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MLA who rubbed shoulders with music legends as showbiz reporter pays tribute to Gerry Marsden

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Gerry Marsden at the Adelphi Theatre (PA)

Gerry Marsden at the Adelphi Theatre (PA)

PA

Gerry Marsden at the Adelphi Theatre (PA)

An Ulster Unionist MLA who interviewed some of the biggest pop stars in history has paid tribute to Gerry and the Pacemakers frontman Gerry Marsden.

North Down MLA Alan Chambers interviewed Marsden as a teenager before a gig in Belfast in the early 1960s.

While still at school the enterprising Chambers blagged his way into interviews with stars including the Rolling Stones, Helen Shapiro, Billy J. Kramer and - for a brief second - The Beatles.

The now 73-year-old remembered 'You'll Never Walk Alone' and 'Ferry Cross The Mersey' singer Marsden as a "down to earth gentleman".

Marsden passed away on Sunday at the age of 78 following a short illness.

He rose to fame during the Merseybeat era and paying tribute Paul McCartney remembered the group as the Fab Four's "biggest rivals on the local scene".

Mr Chambers recalled interviewing the singer as a 16-year-old at the Boom Boom Rooms at Belfast's Cornmarket.

While a student at Annadale Grammar School Mr Chambers set up a school newspaper, 'The Annadale Star', sold weekly for a penny.

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Alan Chambers

Alan Chambers

Alan Chambers

By finding the addresses of talent agents in a showbiz newspaper Mr Chambers managed to secure interviews with some of the biggest stars of the era.

"Anybody that was anybody that came up to Belfast we seemed to be able to get an interview with them," the UUP MLA recalled.

He remembered Marsden as a "really genuine guy", but admitted a "cringe moment" between the two still rankles.

"He had a thick scouse accent and I said to him 'Gerry what did you do before you went into the music business?'. He told me he worked on the railways as a guard, he was probably painting himself up a wee bit, he was only about 21, 22 at the time," Mr Chambers said.

"I said 'I bet that being in show business is better than doing that' and he said to me in a thick scouse accent 'you can say that again', I repeated myself and I think he thought I was winding him up! He just laughed and went on talking."

"He was a really down to earth bloke. Gerry was the frontman and he was the main man. A very, very nice guy, very genuine with no airs and graces and no 'I'm famous' attitude. He really enjoyed what he did."

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Gerry Marsden leaping over his supporting Pacemakers (PA)

Gerry Marsden leaping over his supporting Pacemakers (PA)

PA

Gerry Marsden leaping over his supporting Pacemakers (PA)

Mr Chambers also recalled how a chance encounter led to a near private audience with the Rolling Stones.

After going to the ABC Cinema with school friends to interview American singers Bobby Rydell and Brenda Lee he was refused entry.

After a "fraught" conversation with the promoter the young aspiring journalist admitted defeat.

However he was in for a shock when summoned to the headmaster's office at Annadale a week later.

"I was thinking 'what have I done?', he said 'Chambers we've just got a telegram in here, it's from a Mr Don Mackerel at the ABC Cinema inviting you to a press conference this morning at 11.30am'," the MLA recalled.

"They were the equivalent of The Beatles at the time, so they allowed two of us to nip out of school and get the bus down to the ABC.

"There were only about five press there and we went in, my classmate was great fan of the Stones, so I said I'll ask the questions and you write down the answers.

"The first interview we did was Mick Jagger and we also interviewed the drummer Charlie Watts. Jagger came and sat down beside us, he was a real clean cut and well spoken guy. Their image at the time was like they were some sort of punk outfit.

"He sat beside us for about 15 minutes and chatted away to us, at the end I turned around to talk to my classmate and he was in a hypnotic trance and hadn't written a thing."

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Rolling Stones: Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts backstage at The ABC Theatre in Belfast in January 1965

Rolling Stones: Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts backstage at The ABC Theatre in Belfast in January 1965

Mirrorpix via Getty Images

Rolling Stones: Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts backstage at The ABC Theatre in Belfast in January 1965

The schoolboys were treated to a full dress rehearsal ahead of the Stone's performance that night.

"They did the whole gig and we got a 45 minute show, there were about six of us in the ABC sitting listening to this gig and heard every note and every word of every song. My schoolmate had tickets to the show that night and was up in the balcony and said he never heard a word because of all the screaming," he recalled.

Unfortunately Mr Chambers brush with The Beatles was much less memorable.

"All those guys wanted to do shows in Belfast because the crowds over here were crazy and starved of live entertainment," he said.

"When The Beatles came to the King's Hall it wasn't much of a interview, we got to about the door of their changing room and grabbed about three of four words with George Harrison, but it was crazy. They had so many people around them and so many people wanted a piece of the action."

Belfast Telegraph


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