After a day driving around Merseyside I drove north to fit in one more visit before sunlight faded. Here I am at Thornton Crematorium where Freddie Marsden was turned to ash. Freddie was the co-founder and drummer of Gerry and the Pacemakers and though they were successful he ended his working life running a driving school.
The Marsdens came from Dingle in Liverpool and Freddie was named after his dad who worked on the railways and played the ukelele at night. When his lad showed an interest in music he made a drum from the lid of a Quality Street tin. Freddie loved the drums and when he left grammar school with one “O” level he spent his wages as a candle maker (on £4 week) on a full kit.
With his brother Gerry they formed a skiffle group called the Mars Bars (changed to Gerry and the Pacemakers in 1959 when the confectioners complained that it was their chocolate bar's name.) Locally they started to amass a healthy following. When Freddie was 21 the band followed the Beatles to Hamburg and they became the second group signed by Brian Epstein. Freddie was at the music's heart, ministering a consistent reliable drum along with vocal harmonies that balanced Gerry’s vibrancy. They were a popular group in Hamburg incorporating rhythm and blues and showbiz standards. The gruelling five-hour nightly performances made the band so strong and tight that the Beatles found them a hard act to follow. Both bands were given Preludin (a slimming drug) to keep awake.
Back in Merseyside both groups occupied the top two positions in the first popularity poll by regional pop gazette Mersey Beat. There was no rivalry and they got on so much the Beatles attended Freddie’s 21st birthday party and the two groups combined as the Beatmakers one evening at Litherland town hall. By late 1962 both bands were being managed by Brian Epstein who got Gerry and the Pacemakers signed to EMI. When the Beatles rejected Mitch Murray's light-hearted How Do You Do It Epstein said he had just the group to do it - Gerry and The Pacemaker. It topped the charts in April 1963. The springy I Like It followed and there were the others like I'm The One and Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying.
One of their seminal hits was You'll Never Walk Alone. Around the clubs Gerry Marsden had seen Paul McCartney's success with Over the Rainbow and he wanted a similar emotional show-stopper. They picked You'll Never Walk Alone from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel (now sang at fans of Liverpool football club.) Their other whopper was written by the band though - Ferry Cross the Mersey which was released in late 1964 became a resounding success on both sides of the Atlantic.
Freddie married Margaret and they had a son and a daughter. Before and after success he was the same courteous man with a down-to-earth phlegmatic candour. Before the band benefited from record royalties he’d played music at gigs in the evenings and then sat down to his routine job every morning without qualms. There was no ballooning ego or cheesy artifice.
A sudden end to the band came when his brother Gerry accepted a role in a West End musical role Charlie Girl. Freddie wasn’t included and the band was rendered dormant. Freddie took it in his philosophical stride and never criticised his brother publicly. He said, "We were left without a singer and instead of looking for another one, we called it a day." He returned to normal life becoming a telephone operator for £14/week before opening the Pacemaker driving school in Formby. From the 1970s his brother Gerry relived past glories with a new Pacemakers but Freddie wasn’t beckoned to the spotlight of fame and didn’t return to music. He died of cancer aged 66. The service was held at Our Lady’s Church in Formby followed by a cremation here.
I had a stroll around the quiet cemetery - even the birds were quiet. A woman walking her black lab tried not to look over as I did a few salutes to a camera out of view. I opened three brown bins to find a few snails at the top trying to escape. I moved them onto the path, saluted and left for home
Around the back to see the chimney where he he was turned to dust...