Spectropop remembers

TONY JACKSON (1940 - 2003)

Lead singer on the Searchers' "Sweets For My Sweet", he quit the group at the height of their fame.

Until 1963 and the first Beatles' hit "From Me To You", the London music business had largely ignored the Liverpool music scene. Recording managers then flocked to Merseyside. The dominant British record company, EMI, had signed the Beatles. Decca, number two, was to sign London's Rolling Stones. It was left to Tony Hatch, then artist and repertoire chief of Pye Records, effectively the third biggest label, to sign the Searchers.

Their first record, a cover of the Drifters' "Sweets For My Sweet", was a highlight of the group's stage act. The Searchers then were drummer Chris Curtis, and guitarists Mike Pender, John McNally and Tony Jackson. It was Jackson, who has died aged 63, who provided the high-pitched singing that helped propel "Sweets For My Sweet" to #1, on August 8 1963, the day of the great train robbery. The follow-up, "Sugar And Spice", composed by Hatch was a #2. Beatles aside, the Searchers had become the most famous Liverpool beat group. Two more #1s followed in 1964. But on both "Needles And Pins" and "Don't Throw Your Love Away", Hatch used only the lighter voices of Pender and Curtis. In April 1964 the group toured the United States. Their TV appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show was even grudgingly praised by jazz critic Nat Hentoff for whom "the initial impression was more favourable musically than had been the case with the Beatles or the Dave Clark Five".

But Jackson felt increasingly sidelined by Hatch and the other group members. Later that year he quit, and six months later returned as Tony Jackson And The Vibrations. Their first record, a version of Motown singer Mary Wells's "Bye Bye Baby", was a minor hit. A further six singles flopped, at a time when the Searchers were still a successful act. A change of name to the Tony Jackson Group made little difference. By the end of the decade Jackson had left the music industry.

Born in the Liverpool suburb of Dingle, Jackson was one of many British teenagers who fell under the spell of Lonnie Donegan's 1956 skiffle hit "Rock Island Line". So he and some friends formed the Martinis, with Jackson, on guitar, providing Donegan-styled vocals. Like many of their contemporaries, including the future Beatles, the Martinis soon came under the influence of Buddy Holly. Rock 'n' roll entered their repertoire.

In 1960, Jackson, an apprentice electrician studying at Walton Technical College, formed a rock group with Pender and McNally. Western movies were big and they took their name from the 1956 John Wayne epic, The Searchers. Adding Curtis and singer Johnny Sandon, the band established themselves as one of Merseyside's leading groups alongside the Beatles and the Big Three. But Sandon left to sing with the Remo Four, so Jackson became the main singer, although the Searchers developed a reputation for harmony singing. They became the chief rivals of the Beatles, often headlining at the Iron Door club while the Beatles did the same at the Cavern. Like the Beatles, they honed their skills in the beat clubs of Hamburg's Reeperbahn red light district. In 1962 the group spent three months performing three shows a night at Hamburg's Star Club - and recorded an album for the German branch of Philips Records. Then came the signing with Pye.

After the 1960s had ended, Jackson managed a Spanish nightclub and ran a Kidderminster golf club. In 1985, living in Nottingham, he turned down an offer to join a group set up by Pender. In 1991, at a time when golden oldies and tribute bands were making a reasonable living, he attempted a comeback singing Searchers' hits - backed by former Vibrations. But both Pender's band and the "official" Searchers were already on tour. Jackson's project failed.

In 1996 he was convicted of threatening behaviour after an incident with an air pistol and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. After his release he announced his retirement from music because of arthritis.

Dave Laing -The Guardian

Anthony Paul Jackson, musician: born July 16, 1940 - died August 18, 2003.