You’ll Never Walk Alone and Gerry and the Pacemakers’ legacy is alive: interview with Tony Young

Michael Owen Carlsberg Liverpool

Michael Owen  – © to the owners

The story of how I started to support Liverpool Football Club whilst remaining a fervid AS Roma fan in Italy is not very honourable.
Italy had lost miserably the 1998 World Cup’s quarter-final match in France just over our historical enemies, the French, but instead of being furious like everybody else, I was busy getting a teenage crush on the English football player Michael Owen which led me to become a Liverpool FC supporter as a consequence.

Televideo BBC Sport

The “Televideo”

I was 14 and there was no Internet back then, so I would rely on the ugly national TV Teletext service called Televideo to get hold of the Premier League results every Sunday evening, and I would also tell my local newsstand guy to go and order me dozens of official Liverpool FC magazines from the UK that I could not read because I didn’t speak a word of English.
Poor man.
I’d already pestered him for ages with my weekly subscription to Build Your DIY Doll House.
And I didn’t even build that doll house in the end.

ball decorated with Liverpool fc

You don’t go to arts high school for nothing, don’t you?

In that pre-Internet era, magazine postage from the UK was surprisingly much cheaper than in these post-Brexit times, but the crush on Mr Owen lasted no more than this plastic ball I decorated with the Liverpool coat of arms during a boring maths class at school.

Our dear Roman captain Francesco Totti eventually stayed in the AS Roma team for 25 years, so I couldn’t accept that Michael Owen was leaving Liverpool FC for Real Madrid first, and for Newcastle United and Manchester United later; as soon as I realised he was also shorter than me, the affair was definitely over.

One of my exes used to say that you should be allowed to be a fan of one football club in every country you go to, but then he never knew what to do when those clubs fought against each other in the Champions League.
I believe he eventually supported only teams that are so weak that they never go anywhere.
But I still am and will always be conflicted when Liverpool FC plays against AS Roma, because, unlike Michael Owen and regardless of The Romans, the Reds have remained in my heart ever since and they won’t go away anytime soon.

You'll Never Walk Alone by Gerry and the Peacemakers

You’ll Never Walk Alone by Gerry and the Pacemakers

The Anfield Stadium was the first non-Beatles thing I insisted to visit when I went to Liverpool.
I love that the beer Carlsberg sponsored the Reds shirts for three decades, I love the city, I love the people and I also love their questionable accent, and especially, I love the official Liverpool FC anthem by the 1960s Liverpool band Gerry and the Pacemakers.
You’ll Never Walk Alone is the most beautiful chant you will ever hear people singing at a football stadium, it goes under your skin right up to your heart, and here it stays, forever.

Originally composed in 1945 by the American musical duo Rodgers and Hammerstein for the musical Carousel, You’ll Never Walk Alone was repurposed in the UK in 1963 by Gerry and the Pacemakers as their third single.
And just like the two previous singles How Do You Do It? and I Like It, both released in 1963 under the guidance of music genius Brian Epstein who also managed The Beatles at the time, the song reached number one in the UK Singles Charts.

You'll Never Walk Alone on the Shankly Gate of the Anfield Stadium in Liverpool

You’ll Never Walk Alone on the Shankly Gate of the Anfield Stadium in Liverpool

Gerry and the Pacemakers were the first band in the UK music history to reach number one in the singles chart with their first three singles.
You’ll Never Walk Alone became the Liverpool FC official anthem immediately upon release, being sung by masses of Liverpudlian supporters before each home match at the Anfield Stadium.

Before the single was actually out, Gerry Marsden had given the then-Liverpool manager Billy Shankly a recording of the song, prompting the local press to write that the upcoming Gerry and the Pacemakers’ track was being adopted as the official club anthem.

Gerry and the Peacemakers' Gerry Marsden - © to the owners

Gerry Marsden – © to the owners

You’ll Never Walk Alone is what you can read today on the Shankly Gates entrance of the Anfield Stadium, and, after Gerry Marsden’s passing, plans have been revealed to erect a statue to him on Liverpool’s waterfronts.

The song has also made the anthem of the Celtic FC from Glasgow, Scotland, CD Lugo in Spain, Borussia Dortmund, FSV Mainz 05 and TSV 1860 Munich in Germany, FC Twente, Feyenoord and SC Cambuur in The Netherlands, FC Admira Wacker in Austria, K.V. Mechelen and Club Brugge KV in Belgium, FC Tokyo in Japan and PAOK in Greece.

This tune impressed Nelson Mandela, inspired Queen to write We Are The Champions and We Will Rock You and was performed by countless other singers over the years, including Barbra Streisand and Andrea Bocelli.

In 2019, Gerry Marsden appeared on stage during a Take That concert in Liverpool and performed his signature song along with Gary Barlow; this was probably one of his last public appearances before he passed away in January 2021.

