Gerry and the Pacemakers made a return a visit to Winnipeg at McPhillips Street Station last night as part of their 50th anniversay farewell tour.
Fronted by the sole remaining founding member, lead singer/guitarist Gerry Marsden, the 70-year old veteran rocker who helped spearhead the 60s British Invasion with The Beatles, announced his retirement from international touring after more than 50 years in the business, but not before saying a last goodbye to friends and fans.
The night kicked off with the latest version of The Pacemakers performing a cover of the 60s Tommy James and The Shondell’s hit “Mony Mony” prior to Marsden taking the stage and launching the evening with his 1963 debut hit “How Do You Do It.”
The setlist was similar to his last visit to the venue in 2010, using a slightly varied song order, a few different cover songs and a few tweaks to arrangements.
Overall, the show seemed a bit looser than previous visits with Marsden giving his longtime backing band, consisting of Tony Young (guitar), Steve Thompson (piano), Mitch Oldham (drums) and Garth Watt-Roy (bass), more legroom. But given his age and the fact that this was a farewell 50th anniversary show, Marsden can be easily forgiven for relaxing a bit.
Afterall, the crowd of mostly babyboomers came to see Marsden himself, and be entertained by his enduring Livepuddlian charm, his stories, and, of course, his back catalogue of self-penned Pacemaker hits, which were in abundance.
The singer played the part of elderly curmudgeon to good effect throughout the night, promising to play all his hits, providing people would sing along, “so I don’t forget the words.”
The British Invasion veteran next launched into his 1964 No. 2 hit “I’m the One,” which, after taking a headcount to see how many audience members purchased the single, he joked, “Might’ve hit No. 1 – if more of you bought it.”
Changing up the pace, Marsden performed a cover Fred Astaire’s “The Way You Look Tonight,” the B-side from his 1966 single “Girl on Swing,” followed by his 1964 Bobby Darrin penned hit “I’ll Be There,” and by a rocked up of version of Hank William’s “Jambalya.”
Marsden occasionally improvised on familiar melody lines, but his voice, though huskier, remains strong, and he has maintained his powerful vocal range into his twilight years, which he used to good effect on his next number, the hit ballad “Walk Hand in Hand.”
A cover of the Larry Williams penned Beatles‘ hit “Slowdown,” preceded his biggest North American hit, “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” which he revealed he wrote to win back his future bride after a break up, and joked “sometime I wish I’d never written it.”
The Liverpool native then exited while the band performed a cover of The Small Faces hit “Itchy Coo Park,” and, after bandmember intros, moved into the home stretch with the familiar Am opening guitar riff to his self-penned 1965 hit “It’s Gonna Be Alright,” followed by the 1966 ballad “Girl on a Swing” and Marsden’s beautiful ode to his hometown, written as the title track for The Pacemaker’s 1965 movie, “Ferry Cross the Mersey.”
A lively cover of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” preceded the set closer, the song that became The Pacemakers 3rd straight No 1 in the UK in 1963, Marsden’s rendition of Roger’s and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with Marsden hitting all the big notes to earn a standing ovation and encore, which consisted of his upbeat 1963 hit “I Like It,” a cover of Little Richard’s “Rip It Up” before reprising “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to close the curtain on his final Winnipeg appearance.