Chris came back for more! Sadly, he has now passed away and you can read his Obituary in that section
Considering the influence and the success of the Searchers in the 1960s, it is surprising that no one has written a book about them. I have thought about writing one myself, but there are stumbling-blocks. In my view, it is not possible to write a book that would satisfy the five key members – Frank Allen, Chris Curtis, Tony Jackson, John McNally and Mike Pender – as they rarely like what each is saying about the other. John McNally and Mike Pender disliked each other’s comments in a 2002 feature in the US “Goldmine” magazine, and Chris Curtis was very annoyed at what John said about him on BBC Radio Lancashire. Yet a book that does not give all sides of the picture is going to be incomplete. Frank Allen’s own book of reminiscences, “Travelling Man” (Aureus Publishing, 1999), was very entertaining but it painted too rosy a glow and didn’t discuss the contentious issues within the band. Two sisters, Laine and Jule Rawlinson, were working on a biography and interviewed the key personnel, but nothing has been heard of the project for some years. If I do ever write a book about them, I have my title – “Someday We’re Gonna Love Again”.
Chris Curtis was the Searchers’ drummer from 1960 to 1966 – the key years – and he was the lynch-pin of the group’s success. Very hyper, very enthusiastic, he was constantly seeking out obscure songs that, nevertheless, had “Hit” written all over them. There are different accounts as to how he came to leave the Searchers, certainly some misadventures on an Australian tour played their part, but in the end he was becoming unreliable. He made a solo record with the musicians who became Deep Purple and he produced records for other performers, notably Paul and Barry Ryan, but in the end, his music career fizzled out and he took a job in the civil service. He has retired due to ill-health (a consequence of “sick building syndrome”) and he has returned, somewhat cautiously, to the public light.
I interviewed Chris Curtis for BBC Radio Merseyside early in 1998 (subsequently in March 1998’s “Record Collector”), which, although I didn’t realise it at the time, was the first interview he had given in 30 years. John McNally said, “This interview is so distorted. Anything good that the Searchers ever did is down to him and he washes his hands of everything else.” Frank Allen, on the other hand, thought the interview was very funny and “pure Chris”. (The 1998 interview is also on this website so you can make up your own mind about it.)
Chris is still very hyper and very enthusiastic and in recent months, he has taken to performing again. Itt is sad that someone who made Number 1 records should be singing “Lean On Me” with a karaoke machine at the Old Roan pub or Cooper’s Emporium, but it happens. Someone stopped him in the supermarket and remarked on his appearance at the Old Roan without knowing his provenance.
Somewhat classier have been his appearances with live musicians for the Merseycats charity at the Marconi club in Huyton on Thursday nights, where incidentially he is taken by Mike Pender’s cousin, Michael Prendergast. He has been singing R&B oldies and “Are You Lonesome Tonight” (with awesome dynamics), but so far he hasn’t dipped into the Searchers’ songbook.
In April 2003 I asked him to come on to my show, “On The Beat”, on BBC Radio Merseyside to discuss the “new” Searchers’ albums, “The Searchers At The Iron Door”, “The Searchers At The Star-Club” and the “Swedish Radio Sessions”. He came across well but it has been a pyrrhic victory as Chris has no concept of time and has been known to ring me for a chat at two in the morning. When I told him to ring only at sensible times, he left me a present at Radio Merseyside. It was a much played copy of the Judy Collins LP, “Golden Apples Of The Sun”, which had been autographed, “To Chris, Best wishes, Judy Collins”. After “To Chris”, he had appended “and Spen”. Talk about having a collector’s item.
This is what Chris had to say in “On The Beat” on BBC Radio Merseyside on Sunday 13 April 2003. The material is not copyright – anyone who wants to write that book is welcome to use it.
SL: It’s quite astonishing, isn’t it, Chris, that, 40 years on, tracks are coming out that haven’t been heard by the public at all.
Chris Curtis: Yes, I never know about them until you tell me.
SL: You are noted for your versatility on the drums. You played tom-tom rolls, military rhythms, castanets, cowbells and bongos – you did everything on the records, didn’t you?
Chris Curtis: (Laughs) Pretty much. I was always doing a lot of things but one that springs to mind is a song I wrote called “No One Else Could Love Me”. I put down a basic track down with a standard drum-kit and then they played it back to me and I added castanets and Spanish bells.
NO ONE ELSE COULD LOVE ME – THE SEARCHERS
Chris Curtis: Tony Hatch was playing the piano on that.
SL: Tony Hatch was your producer at Pye. Was he an asset or a liability to the Searchers?
Chris Curtis: He was all right. He fibbed to me for the follow-up to “Sweets For My Sweet”. He said that he had been to a folk club in London and he had met this chap called Fred Nightingale who had written this song which would be good for us. It was “Sugar And Spice” and it was exactly the same chords as “Sweets For My Sweet”. Tony Hatch had written it himself and he tricked me into recording that rubbish.
SL: Couldn’t you have said, “Even so, I think it’s rubbish and we don’t want to do it.”
Chris Curtis: We were really desperate for a follow-up then.
SL: Do you wish you had recorded “Mr. Tambourine Man” because that would have suited you perfectly?
Chris Curtis: No, it would have suited the guitar sound, but it wouldn’t have suited me.
SL: When we talked about doing this programme, you said that you would like to play some of your favourite records and the first artist is Lou Johnson.
Chris Curtis: Great bloke and a wonderful artist and this song would be just great for P.J.Proby. Especially if I sang along with him. How’s that for big time?
SL: Well, you have been performing again lately for the Merseycats?
Chris Curtis: That is run by some very nice people such as Derek Peel and I love it. Faron came and grabbed my guitar the other night and then he played it. He’s a lovely person but if he touches it again, he will never play another guitar again in his life!
PARK AVENUE – LOU JOHNSON
Chris Curtis: I love the laugh in that record. The way he goes “Ha!”.
SL: Let’s talk about “The Iron Door Sessions”. This is your audition for Pye which was recorded at the Iron Door. How important was the Iron Door to you?
Chris Curtis: It was owned by Les Ackerley who became our manager and was a good chap, very nice person, but he lost out when we went to London. It was great to play the Iron Door. We used to do doubles at the Orrell Park Ballroom and the Iron Door. It was difficult to get down the stairs with my drums at the OPB and then down another flight to the Iron Door. The stage was only a foot high, and it was a strange place. The room had a divider in it and Roger McGough used to stand between the doors.
SL: Did you do lunchtime sessions there?
Chris Curtis: No.
SL: What about at the Cavern?
Chris Curtis: Ray McFall, the owner of the Cavern, took a dislike to me because I said it was a dreadful place. It was stinky and sweaty. I used to play in corduroy trousers and a leather jacket and had a hair a foot long, so it wouldn’t be conducive to a nice, pleasant lunchtime.
SL: Well, wearing a leather jacket on stage is a pretty daft thing to do.