I had always wanted to interview Gerry Marsden, I just regret so much that I didn’t have the chance to.
And so I would have never imagined being eventually given the privilege of interviewing the true gatekeeper of Gerry and the Pacemakers’ legacy, music and vibes, and discuss life, football and the city at the time of The Beatles.

Tony Young of the Gerry's Peacemakers- © to the owners

Tony Young of the Gerry’s Pacemakers- © to the owners

Tony Young joined Gerry Marsden and his band in 1995 as they were resuming Gerry and the Pacemakers’ big hits for the nostalgia and oldie live show circuits all across the world, and he performed with Gerry until his retirement, in 2018.
He received Gerry’s and Gerry’s family blessing to continue making the Pacemakers’ hits in concert and keep the legacy alive.
The band is now called Gerry’s Pacemakers and features Tony himself as a band leader, keyboardist and vocalist, Mike Steed as a bass guitarist and vocalist, John Summerton as a lead guitarist and Tee Green on vocals and percussion.

They regularly go on tour all across the United Kingdom as a part of the collective all-the-hits show Sixties Gold, whose most recent edition featured an impressive line-up of the best 1960s music bands still alive and kicking, including The Tremeloes, The Merseybeats, Herman’s Hermits, Dave Berry, PJ Proby and Marmalade, all performing their most famous hits.
Tony Young is here to tell you why you don’t want to miss this amazing live music event the next time it hopefully happens, in 2022.

Tony, what should people expect from Sixties Gold?

Well, it’s probably the biggest line-up of lots of the original members from the 1960s that’s ever been: Chip Hawkes from The Tremeloes, PJ Proby, Dave Berry, and the list goes on and on. Our job as Gerry’s Pacemakers is also to back up quite a few of the musicians in the first half, so I was looking forward to that, we’ve done that many times already, anyway. So, well, it should be a great show. There’s a huge line-up, isn’t it? All the artists have been allocated several times so basically it’s an all-the-hits show.

How many Gerry and the Pacemakers’ songs do you normally perform?

We do the four or five big Gerry and The Pacemakers’ hits from Gerry Marsden. PJ Proby does six hits, I think, so yeah, this is an all-the-hits show which is great so the audience gets great value for their money. And then we sing along and I really enjoy it.

What year did you join Gerry Marsden’s band?

It was in 1995, so it’s more than 25 years now. And then, as we all know, Gerry just kind of went into a like a bit of retirement, and we lost him in January this year, so it’s very sad. But before his passing, we organised the legacy with the management, and he gave us his blessing to go out and do the songs and keep the legacy going with all these great hits. At first, we wondered whether it would be a good idea, but we found that he was a really really good singer, and there’re not many people that can sing You’ll Never Walk Alone like that. So we should be demonstrating them, obviously on the tour, that this can go on, I hope. We will see how we get on.

What’s the biggest legacy that Gerry and the Pacemakers have left to people and the history of music, in your opinion?

Well, in my opinion, it was obviously a fantastic age around 1963 with The Beatles, which was probably one of the strongest age for British pop music and the British music invasion. We did really well in the United States and all over Europe and things like that with the songs that Gerry wrote and performed. That’s the legacy, just mash the songs in those days to get to number one and sell hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of songs like You’ll Never Walk Alone, I Like It and How Do You Do It? That’s the legacy in my opinion: great self-written tunes. And, of course, you had the era of The Beatles, etcetera. I’m very much into British music pop music, anyway.

What was Gerry’s relationship with The Beatles and the Beatlemania, back in the day?

Well, it’s hard to know, but Gerry always said that John Lennon was one of his closest friends. And there are many, many images online and pictures all over. There was one particular image with Gerry there with Roy Orbison, and The Beatles, it’s quite amazing. I wish I was kind of around at that time, but I was only a young guy then!

Did he ever share any memories about his time performing at The Cavern Club in Liverpool?

Only that it was a very strange time, it was alcohol-free, and Gerry always used to say that it was very sweaty, and I totally believed! At the time, it must have been a big deal to actually get out of The Cavern and get out of Liverpool. It was kind of a good time for them to stretch the wings and play all over the world, basically. It must have been a fantastic time back in the day.

What did he say about his time being managed by Brian Epstein?

We did a theatre show, many, many years ago with Bill Kenwright, that went to the West End in London, and there was a quite an integral part of the show that was about Brian Epstein and what he did for all those young bands at the time. Gerry had nothing but kind words to say about Brian Epstein, he obviously kind of took him under his wing, along with The Beatles and Cilla Black. And he created what I said earlier about the biggest British pop explosion ever that is never going to be beaten.

Is it true that Gerry wanted to call the band The Mars Bars but he had to think again because the chocolate brand protested? And how did he come up with the Pacemakers after that?

It’s a story that Gerry used to tell on stage and that I got from him every night on stage, and whether or not it was true, I don’t know – because you never knew with Gerry! – but that’s exactly it. Apparently, they wanted to call themselves Gerry and the Mars Bars and the chocolate brand said no. The Pacemakers name came from running, like in the Olympics Games.

