At around 3am on 8 August, a Royal Mail train heading from Glasgow to London was attacked by a gang of 15 robbers. The gang, led by Bruce Reynolds, beat the train driver, Jack Mills, over the head with an iron bar and made off with £2.6million. This crime became known as the Great Train Robbery, and made several of the gang infamous, including Ronnie Biggs, Buster Edwards and Charlie Wilson. Buster Edwards later suffered the indignity of being portrayed by Phil Collins in the 1988 movie Buster. In a strange twist, he later found himself on the other side of theft. He had been released from prison in 1975 and since then had ran a flower stall outside Waterloo station. In 1991, actor Dexter Fletcher scooped up two bunches of flowers from the stall and ran off. Edwards recognised him from the film The Rachel Papers, which he had only seen a few days before. Fletcher was arrested and charged with theft, given a conditional discharge for a year and ordered to pay £30 costs. Fletcher apologised to one of the country’s most famous robbers and claimed the flowers were for his girlfriend, Press Gang co-star Julia Sawalha, but he’d lost his cash card. Silly Dexter.
On the day of the Great Train Robbery, the Searchers became the third Merseybeat group to go to number 1, with their cover of Elvis collaborators Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman’s Sweets for My Sweet, which had previously been a hit for US soul group the Drifters in 1961.
The Searchers had been formed from the ashes of an earlier skiffle group by guitarists John McNally and Mike Pender in 1959, taking their name from the 1956 John Ford western movie. They recruited further members, including Tony Jackson on bass, but he didn’t have a bass, so he built one himself. By 1962, Jackson was also the lead singer and Chris Curtis was the band’s drummer. Like the Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers, they were regularly performing at Liverpool clubs like the Cavern, and would head over to perform in Hamburg, Germany. After a successful audition they found themselves signed to Pye Records, with Tony Hatch as their producer. Hatch had assisted on the production of Petula Clark’s first number 1, Sailor, in 1961.
Coming from such a strong songwriting team (Pomus and Shuman had co-written two Elvis number 1 singles, Surrender and (Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame/Little Sister), Sweets for My Sweet was a superior track to some of the other fluffy pop that came out under the Merseybeat banner. I prefer it to the original, with the chiming guitars and chugging drums pushing the song along, whereas the Drifters version swung in a more laidback manner. They misheard one of the lyrics in the chorus, changing ‘Your tasty kiss thrilled me so’ to ‘Your fair sweet kiss thrilled me so’, but I prefer it like that. While it’s all about the chorus, as usual, the backing vocals in the verses are also pretty strong.
With their first single spending a fortnight at the top, the Searchers were quickly established as one of the top groups from Liverpool. Mike Pender became known for his 12-string guitar, with the group later cited as an influence on the sound of the Byrds. Two further number 1s were to follow. Sweets for My Sweet was a number three hit for reggae singer CJ Lewis thirty years later.
Written by: Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman
Producer: Tony Hatch
Weeks at number 1: 2 (8-21 August)
Painter Joan Eardley – 16 August