Les Maguire, keyboardist and saxophonist with 1960s chart-toppers Gerry and the Pacemakers – obituary

Gery and the Pacemakers in 1960, with (from left) Les Chadwick, Freddie Marsden, Les Maguire and Gerry Marsden
Gery and the Pacemakers in 1960, with (from left) Les Chadwick, Freddie Marsden, Les Maguire and Gerry Marsden - CA/Redferns
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Les Maguire, who has died aged 81, was the last surviving member of Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Merseybeat group, formed by Gerry Marsden in 1959, who rivalled The Beatles during the early Sixties.

A keyboardist and saxophonist, Maguire joined the band in 1961, replacing the group’s original pianist Arthur MacMahon. Along with The Beatles the Pacemakers were regulars at the Cavern Club in Liverpool and the bands travelled to Hamburg together, sharing a flat. On one memorable night in 1961 they combined forces as the Beatmakers for a gig at Litherland Town Hall.

In May 1962 Gerry and the Pacemakers were signed by Brian Epstein, who had signed The Beatles in January the same year, and who secured them a deal with Columbia Records.

The chart-toppers in 1963: Richard Maguire is back left
The chart-toppers in 1963: Richard Maguire is back left - McCabe/Express/Getty Images

After The Beatles had had a moderate success with Love Me Do, their producer, George Martin wanted them to record How Do You Do It?, a Tin Pan Alley song by Mitch Murray. The Beatles recorded it but disliked its chirpiness and persuaded Martin to release their own composition, Please Please Me instead.

Epstein then gave How Do You Do It? to the Pacemakers and the song made it to No 1 in April 1963, several weeks before The Beatles’ first official chart-topper From Me to You (though Please Please Me had already reached No 1 in other UK charts).

The Pacemakers’ next two singles, I Like It and You’ll Never Walk Alone also made it to No 1, making them the first act to top the UK singles chart with their first three releases – a record they held for two decades. Meanwhile You’ll Never Walk Alone, a tear-jerking ballad written by Rodgers and Hammerstein for the musical Carousel, was taken up by supporters of Liverpool FC and went on to become arguably the best-known anthem in football.

Gerry and the Pacemakers followed in The Beatles’ wake as part of the “British invasion” of the United States. The Fab Four first played to screaming fans at the Washington Coliseum on February 11 1964; Gerry and the Pacemakers arrived that October and performed at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Los Angeles on a bill including the Beach Boys, Bo Diddley, James Brown and a new band from London called the Rolling Stones.

They went on to record a string of singalong numbers including It’s Gonna Be Alright, I’m the One, Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying and Ferry Cross the Mersey, which reached No 8 in the charts in 1964. But their time in the spotlight ended with their cover of Bobby Darin’s I’ll Be There, in 1965.

Leslie Maguire was born in Wallasey, Merseyside, on December 27 1941 and began his career playing tenor sax in a Liverpool group called the Vegas Five, before joining the Pacemakers.

After the group broke up, Maguire and fellow band member Les Chadwick bought a garage and in 1970 Maguire briefly fronted Hog Owl, a Mississippi blues band. He then joined the Royal Navy, serving until his retirement, including active service during the Falklands War of 1982.  He teamed up with the Pacemakers for occasional reunion performances and in the late 1990s performed for a number of years with Ian and the Zodiacs.

In 2016 he sold an acetate given to him by Brian Epstein in 1963, consisting of the original recording of The Beatles Till There Was You and Hello Little Girl, a one-off disc with which Epstein secured them a recording deal, setting them on the path to international success. Described as the “Holy Grail” of Beatles memorabilia, it was bought by an anonymous British collector for £77,500, far surpassing the estimated £10,000 price tag. Maguire used the proceeds to help his granddaughter buy a house.

Last year Maguire featured on an episode of Antiques Roadshow hosted in Sefton Park with another rare item, a silver disc presented by the former British music magazine Disc to the Pacemakers after You’ll Never Walk Alone sold a quarter of a million records.

After the deaths of drummer  Freddie Marsden in 2006, Les Chadwick in 2019, and Gerry Marsden in 2021, Maguire was the last surviving member of the 1960s Pacemakers line-up.

Les Maguire was predeceased by his wife, Brigitte, whom he had met while touring in Germany, and by a daughter. He is survived by another daughter and by his partner Irene.

Les Maguire, born December 27 1941, died November 25 2023

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