As the original voice of Sixties legends the Searchers, Mike Pender helped create some tracks that are as influential as any in rock history. Hitting number one with their first single, Sweets for my Sweet in 1963, the Searchers went on to score two more chart toppers with Needles and Pins and Don’t Throw Your Love Away.
"I can remember giving up my job in a printers in Liverpool along with the other guys and we all went off to play at the Star Club in Hamburg,” says Mike. "As soon as we came back it all happened for us overnight because The Beatles had opened the door for everyone. We had people coming up from London record companies because they thought there was more talent in Liverpool and sure enough we were one of the lucky groups. It was more or less overnight success.”
Built around a highly original sound based on Mike and fellow band member John McNally’s twin chiming guitars, the Searchers created a classic jangly sound that influenced everyone from The Byrds to George Harrison and later artists such as Tom Petty and The Smiths. We had a distinctive sound whereas most other groups didn't,” agrees Mike. "When our records came on the radio, people knew us straight away. I remember when we first went to America in 1964 and we played Madison Square Garden. There was a guy there, Terry Melcher, who was Doris Day's son, who put the Byrds together. We think he got some ideas from that concert we did. It's nice to know we've influenced a few people down the years and bands like The Smiths, it's good to know we've maybe helped them along the road a little.”
Despite Mike’s continuing success with both his solo gigs and those with his version of The Searchers, the last three years have been a difficult time for the 70-year-old and his wife May. On June 2, 2009, Mike’s son, Nathan Prendergrast, 39, of Waterloo, was killed when a car driven by a Formby police officer collided with his motorcycle on the A570 Rainford bypass. "It's been very hard to take,” admitted Mike. "For any mum and dad to lose a child it's the worst thing in the world really.We've handled it but I've probably handled it better than my wife. The mums have a hard time with it but we've got around it and we still have Michael, our eldest son who is my drummer in the band.”
Having Michael close to him, playing alongside his dad in the band clearly means a lot to Mike. "Playing helped me get through things. Nathan loved music and so does my daughter Stephanie – she’s a brilliant singer but I wasn’t keen for her to go into the industry. We have a brilliant grandson too. He came along at just the right time – he was a God send really because God in his wisdom almost gave us another son. It really helped us to get through and he is brilliant so hopefully we're over the worst now.”
Mike is now looking forward to his two forthcoming shows when he will be appearing with fellow Sixties stars Dave Berry, Wayne Fontana, the Merseybeats and the New Amen Corner at Southport Theatre in March and Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in April. "I know them all very well,” says Mike. Last year we all played this huge show in Malta and there were 2,500 people there – I didn't even know there were 2,500 people in Malta! Shows like that give you the confidence to keep going because when you know that many people still want to hear your music it really helps. If I ever gave it up and didn't go out and perform I'd end up sitting in the garden drinking bottles of wine – it just wouldn’t be right!”
Mike plays the Southport Theatre on March 16. Tickets are available on 0844 8713021