FRANK ALLEN INTERVIEW
Frank Allen – first bassist with Cliff Bennett’s Rebel Rousers and then with the Searchers, a position he holds to the present day – was a British pioneer of fingerstyle bass. Interview by Alan Clayson
We tend to think of the great early’60s beat groups as fixed points in the universe, their songs and their classic line-ups carved in stone. Tell
Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers had smouldered into form with a line-up in constant flux.
Entering the equation in 1961, Frank had been born Francis Renaud McNeice in Hayes, a suburb just north of Heathrow airport. He adopted his stage alias in 1959 as a 16-year old, strumming a Hofner Club 50 with a semi-pro band called Skyways. Their work extended as far as Ruislip, where sometimes they appeared with the Art Wood Combo (led by the brother of Stone-in-waiting Ron).
that to any hardcore Beatles fan who shed a thousand tears when Pete Best was sacked in 1962, or a Shadows follower faced with the tragic news that Jet Harris had suddenly quit. And there was another major schism of the 1960s group explosion – the departure of bass guitarist Tony Jackson from the Searchers during the unsettled summer of 1964.
‘ I was forever losing or dropping picks, so I switched
They employed saxes, just like the Rebel Rousers – who recruited the Skyways lead guitarist Brian St George in 1960.
Brian St George was superseded by Allen, whose chords were underpinned by the throbbing of bassist to the first two fingers’
The man who replaced Jackson to join drummer Chris Curtis and guitarists John McNally and Mike Pender was Frank Allen from the Rebel Rousers, a Middlesex outfit fronted by singer Cliff Bennett. Was Bennett annoyed? Not a bit of it. He understood perfectly why Frank could not, as he put it, blow the chance of a lifetime; the Searchers exemplified the two-guitars-bass-drums archetype of Merseybeat, they had come second in the ‘British Vocal Group’ section of the latest popularity poll in the New Musical Express, and they were considered to be the chief pretenders to the Beatles’ crown. The Rebel Rousers’ time was to come in autumn 1964 when One Way Love reached the Top 10 – a hardwon triumph traceable to the turn of the decade, when
Ben Jordan. ‘Ben left for family reasons in December 1961, and it seemed sensible both financially and in practical terms for me to switch to bass,’ Frank Allen explains today. ‘They didn’t really need a rhythm player, anyway. I’d talked my way into the position because I desperately wanted to be in that band. They were so good, and Cliff was – and still is – one of the best R&B
For 20 years, Frank Allen’s bass amp has been a relatively humble Peavey TNT150 combo. His present bass, pictured on the next page (‘the best I’ve ever owned,’ he says) is a vintage repro, complete in every detail, including reverse-operating machineheads. The main pic shows his Rickenbacker 4001S – beautiful but, as he says, not great for his fingerstyle approach
Frank, far left, with Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, 1962
Frank with skifflers
FEBRUARY 2012 Guitar & Bass 43