Monday, 12 December 2011

Turning Back The Hands Of Time

Manifesto October, 2011

It’s 9 am on a Saturday morning and I’m making my regular visit to Hebden Bridge Co-op before the locals breathe all over the crusty loaves. The in-house music system plays ‘September In The Rain’ causing conjecture amongst staff filling shelves as to who it is. Predictably they can offer no more than Amy Winehouse (yawn) – cue blank expressions upon being informed that it was Dinah Washington. “Y’ Know, ‘Teach Me Tonight’, ‘What A Difference A Day Makes’ ”. I might as well have been talking to next door’s cat! Think yourself lucky, very lucky, that you chose to explore a musical genre because most folks simply have no idea….

Turning back the hands of time I would like to pick up on a few points from September’s Manifesto. Something of a senior moment from Simon White, when he explains that Lorraine Chandler’s ‘I Can’t Change’ came out on Black Magic, it was of course ‘What Can I Do’ that backed that curious-but-actually-great cover of ‘Love You Baby’ that isn’t really Lorraine. Even Simon S didn’t want to challenge RCA, it seems, with ‘What Can I Do’ coming out on Giant before the major. Of interest (just) is the fact that myself and Martin Koppel now own the Black Magic label and have done for some time. With Eddie Parker’s ‘Love You Baby’ being generally accepted as the top oldie back in ’75, I’m really surprised no-one tried to track down label owner Jack Ashford at the time choosing instead to record covers (Ian Levine did it with the Exciters of course). They would have sold thousands and thousands I’m sure. Funny, you don’t hear it much these days which is a) a great pity because it is Northern Soul at its best and b) about a million times better than ‘When We Get There’.

Keith Rylatt took a look at Jerry Butler’s Vee Jay years. Amazingly the Chicago maestro has never charted in the UK, even ‘Moody Woman’ didn’t do it, which is a real surprise. And in strictly Northern Soul terms he has never had a real biggie except for ‘Moody’ which entered allnighter infamy via the ‘Move On Up’, “it’s common but it’s great” Mr M’s syndrome. It is one of those Northern Soul quirks that his brother Billy is much more popular with UK rare soul fans. Jerry has a number of modern spins to his UK curriculum vitae and he did his own stab at ‘Right Track’ during the Mercury years, a cut which appeared on his retrospective double CD ‘Iceman’ in 1992. Of course he would be a more than welcome visitor to these shores but in strictly Northern terms he is a bit of a fringe character illustrating almost perfectly the essential perversity of the allnighter scene.

It was interesting to see Soul Sam give us a brief history of his musical origins – and revealing too that even by the time that Northern Soul was emerging as such, Sam was in his late twenties hence his referring to his taste being the same as that of the ‘youths of the day’. Nor did I quite realise that Cleethorpes was actually Sam’s first allnighter gig, although I don’t particularly share his opinion that the Pier avoided ‘many but not all of the pop stompers’. The truth is that the venue missed the main years (’74 and ’78) when these kind of records were in ascendancy. For all that, Sam’s longevity as a rare soul deejay is remarkable especially when, for most of it, he has been on the cutting edge, which takes a lot more hard work than picking up the latest oldie that takes your fancy.

