Bob Evans & The Five Shillings, who became The Vegas Five, who became The Undertakers, were from Wallasey, near Liverpool and the original line-up of the Undertakers in 1961 was Jimmy McManus (vocals), Dave Cooper (bass), Bob Evans (drums), Chris Huston (lead guitar), Geoff Nugent (guitar, vocals) and Brian Jones (sax, vocals). In late 1961, Bugs Pemberton took over from Bob Evans: early in 1962, Jackie Lomax replaced Dave Cooper.
JACKIE LOMAX says '…I was playing rhythm guitar in Dee & The Dynamites, doing pop stuff. Our drummer, Bugs Pemberton, left to join the Undertakers, and he told them, "If you're looking for another bass player, why don't you use this guy, Jack?" They said, "Well, does he play bass?" "No, but I'm sure he can!" So I got dragged into this scene where I got handed the bass, because the other bassist didn't pay for it, and I could make the payments. The other singer was this crazy Irishman Jimmy McManus who drank too much and picked fights with the crowd, so we eventually kicked him out, and he picked fights with us! There were two other singers in the band, guitarist Geoff Nugent and sax player Brian Jones, but neither were lead vocalists. I fitted in right as the lead, that was just the way it was. The falsetto was the thing to do at the time, the way to do it…'
Their repertoire covered soul (Mary Wells, the Isley Brothers, the Impressions, Solomon Burke), R & B (Rosco Gordon, James Brown) and rock 'n' roll (Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Fats Domino) but their tour de force was (Do The) Mashed Potatoes, an obscure dance stomp done originally by Nat Kendrick & the Swans. By June 1962 the Undertakers had settled on their most stable line-up - Chris Huston (lead guitar), Geoff Nugent (guitar, vocals), Brian Jones (sax, vocals), Bugs Pemberton (drums) and Jackie Lomax (bass, lead vocals) - and were considered the hard rockers of Merseybeat, with a stage act which was second to none.
BRIAN JONES says '… A lot of groups used to drive around the city in big flashy cars - but we used to invest our money in equipment... we had the best in Liverpool. In fact, we were the first group in the country to have an all-Gibson guitar line-up, and the first with a 100 watt p.a. As well as our own gigs, we often used to back Beryl Marsden and also the Chants (a black vocal group), who used to do lots of Coasters songs. The Beatles used to back them too; we were the two groups who knew the most Coasters songs... but we had a sax, so we could sound more like the records…'
July 1962 took them to Hamburg for the first of five visits but there followed a string of misjudgements and bad luck that probably cost them a more prominent place in 60s pop music. Firstly, they rejected Brian Epstein's offer to manage them in favour of Ralph Webster, whose connections with local venues guaranteed them constant live work. Then, in early 1963, they signed to Pye Records and placed their recording future in the hands of Tony Hatch, one of the label's leading A&R men. It might have been the most lucrative record deal on offer but neither Hatch nor Pye seemed to appreciate the Undertakers' strengths and proceeded to make decisions which threw away the chance of fulfilling the potential of their live act. In spite of the fact that (Do The) Mashed Potatoes was the group's and the fans' favourite track, it was relegated to the B-side of their first single Everybody Loves A Lover and the record failed to sell. The Undertakers then wanted to issue Money as their second release, but Pye insisted on What About Us? which also failed to chart. They were finally allowed to chose their third single and Just A Little Bit became their only hit when it reached no. 49 in the British charts. Their fourth and final single for Pye, If You Don't Come Back (coupled with the stronger Think), was produced in insufficient quantities due to the annual holidays of Pye's pressing plant and failure was once again assured. For that record, Pye had insisted that they shorten their name to the less offensive Takers, which proved to be the final straw for the group, and in 1965 they decided to try their luck in the USA. Geoff Nugent stayed at home, but the rest flew to the US on 14 August 1964.
JACKIE LOMAX says '… our guitarist, Chris Huston, answered an ad in a magazine, and coincidentally so did Pete Best. The promoter was Bob Harvey, whose idea was, he'd get Pete Best over there, promote him as the ex-Beatle suing for $8 million, and make a fortune. He didn't care about us. He put us up in a sleazy motel for a couple of weeks, and then we ended up sleeping in a recording studio, fighting for the desk to get away from the cockroaches! We did a lot of sessions there (as hired hands), but I don't remember who most of them were for. There was no plan for an album, it was us just looking for something to do - why not record all those tunes that we liked by the Miracles, Shirelles etc, that were part of the Liverpool scene. Eventually Harvey abandoned us after a gig in Ontario, Canada, saying "I've got no more money, you're on your own". I think the Undertakers really split up when Brian went home that Christmas of '65. He was sick with bronchitis and was missing his mum…'
Before they split up though, they released one single in America on the Black Watch label, I Fell In Love / Throw Your Love Away Girl, which featured, as a B-side, the first appearance of a Jackie Lomax composition. The rest of the recordings would have to wait thirty years to see the light of day.