Gerry & The Pacemakers DVD Revisits Classic "Mersey Beat"

Gerry & the Pacemakers It's Gonna Be All Right, 1963-1965

For a while, Gerry & the Pacemakers were the Beatles' main Liverpool rival in terms of popularity with fans and in sweaty clubs like the Cavern. But for the band - singer/guitarist Gerry Marsden, brother Freddie on drums, bassist Les Chadwick, and piano man Les McGuire - said competition was all in fun. The two bands were actually quite close, right down to sharing a manager in Brian Epstein.

In fact, producer George Marten presented the Pacemakers' first hit, "How Do You Do It?," to the Beatles first, but the Fabs rejected the song in favor of their own "Love Me Do."

"How Do You Do It?" started a string of successes for the Pacemakers, including "I Like It," "I'm the One," "You'll Never Walk Alone," "Ferry Cross the Mersey" and the DVD's title track. Although bigger in the UK, many of them also hit American charts, including "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying."

Gerry & the Pacemakers had plenty of charm and talent on their own, shown here in 17 complete performances from a variety of British and American TV shows. Many have been unearthed for the first time since their original broadcast.

In between, the amiable and still ever-smiling Marsden and Merseybeat newspaper founder/editor Bill Harry offer anecdotes and context. Marsden notes that while "Ferry Cross the Mersey" took him all of six minutes to write, it earned him and his family lifetime free voyages on the actual boat! (Note: When Eyeballin' took said ferry during his own Liverpool/Beatles pilgrimage, the track indeed blasted over the boat's loudspeakers at journey's end.)

The Pacemakers also had a more unique sound than many beat groups, with a full-time pianist pumping out Jerry Lee Lewis-style riffs. Still, with Epstein pouring all of his energies into the Beatles, could they have been bigger in the U.S.? No.

The tunes from Marsden's pen couldn't come near the Lennon/McCartney songbook, but then again, whose could? Besides, the fact that the group looked like a bunch of junior accountants might not have set the hearts of teen Yank girls aflutter.

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Nevertheless, they remain perhaps the truest example of the true "Mersey Beat" sound born in Liverpool, where Marsden lives to this day with his wife of nearly 50 years. As revealed in the DVD, a temporary break-up with this same woman early in their relationship inspired Marsden to pen "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" to win her back.

Sounds like it worked.

Reelin' in the Years Productions, 95 min., $19.99.

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