Frank Allen, (seen here second from the left), English bass player with The Searchers chats with Kevin Cooper about his most extravagant purchase, the highlight of his career so far, his plans for his retirement and The Searchers Farewell Tour.

Frank Allen is a bass guitar player who originally began his career with Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers in 1961 as a rhythm guitarist.  When Tony Jackson left The Searchers, an English Merseybeat group, in 1964 Allen was asked to join the band but as a bass player.  They then recorded When You Walk In The Room with Allen sharing a dual lead line with Mike Pender.

The Searchers, with Allen on bass guitar, founder member John McNally on lead guitar and twelve string and now aided by Spencer James (lead vocals since 1986) and with Scott Ottaway replacing Eddie Roth (drums) in March 2010, have until recently toured constantly.

He is also a prolific writer, writing a humorous book of touring recollections called Travelling Man in 1999, as well as articles for newspapers and periodicals.  His definitive and detailed biography of The Searchers entitled The Searchers And Me – A History Of The Legendary Sixties Hitmakers was published in 2009.

In 2018, The Searchers announced that the band would retire on 31st March 2019.

Whilst touring the UK on their Farewell Tour, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Frank good afternoon how are you today?

I’m very well thank you Kevin how are you?

Well I really can’t complain and before we move on let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s no problem at all.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

I have to be honest with you and say that life is great actually.  I am really enjoying life at the moment.  I recently took the decision to simplify my life.  I have moved out of the large house that I have lived in for forty-three years and bought myself a split-level penthouse in order to uncomplicate things.  It now means that I can simply lock up and go away whenever the mood takes me.  Everything now is so much more convenient.  I am currently enjoying The Searchers Farewell Tour and I really am looking forward to putting my feet up at the end of it.

You mention The Farewell Tour, how is it going?  Has it been emotional so far?

Yes it has but I have to say that in my opinion it has been emotional in a good way.  Having said that I must tell you that our audiences have been most distraught.  Some of them come to see me after the shows and say “good luck Frank, you deserve to retire but what are we going to do”.  I’m actually thinking of setting up a small branch of The Samaritans (laughter).  I feel like saying “get a life”.  The way that The Searchers runs is that we have either got to work at full pelt or we don’t work at all.  We haven’t mastered the art of simply doing something every now and again.  So with this tour we are going to finalise the whole thing once and for all.  Having said that, it’s not to say that two years down the line we won’t come out of retirement and do a tour or something; I’m always up for something like that.  But for the time being we are still doing what we do until Sunday 31st March and then that’s it, game over.

After that will the bass be retired to the loft?

No not at all, now that I have moved I have got my very own special guitar room here which has sixteen guitars in the guitar room.  It now houses a smaller version of my collection, as I recently put twenty-four of them into auction.  I had a big room for them all at the other house but now I house them in a smaller room and I will have sixteen left by the time that we have finished.

The Searchers as a band have been together for over sixty years.  Was calling it a day an easy decision to make?

No it wasn’t, not at all.  Although having said that I must stress that it was my decision and nobody else’s.  Poor John (McNally) was quite distraught in some ways because he would simply have gone on forever.  John totally hates the thought of retiring; he really is a workaholic.  However, what you have to remember is that I am seventy-five years old now and I feel that I am entitled to put my feet up.  Who knows, in the future John may well carry on with something in some form although I don’t really know; when I spoke to him he seemed quite keen on that.  At this moment in time John hasn’t made any decision so we will just have to wait and see on that.

You have been a member of The Searchers for fifty-five years, have you enjoyed the ride?

Yes, very much, how could you not enjoy it?  In order to earn a living you can’t do much better than to play in a band, doing what you love and getting applauded every few minutes.  It really is pretty special.  It’s the driving and all that which is an absolute pain.

In 1961 you were a member of Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers. What made you leave and join The Searchers?

Fame, recognition and their company really (laughter).  Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers really was a great band; at that time they simply were the best band in the country without a doubt.  Cliff really was a sensational singer.  I met The Searchers at The Star-Club over in Hamburg and really got on well with them in an environment that was mad.  Everyone else was debauching themselves, taking pills, drinking, and whatever.  Hamburg really was a scene of debauchery which wasn’t me at all; I really was out of my comfort zone.  The Searchers were all moderate living young lads who I immediately took a liking to and hung around with.  Six months later down the line they got their chance to go into the studios on the wake of The Beatles and all that stuff and went to number one in the charts.