Onto the music per se then, and you would normally look in vain at Garry Cape’s Soulscape label for Northern Soul. Whilst not doubting the overall quality of these releases going-to-a-go-go is not normally their thing and whilst neither the latest Charles Smith or George Soulé retrospectives throw up ‘Too Late’ or ‘We Were Made For Each Other’ both have tracks on them of interest to the more broad-minded 60s dancer. As always we head to the Deep South for Soulscape’s output and most of CHARLES SMITH’S recordings on ‘Ashes To Ashes’ are mournful ballads often with a slight country influence. I have to say however, that the beaty ‘Reach That Mountain’ fuses gospelesque sentiments with a pacy rhythm to great effect and I’ve been unable to stop using the repeat button on this track in my car. The added bonus is that it is a previously unissued record so entirely new to me. Possibly a little ‘downhome’ for some – I love it. The cover of the GEORGE SOULÉ (pronounced ‘Soolay’) CD would hardly pull the uninitiated soul fan towards it with the youthful white artist looking like a refugee from a Hank Williams twanging session: Of course Soulé has credentials a-plenty with Soul fans due the brilliant ‘Get Involved’ Fame 45 although we stay away from those sessions on this particular collection. Most noteworthy here is the first track the original version ‘Cross My Heart’ which had minor spins on the allnighter scene via Tamiko Jones on Metromedia but was recently found to exist on a Muscle Shoals Sound test press and thus exposed to the UK. It really is a much better effort than Tamiko’s and should have been a dancefloor monster – however, these things take years and there is time yet tho’ I get the feeling that there isn’t too much momentum behind it (shame quality like this is hard to find today). Other tracks on the CD include versions (Soulé co-wrote both) of ‘Catch Me, I’m Falling’ and ‘You Can’t Stop A Man In Love’ which are rather disappointing. I must admit Soulé was/is a bona-fide soul man despite his skin colour but I’m bound to say that on a large percentage of the 25 tracks he does sound white, ‘Cross My Heart’ is worth the price of the CD on its own however, and very highly recommended.

Returning briefly to Soul Sam we were pleased to receive him at Anglo American recently whereupon a fan of R&B–based material was spinning some music. I was surprised to hear the ex-teacher refer to one or two of them as rock and roll, which they weren’t, and I personally see a big difference between that music and blues-based early soul. Slim Harpo and Marty Wilde were never any kind of bedmates! All of which means that Mr Barnfather will hardly appreciate a rather interesting 45 to come out of Germany recently. All across continental Europe R&B is as popular as it ever was (perhaps more so) so it is no surprise that Berlin’s Hip City Soul Club has put out a previously unissued Little Willie John acetate as an anniversary 45. Although club owner Marcus Forrest has gone to considerable lengths to legally license the track, the record is still entitled as before by LITTLE WILLIE ‘J’ in order to undermine any controversy. That vocal style is totally recognisable however and an absolute pleasure to welcome (unlike Sam’s Betty Boo cover-up sorry mate!). Not a million miles removed from ‘Fever’ (which is hardly a surprise). I would guess the track to be from ’61 or ’62 placing it firmly in John’s King/Federal era. Oh, and by the way, it is called ‘The Pressure’, don’t expect to find it too easily, Hip City 45s tend to vanish.

Until Simon White pointed it out I must confess to having missed the passing of GENE McDANIELS in July this year. McDaniels followed the tradition of some Big City soul artists in not sounding particularly black much of the time – Jerry Jackson was another example of this syndrome. ‘Walk With A Winner’ finds much of its soulfulness through lyrical sentiment and dramatic production rather than gritty anguish for instance. In some ways I’m not surprised that Frankie Vaughan thought he could take a McDaniels song like ‘Tower of Strength’ and go with it in the UK. Many of McDaniels’ records found a UK release but a later release than ‘Winner’ in the shape of ‘Hang On’ remained confined to US shores and takes an approach more akin to uptempo Northern Soul than the famed beat ballad. Yet again, you would have to know that the artist was black to place it any differently than any number of beaty pop artists on the allnighter scene, but Northern it is and given the amount of fans for the Nomads, Chapter Five, Bobby Paris and many more then ‘Hang On’ stands up. And I like it, as I do ‘Walk With A Winner’. Rest in peace Gene McDaniels.

'Til Next Time

Tim Brown

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Thursday, 13 October 2011

September 2011

Manifesto September, 2011

The all-colour Manifesto really came into its own in July with those vintage Billboard ads courtesy of Rob Moss, I took a look at their archive myself – a veritable treasure trove of the times.

Soul wasn’t thought as any better or long-lived than any other musical format but I wonder how cherished the likes of Ray Conniff or Ferrante and Teicher are today?.....

