q: This will be the band’s last major farewell tour before it retires March. How emotional will it be when you step on stage for the last time

A: I`m not at all sure about the emotional quotient. It will certainly be strange and scary but on the whole I am ready for a change in my life. I need to have a more restful period to allow me to take stock and see how I can spend the last portion of my days on earth.

Q: What do you think life will be like after The Searchers and what plans do you have

A. I`m not at all sure but I hope I can find enough of interest to make it a fulfilling retirement. I`ll do a lot more social travelling. New York in particular has a strong pull for me. Australia will be interesting on a social rather than a commercial level. Playing wise I am going to miss Australia the most I think.

Q: You are on the same bill as PJ Proby. Is it true that The Searchers gave PJ a career lifeline when he was banished to the pop wilderness after the much documented trouser splitting incident.

A: It is true we fought for his comeback in theatres at a point where so many were just not willing to take the risk. For a while it was a difficult process of rehabilitation but the talent was still there and much of the PJ we loved came back. He is unique in an industry of so much imitation and mediocrity.

Q : The Searchers have been touring for nearly 60 years. What has been the secret of its pop longevity

A: In the main it`s because we love what we do and we go to great pains to present something that will hopefully be a little more satisfying than one might expect from a group. It is not just a bunch of songs sung at some people. We interact and we pace the content to lift and lower the emotions as we go through the evening. Of course we were a part of a very special era that completely turned the pop world upside down, thanks to The Beatles of course. The songs back then were three minutes long with a beginning, a middle and an end and the words were simple and catchy which of course means longevity. Words that can and will be sung in fifty years time.

Q : Which song gets the best reaction from the audience when you perform it

A: When You Walk In The Room without a doubt. It wasn`t a number one but it should have been. It stopped at number three.

Q: What has been your personal highlight in your Searchers career

A: Probably playing two days at Wembley Stadium in 1989 as guests of Cliff Richard celebrating his 30 years in the industry. We played to 80,000 people on each of the two days.

Q: Who are the artists that inspired you and if you were starting all over again is there anything you would change

A: Elvis without a doubt and The Everly Brothers. They are foremost but there are so many from that first musical explosion in the fifties when rock & roll hit the airwaves. No period will ever be as thrilling as the fifties for me.

Q: Is there any message you would like to give to the fans as you prepare for pop retirement.

A: I`m so sorry we are disappointing so many of you and thank you for everything you have given us through the decades. It`s just time to put our feet up and rest for a while. Never say never again. We`ll see.

For more information on the Sixties Gold on November 25 ring The Mayflower box office on 02380711811