FRANK ALLEN INTERVIEW
CLIFF BENNETT AND THE REBEL ROUSERS Into Our Lives: The EMI Years 1961-1969 2009 This vast retrospective embraces everything issued under the aegis of Joe Meek, and two further singles featuring Frank
THE SEARCHERS Take Me For What I’m Worth 1965 The group’s UK Top 20 farewell lent its title to an LP with the highest quota of self-composed tracks
THE SEARCHERS Hungry Hearts ‘If some of the tracks on our latter-day albums had been singles during our heyday,’ avers Frank, ‘they’d have been monster…’
Jackson. Of course, as the Liverpool bands began to gain fame, it then looked as though I was the copyist! Oh, well… it’s of no consequence.’
At this point, the Searchers entered the story. After becoming friendly with Allen in Germany and then spiriting him away from the Rebel Rousers, the band resumed their journey up the international charts, and came close to a fourth domestic #1 record with When You Walk In The Room in autumn 1964, aided by a promotional film shot outside Sydney Opera House. Moreover, Love Potion Number Nine – albeit dredged up from the Jackson era – was to be, over Christmas, the group’s biggest US smash. It was also a conspicuous example of the fusion of Merseybeat and folk-rock that was the Searchers’ richest gift to some of our transatlantic cousins. Listen consecutively to When You Walk In The Room and the Byrds’ Don’t Doubt Yourself Babe – each by the same songwriter, Jackie de Shannon – and the sounds merge until they become almost interchangeable.
By mid-’65 the Searchers could no longer take chart placings for granted. Creative pivot Chris Curtis left in ’66, so the group lost both the knack of picking hits and the wherewithal to compose any. Nonetheless, songs like Have You Ever Loved Somebody at least sounded like hits – and they could have been, if the Searchers’ very name hadn’t become a millstone round their necks.
As things turned out, the Searchers would earn more in cabaret – and, later, on the nostalgia circuit – than they’d ever realised as chart contenders. In 1979 they
Searching FOR THE RIGHT ONE
Frank’s impressive guitar selection includes classic Gibsons (including two Trini Lopez models, a Byrdland, a 335-12, a J-200 and an L-5), two ’50s Guild Stratford archtops, a white Fender Jazzmaster, multiple Hofners, an orange ’70s Gretsch Country Roc and a Harmony acoustic. ‘Some of them are unplayable in modern practical terms, but they’re beautiful to look at,’ he remarks. Vintage basses include a 1956 Gibson EB-1 (played by backing musicians for Fats Domino and Little Richard), a 1959 Gibson EB-2 semi-solid, and a Framus Star bass, as popularised by Bill Wyman and Jet Harris. ‘Sometimes I put it on and stand in front of the mirror and pretend to be Jet,’ confesses Frank. ‘That’s when I really feel cool.’ The EB-O Frank played both as a Rebel Rouser and a Searcher hangs in the Hard Rock Café in Reykjavik.
Frank’s maple-necked sunburst bass is not quiter what it seems – it’s a replica constructed by Norwegian luthier and Searchers enthusiast Martin Olsen. It incorporates the slab body that Fender made from 1951 to 1954 with the two-tone sunburst finish of 1954.
were signed to the hip Sire label, and Hearts In Her Eyes teetered on the edge of the UK Top 50. ‘Artistically, it the most worthy period in our whole career,’ observes Frank. They also made Hungry Hearts in 1988, with some new material; ‘Some of it wasn’t quite the thing for Searchers purists… we used a lot of synthesisers and pre-programmed drums.’
However, Hungry Hearts – with its overhauls of oldies like Sweets For My Sweet and Needles And Pins plus stage showstopper Somebody Told Me You Were Crying – was like manna from heaven for those who hadn’t heard much of the band since When You Walk In The Room; the album really did sound exactly like they way you’d imagine they would, a quarter-century down the road. Indeed, the favourable critical reaction to Hungry Hearts encouraged the band to insert of a couple of Sireperiod songs into their usual back-catalogue live set. Of course, the old hits were always played exactly as they had been, even down to their subtle piquancies.
And what of Frank’s Allen’s famous bass style? ‘I continued to play in the old way until the late ’70s, when Mike and John asked me to play with a pick for more attack,’ he explains. ‘I didn’t think my playing lacked attack, but they had it in their mind-set and it was easier just to go along with it – so as everyone else went on to use the very street-cred fingerstyle, I moved back to the old-fashioned way. However, about the end of the century, I reverted to fingerstyle, and really began to enjoy playing again!’ Frank allows himself a grin. ‘In a way, it was just like coming home.’
Rebel Rousers at The Cavern, December 1963
Backing Bo Diddley at Hamburg’s Star Club
46 Guitar & Bass FEBRUARY 2012