Which of his songs did he love the most?

I think that was Can’t You Hear The Song? That’s my favourite Gerry’s song: A because he co-wrote it, and B because it’s a wonderful tune. But I would imagine You’ll Never Walk Alone is got to be the song, for two reasons obviously: you’ve got the alliance with Liverpool and the Liverpool Football Club. And it’s great, I think it’s Rodgers and Hammerstein that wrote it, and Gerry wasn’t the first performing that, but he will forever be remembered for that. One can definitely say that Gerry made it his own, and I think everybody agrees with that. And that’s why it’s so important to keep this music going after all these years.

What was his relationship with Liverpool FC supporters?

Well, as you can imagine, they love him when he goes to the actual ground above the ground and he says “you’ll never walk alone”! And, of course, there is a similar relationship with the Celtic Football Club in Scotland, that’s why when we play in Glasgow we go down really, really well, and there are always great crowds there. And that’s possibly because of his affinity with them and with You’ll Never Walk Alone, even though this is obviously always going to be the Liverpool song.

How do you think he would like to be remembered?

He played his part in one of the biggest record explosions in British pop music, and he played a big part in that and also wrote some others tunes. Ferry Across The Mersey, in particular, is a song that Paul McCartney often says that he wished he had written.

Many people believe the real Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced with an imposter by the name of Billy Shears Campbell.

Well, he’s been woken up enough to cross the street barefoot with the rest of the other guys, so he’s definitely alive and well!

That was in 1969, though. Anyway, how do you feel when you hear You’ll Never Walk Alone playing on the radio?

Brilliant. Yeah, it’s amazing, it still got that power, doesn’t it? And everybody’s singing some of the voices, it’s such an important tune. Since Gerry passed away, we’ll try and do our best with the new Pacemakers, and hopefully, bringing this legacy forward so people can enjoy all the great songs. They never die, anyway, you just got to keep them going. There are these great shows in Europe called Oldies shows when you get to realise that a lot of these guys are really old now! They really are!

Well, whether you are old or not, this is still the best music ever. Nothing to see with what you’ve got today.

Yeah, yeah, it was colourful, it was fun, vibrant, but as I said, some of the self-penned songs were also important, because a lot of people had the songs written for them, while we Gerry did a lot of his own songwriting, which is quite important, like for The Beatles.

What is the biggest difference in music between yesterday and today, in your opinion?

Personally, I think, it’s energy. Today there are good artists like Ed Sheeran and George Ezra, and there are good songwriters and good performances, but I think a lot of the excitement is missing out in today’s music whereas, in those days, everything seemed more energetic. And definitely, some of the music was more unique than today’s music that all sounds quite similar to me. But, yeah, I am not too enamoured with today’s music.

What achievements are you most proud of, at this stage in your career?

One of my favourites was the charity gig at the NEC, the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. We were allocated something crazy like 13 minutes, and behind me there was this guy doing the soundcheck, and he was Cliff Richard! And there were so many other different bands taking part, and it was an incredible gig, all for charity. I really, really enjoyed that moment. And also, in the latter days, with Gerry, we did a Rock Against Cancer gig, down south in the UK, somewhere against Bath, and that was a similar kind of thing, a fantastic show with loads of stars, it is just great to play at those momentous occasions. And then, I think some of the trips over to Australia. These are my personal achievements, and I really, really enjoyed those kinds of gigs, they are just fantastic. I’m sure one day we’ll do that again, we were supposed to be going over to the States this year to the Liverpool Fan Convention in Las Vegas, but everything just got postponed and it’s been a terrible time for musicians, it’s been a rough time. But hopefully, we’re getting back to work and that’s the most important thing.

What do you think of live streaming events as opposed to live music events?

This is dreadful for composers, it is really, really bad for composers and they have a terrible time to make sure they’re getting paid for those things. People just want to stream stuff now, but what’s important now is to get out and play live. Getting the people and the public interested in live shows again is so important. It’s important for the production, for the theatres and for the theatres’ staff. And that’s why we’ve got to get this right this time, and get out there.

What are the plans for the future?

At the moment, we really want to get this new band on the road, it’s very important for us and for Gerry’s family, and make it really, really good. We’re obviously looking forward to starting playing live again, we’ve done a couple of gigs, in maybe a few theatres, but they were rescheduled. So we have this tour, which hopefully takes us to December. Our two gigs in Norwich last week were sold out in the evening, so people are getting interested and that’s good news!

★ If you loved the British Invasion music, you may also like our other interviews with the man who introduced The Beatles to Brian Epstein: Bill Harry of Mersey Beat, The Tremeloes, The Merseybeats, The Zombies, Maggie Bell of Stone the Crows, The Animals, Jeff Christie

★ Also, read Part 7 of this to see what we found out about the Paul is Dead conspiracy theory

Gerry and the Peacemakers Liverpool You'll Never Walk Alone artwork red

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The one behind the wheel.