So my friends were now international stars and a year down the line from that they were no longer getting on with Tony (Jackson) who was their bass player at that time and they offered me the job.  So after hesitating for a short while I said yes and I have to say that it was the best decision that I could ever have made.  I had always wanted to be in a pop band that was in the charts and although I had made lots of records with Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers we never had a hit.  So for me with The Searchers it was already made.  They were international stars and I was going to have a fantastic career ready made for me.

You mention John (McNally).  You and John have been together now longer than most marriages.  What’s your secret?

To be honest with you I don’t really know.  John and I really are opposites in many ways.  I have always been the one who has done all of the PR work for all of these years whilst John ran the band.  John dealt with the business end of things; he dealt with the agents, and he dealt with the accountants, and I have to say that it has worked very well for us.

The two of you must have had a few crossed words along the way?

Oh yes, bloody hell (laughter).  In marriage people have arguments and they sometimes get divorced.  However, John and I have managed to stay married (laughter).

In 1964 The Searchers recorded and performed Saturday Night Out the title track to the British comedy film of the same name which was written by Mark Anthony.  When did you find out that Mark Anthony was in fact a certain Tony Hatch?

(Laughter) funnily enough Tony was recently round here.  A female friend of ours was coming over to look at the apartment and she turned up with Tony Hatch and Maggie, they guy who produced all of our hits (laughter).  So that really was a nice reunion.  To be honest we never realised for many years that Saturday Night Out had been produced by Tony because as you rightly say, he wrote and produced it under the name of Mark Anthony.  Tony bless him wrote under quite a few names back then.  His poor missus never knew who she was sleeping with at night (laughter).

I love his pseudonym for Sugar And Spice; Fred Nightingale (laughter).

I know, what a name (laughter).  Tony actually regrets that.  Tony and I were flying back to the UK from Australia once and Good Morning Vietnam was the inflight movie.  Sugar And Spice was being played during the scene where the helicopter was flying over the jungle and I have to say that it sounded fantastic.  Tony was sitting there as proud as punch letting everyone who would listen know that he had written the song but of course, when the credits came up it was naturally credited to Fred Nightingale and not Tony Hatch.  Tony really was pretty pissed off about that (laughter).

What did it feel like to be a part of the Mersey Beat scene?

It really was great.  I had first seen that happening over in Hamburg at the beginning of 1963.  That was the first time that I had ever heard of this music scene in Liverpool.  It was also the first time that I had met many of these bands, bands like The Undertakers, Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes and The Big Three, it really was great.  It really was a revelation to realise that all of this was happening in Liverpool.  However, being totally honest with you I never really did that whole Liverpool club scene because once these bands had made it, they were too big for the clubs.  They became international and not just local.  Having said that I did get to know Liverpool over the years.

What would you say has been your biggest highlight to date?

I have to say that there have been several.  The biggest would have to be playing two days at Wembley Stadium back in 1989 supporting Cliff (Richard).  We played in front of eighty thousand people each day.  That was the biggest crowd that we would ever get to play to, it was absolutely fantastic.  Also being presented to the Queen in 1981 after performing on the Royal Variety Show really was something very special.  And then there was our very first visit to America back in 1964 when we headlined forty-two shows with some of the most amazing artists, people like Dusty Springfield, Millie, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Temptations, Little Anthony and the Imperials, The Contours, The Shangri-Las, The Ronettes, Jay and the Americans, The Dovells and The Newbeats.  How about that for a line-up?

Having said all of that some of my greatest memories are playing for the British forces over in Bosnia and also in the Falkland Islands.  That really was unbelievable.  There really was an unrepeatable atmosphere; it was just like nowhere else that I had ever been.

There also must have been some low points?

Yes there have been but I have to say that even the low points have been good for us really.  During those cabaret years we were working constantly.  We have been lucky to work every day of every week and sometimes we even sometimes played two clubs per night.  I know that we were getting paid very little for it but I always look at it as my university education.  You had to learn how to construct a show that was going to please an adult audience not just screaming teenagers.  You also had to learn very quickly just how to link the songs and on reflection it was a very good learning curve for us.

What single event would you say changed your life forever?

That’s easy, it would have to be joining The Searchers.  My life would have taken a whole different course if that hadn’t have happened, without a doubt.

