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Members of the Academy pay tribute to Gerry Marsden MBE

We hear from the music creator community on the life, work and influence of Gerry Marsden MBE.

Gerry Marsden Photograph licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Gerry Marsden MBE was a member of The Ivors Academy for many years, who in 1991 was presented with a Gold Badge Award to recognise his extraordinary contribution to British songwriting.

In a personal tribute, Gerry and the Pacemakers writer and friend Mitch Murray CBE shares memories of working with the songwriter:

I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Gerry Marsden MBE, who sadly passed away on January 3rd.

Gerry and I will forever be linked by his first two record releases – ‘How Do You Do It?’ and ‘I Like It’ – both No 1’s, and both written by me. How lucky I was. Those songs kick-started his career as an entertainer and mine as a songwriter, back in 1963.

Gerry’s third record, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, also went to No 1. It wasn’t one of mine – I think it was written by some guy called Roger Hammerstein.

The song became a world-famous anthem, synonymous with Football and Liverpool. But what a brave move it was on Gerry’s part, to record and release a rousing ballad instead of the customary safer option of a follow-up similar to the previous two Chart Toppers.

Gerry soon became an accomplished songwriter himself, with hits like ‘Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying’ and ‘Ferry ‘Cross The Mersey’. After The Pacemakers disbanded, Gerry Marsden continued entertaining, and in 1968, turned his hand to the West End theatre when he appeared alongside Derek Nimmo and Dame Anna Neagle in ‘Charlie Girl’.

Our thoughts are with Pauline, his wife since 1965, and their daughters, Yvette and Victoria.

Academy board member Tom Gray reflects on Gerry Marsden MBE’s extraordinary career and legacy:

The journey of a popular song might sometimes be simple: an artist performs their hit, and the world moves on. Sometimes, however, a song can take a circuitous route, carried by different voices, travelling deep into our collective consciousness and culture. A song can become a symbol; representing and comforting us; carrying with it both the sublime and tragic facets of everyday experience; a song can truly transcend its purpose.

There is surely no better example of this than “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and its most famous singer – and guardian – Gerry Marsden who passed away recently.

Gerry and the Pacemakers were the epitome of our image of cheeky Liverpool lads. Their first hits, written by the venerable Mitch Murray, “How do you do it?” and “I Like It” set out their store: though managed by Brian Epstein, they definitely weren’t The Beatles who tinged their pop with the edginess of black americana; these boys were jaunty, skiffle kids who wanted to make you smile; they had more in common with George Formby than Elvis Presley.

Nevertheless, the Liverpudlian disposition, though typically seeking a laugh, is often tinged with a melancholia and sentimentality. Some might criticise it for mawkishness, but I believe Liverpudlians know something. It may well lie in their Irish roots. A sad song sung with friends, with maybe a glass or two of something boozy inside you, can do you a power of good. With a seed of truth, no matter how maudlin, a song – above all else – can translate a shared sense of life’s harshness, romanticising it into something worth bearing.

A unifying moment of solace sought in song: Gerry’s own talismanic “Ferry Cross the Mersey” was notably re-recorded for charity after the Hillsborough disaster. Indeed in 2003, for his services supporting its victims, Marsden was made an MBE. However, it’s his delivery (and trusteeship) of a Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune with which he leaves his most indelible mark. In 1963, after Gerry presented an early pressing of the song to Bill Shankly (the legendary Liverpool manager), “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was quickly adopted at Anfield as their anthem; It is written on the Liverpool F.C. coat of arms; You’ll rarely see a tweet from a Liverpool fan about their team that doesn’t terminate with “#YNWA”.

Cards on the table, I am an Evertonian. A “bluenose” as my kop cousins would describe me. I don’t like the colour of their shirts or how inured they are to success, but I am genuinely jealous of their song. When Marsden handed over the vinyl, he recalled Shankly saying “Gerry my son, I have given you a football team and you have given us a song” but, with a song, he did so much more that. In congregation, tragedy and joy are all marked in chorus: A band of sisters and brothers sing their call to arms, their hymn and their lament.

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