Long before Frankie came into his life, Gerry Marsden was very well off. He received healthy royalty checks for his old hits with Gerry and the Pacemakers, and he was on the road nine months out of every twelve, doing lucrative cabaret gigs and nostalgia rock shows in Europe, North America and Australia. Then in 1983 an outrageous sex-and-glam quintet from Marsden’s own hometown, Liverpool, put a campy rearrangement of one of his songs, “Ferry Cross the Mersey,” on the B side of its debut single. The group was Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the single was “Relax” (to date, the biggest-selling single in British pop history), and Marsden’s bank balance hasn’t been the same since.
“I won’t let anyone say a bad word about Frankie,” Marsden says, cackling in his distinctive Liverpudlian accent. He first learned about the cover of “Ferry Cross the Mersey” from his nineteen-year-old daughter, Yvette, who heard it in a disco. Marsden isn’t sure how much he’s made from Frankie’s “Ferry” over the past two years, but he currently pulls in $250,000 a year in publishing royalties alone.
Marsden also has real-estate investments in England and Spain and owns a Liverpool radio station. “Brian Epstein was always straight with us,” he says, by way of explaining his wealth (the late Beatles manager handled the Pacemakers during their mid-Sixties heyday). “We always got our money. I always wanted to invest my money, too, so I was very frugal with it from the beginning.”
Marsden was a deliveryman for British Rail when he formed Gerry and the Pacemakers in 1959 with his older brother, Freddie, on drums. (Freddie now works for British Telecom; pianist Les Maguire is in the navy; and bassist Les Chadwick lives in Australia.) Their first three singles went to Number One in the U.K., and the band starred in its own feature film, Ferry Cross the Mersey, in 1965. After the hits petered out, Marsden disbanded the Pacemakers in 1969 and headed for London’s West End, where he played a handyman in a long-running romantic comedy, Charlie Girl. He also regularly appeared in comedy sketches on television variety shows. “It was always easy for me to make people laugh at a good joke,” he says. In 1973, he left acting and hit the road again with a new set of Pacemakers.
In addition to Yvette, Marsden, 43, has another daughter, Victoria Ann, 6, by his wife of twenty-one years, Pauline. He spends what little free time he has at one of his three houses — in Marbella, Spain, on the Isle of Anglesey and in Chester, England, only twenty miles from Liverpool. He even made a brief return to Number One in England last year, organizing a superstar recording of the old Pacemakers hit “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to benefit victims of the Bradford soccer-stadium fire.
“The main thing,” Marsden says, “is to enjoy what you’re doing. All the pressure crap you hear, people bring it on themselves. I’ll worry the day people stop asking for my autograph.”