Over the duration of your career within the music business what would you say has been your most extravagant purchase?

I would say a house but I suppose that really a house is pretty essential.  I know that they cost the most money but I don’t think that you could consider them to be extravagant.  I know that I once went out one day with the intention of buying myself a bright red E Type Jaguar convertible (laughter).  I knew that I was going to buy one that day and I did.  I saw two and I bought the second one, simply because I didn’t want to go home without one (laughter).

And just how long did you have the car?

I actually had it for about three years and I have to say that I had lots of different accidents in it.  It was a bloody nightmare and it had a very bad owner (laughter).  I really am a very bad driver and in the end I really couldn’t wait to get rid of it.  It really was a beautiful car and I would love to have one again now.  Saying that I don’t think that I would be able to get in one, and it really isn’t fair to put a car like that into my hands (laughter).  It really was a bugger to drive as there was no power steering and it didn’t have power assisted brakes.  Looking back I really can’t imagine how I managed to drive a car with that length of bonnet with no power steering.  It’s amazing.

The sad thing was that I couldn’t really afford to run it.  I was earning next to nothing at that time because my career had died by 1967.  I couldn’t afford to repair it properly, everything was so very expensive on the car so I really did have to get rid of it in the end.  I was that skint that I could only afford to insure the car third party, fire and theft.  If anything serious had happened to the car then that would have been that as I couldn’t afford to have decent insurance.

On a lighter note what is your favourite Searchers song?

Without a doubt that would have to be When You Walk In The Room.  It’s not the reason why I like it but that was the first Searchers song that I played on.  It really is a great classic Jackie DeShannon song.  All of the elements are in place, it has got a great tune, great simple lyrics, and what I have always called interesting lyrics, and it has that great guitar riff that opens it up.  You really couldn’t want much more than that.

Looking back do you have any regrets?

Millions (laughter).  There are lots of little decisions which should have been made better, especially about hit records.  There really are so many things that I personally regret but not to the point where I am going to kill myself over it.  People tell me that you should never have any regrets but let me tell you, without regrets I wouldn’t be the person that I am now.  Who knows, I might have been a better person than I am now if I had made better decisions in the past and changed the way that things were.  So in answer to your question, yes, I do have regrets.

What can you remember about your first appearance on Top Of The Pops?

Well contrary to rumours, I’m not going to tell you that it was small because I had no idea just how big a studio was supposed to be (laughter).  I always found Top Of The Pops to be absolutely fine.  You were always glad to be there because it meant that you were currently in the charts.

On a sad note we recently lost Dean Ford of Marmalade fame who I understand was a good friend of yours. 

Yes he was, we all got along with Marmalade really well and I got to know Dean better than most.  The sad thing is that I hadn’t spoken to Dean in a while which really is a shame.  Unfortunately these things can sometimes pass us by.

Now that you and John are stepping down and are leaving The Searchers alone for a while, does it not rankle you that Mike Pender will now be able to go out there and perform as The Searchers?

No not at all as the courts have ruled in John and my favour which means that Mike is no longer allowed to perform as The Searchers.  John and I will never relinquish our rights in The Searchers name.  Mike can go out as Mike Pender’s Searchers as he is entitled to under those agreements.  Don’t get me wrong, I personally don’t have any animosity towards Mike.  I do however disagree with some of his ethics about how it all went down at that time.  Mike is not the devil incarnate, he really did have a great voice.  In fact I would work with Mike again should the opportunity arise sometime in the future.  I certainly would not be totally against it.  In a lot of ways he is a very nice person but he really does have a massive ego problem which I have to say a lot of lead singers have.  But on the other hand he is a nice guy in so many other ways.

What was the first record that you bought?

That was Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley.

Who did you first see performing live?

That is a very good question.  It would have most probably been Cliff (Richard) at the Chiswick Empire.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

That was Travelin’ Soldier by The Dixie Chicks.

What next for Frank Allen for now?

Well there will be a lot of travelling socially, lots of time spent in New York seeing the shows, a lot of dining out in London with my friends, plus maybe some city breaks.  I would love to do a few mini breaks to foreign places.  And I would love to do some more writing if only I could think what to write about (laughter).

On that note Frank let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.  It’s been interesting.  You take care and I will see you in Mansfield.

It’s no problem at all Kevin.  Bye for now.