Iconic band The Searchers are calling it a day after a touring career of 56 years. Their penultimate show will be at Weymouth Pavilion in March. FRANK ALLEN talks to JOANNA DAVIS about the 60s hitmakers' decision to retire.

The Searchers are one of the world's longest-running bands.

They were part of the Merseybeat movement, along with The Beatles and many other rock groups, and recorded hit singles Sweets for My Sweet and Needles and Pins.

So it's no surprise that Frank Allen has barely a moment spare in a day which involves numerous media interviews and recording an item for BBC's The One show.

"I'm amazed how popular and in demand I am now that I've said we're retiring!" he says.

Frank, 75, tells me he was the catalyst for the decision to split and that his bandmate John McNally, 77, an original founder of The Searchers, wanted to carry on.

He said: "It was me who made the decision. John didn't want to stop. I'd been thinking we should cut down or stop but for me to stop is much easier than cutting down, which is very hard to do because we have people working for us and we need to give them a good living. I did say to John 'carry on or replace me' but I don't think he has the heart to carry on and organise things without me. He may well change his mind but I haven't spoken to him about it lately."

Although it was a sad decision to make, Frank says his mind is focused upon the farewell tour, which will see the group play venues across the country until the end of March.

He said: "I've got used to the idea that it's ending now and now it's a matter of working right through to the end of March. We're normally working every day with just Monday and Tuesday off to recover, which I haven't been doing at the moment because I've been doing a lot of interviews about the end of the Searchers."

However, Frank is still expecting to feel 'a big shock' when it sinks in that it's all over.

He said: "I'd like to think my life will change immediately. It will feel like there's a big void in my life, especially after spending every day on the road in the farewell tour. I'm going to miss it a lot when it's all over and I think it will seem like a big shock.

"I know I'll have more time for socialising with my friends. I'm going to book a trip to New York in May and spend time going to Broadway shows and enjoying the restaurants and I'll also be doing some breaks in Europe and maybe even some charity work. Something to keep me interested! I know that I am one to sit down and put my feet up so I'll have to stop myself from doing too much of that!"

Recently Frank down-sized to a split level penthouse apartment in west London after 'rattling around in a big house'. He obviously loves his new abode - raving abut his 'three bedrooms and two terraces.'

There's no danger of Frank losing touch with his friends in the industry - he still regularly meets Bruce Welch of The Shadows for dinner, regularly sees Tony Hatch - he of the Neighbours and Crossroads theme tune fame - and considers many journalists and writers in the music industry to be friends he'll stay in touch with.

For the farewell show itself at Weymouth Pavilion on Saturday, March 30, The Searchers 'just want everyone to have a good time', Frank says.

"People will be able to enjoy a history of the band in music and through anecdotes. We've been doing a similar format in our shows for the last 20 years. We play all the hits and a few of the B-sides and some of the songs that were never hits. We just want everyone to have a good time."

And Frank is thrilled The Searchers are including Weymouth Pavilion as the penultimate venue on the tour.

He said: "Weymouth Pavilion has been on our itinerary for so many years. It's a theatre we know intimately and we perform there every year. It's a place that takes a number of package tours and we've been there with a number of support acts.

"Weymouth Pavilion is one of those places where you can have a really good connection to the audience."

For a band with so many highlights it's very hard to name one, but I ask Frank that most difficult of questions.

He tells me: "A real highlight was the first time I went to America after I joined the band in 1964. We had seven days of performances in New York at the Fox Theatre in Brooklyn and we were doing seven days and six shows every day. We would start at 10am and finish at 10pm.The list of artists we were playing with was incredible. It included Marvin Gaye, Smoky Robinson, The Temptations and the Ronettes. It's hard to believe all these people were there."

I also ask Frank to make the difficult decision of which song he will miss performing the most.

He said: "It has to be When You Walk In the Room, it's the most iconic song The Searchers have done.

"We always perform it after Needles and Pins because it's a much more powerful song. When You Walk in the Room is actually the first record I did with the band."

And there are a few countries that Frank will really miss performing in.

He said: "My favourite long-haul countries to perform in have been Australia and America. I'm very very fond of Australia and I will spend more time socially there. We used to go to Australia every year and I just loved it there. In terms of Europe I have always loved performing in Denmark, that's one of my favourite places."

And what is Frank's reply when I ask what his biggest achievement is in a career that has seen numerous hits, performances for the Queen and Princess Margaret and strutting his stuff in front of 80,000 people at Wembley Stadium as special guests of Cliff Richard?

Simple. "Surviving," he says.

"Surviving is the greatest achievement. All of us originally thought we'd have about three years in the sunshine and then we'd have to go back to proper jobs. Luckily it didn't work out like that. We were taught how to deal with the audience and the fans and that stood us in good stead. I don't know of too many other bands that did it in the same way as us.

"And when nostalgia concerts became popular we carried on surviving because people still wanted to come and see us."

And no doubt they'll very much want to see The Searchers 'walk into the room' for one last time in Weymouth.

*The Searchers farewell concert, Weymouth Pavilion, Saturday, March 30, 7.30pm. Call the box office for tickets.