Keith Rylatt’s item on the Contours made me contemplate how, after 20 years or so of retrospective compact discs, there are still people who collect either vinyl or cd, but not both because the big recent news on that particular group was the recent Kent compact disc ‘Dance With The Contours’. The release features no less than 24 previously unreleased tracks from the ’63/’64 period and the booklet clears up the ever-changing Contours line-up. To be honest most of the material has an ephemeral quality about it and although I like a gritty male vocalist as much as the next soul fan, I find the bellowing manner of lead Billy Gordon to be somewhat grating after a while. One track however, pulls in another strand of soul that Keith has touched upon before in the shape of ‘Do The SeeSaw’. This is the record, unreleased at the time (late 1963), for which producer Andre Williams removed the backing track, only to emerge almost two years later behind Tom and Jerrio as ‘Boo-Ga-Loo’ (ABC) with some success, resulting in a successful legal action for Berry Gordy. It has sufficient vim and verve as to appeal to Northern Soulers (just about the only track on the disc to do that). Keith covered Tom and Jerrio in an earlier Manifesto a few years ago but clearly Paul Winley was not deterred by the legal situation issuing the record again around ’66/’67, and if it’s not the same backing track it’s a very good copy of it, ‘Boo-Ga-Loo’ by THE BLAZERS (Winley). The vocal is either a Tom and Jerrio out-take (but mentions the ‘Cool Jerk’ which is a little late for them) or a faithful reproduction of their style (which wouldn’t be difficult). For sure, mention of “getting stoned” may have limited the record’s ongoing commercial prospects.

As I’ve pointed out before my Outta Sight imprint reissued the Mayfield Singer’s ‘My Baby Changes Like The Weather’ recently, imagine my surprise then to find the song lurking on the B-side of a record I’ve owned for over 30 years! Back in the Thorne/Parkers days of the late 80s the fantastic ‘So Much Better’ by EMMETT GARNER JR. (Maxwell) got spins amongst the new wave of crossover sounds which added a wonderful dimension to the scene. It should be easy to pick up a copy at £25 today (until everyone wakes up to the quality). The flipside is ‘Check Out What You’ve Got’ and it’s the same song as ‘My Baby Changes etc’ done, again brilliantly, but in a slightlier messier and long-winded way. Garner was formerly in the Trends (ABC, Smash) before moving on to manage the Notations. As far as I can see, this is his only solo recording.

Another so-called ‘cheapie’ to surprise, indeed astound me, recently was LENNY DEXTER’S ‘Let’s Do It Again’ on Tenacious. A record that has been knocking around my world for almost as long as I’ve been collecting, I filed it away in my mind as somewhat discoey to be honest. In truth, Dexter has a fantastic warm, rather southern approach to his singer which wouldn’t disappoint a Tommy Tate fan and the record doesn’t exactly shoop-shoop along on hi-hats either – lots of twists and turns in the production. Perhaps all of that isn’t astounding but a Canadian release on Quality really is. I mean, why?

Back in the eighties just as crossover was emerging and ‘indy’ new releases were all the rage, an album emerged by one GENE TOWNSEL on the tiny Dobre label that people seemed to like but I didn’t rate too much. As so often seems to be the case, it turns out Townsel had an earlier career on at least two labels one of which, ‘Mr Boon Tang’, is actually rather good on the Ah-La-Vi label. Probably early seventies this blends in a certain sixties sensibility with a fairly mellow approach over a solid clip-clop beat. Even better is ‘Can’t Stop A Poor Man From Makin Love’ on the flipside, not as instant as ‘Mr Boon Tang’ this has all the qualities that would have made it a total ‘last hour’ classic at the Mecca à la the Vee Gees ‘Talkin’, Ron and Candy ‘Lovely Weekend’, Chuck Stephens ‘Let’s Get Nasty’ and many more.

One of my favourite singers is the great BABY WASHINGTON and she needs little introduction on these pages, although Soul Sam might like to know that she was born in Bamberg (South Carolina that is). Best known for her 1963 opus ‘Leave Me Alone’ on Sue, a variety of other Washington sides have been tried on the Northern Soul scene from time to time. One of the select band of US soul artists to see UK-only release for at least one 45, in the shape of ‘Get A Hold Of Yourself’ on United Artists, I’m confident that Simon White must have spotlighted that one in the past. It’s from her Veep album ‘With You In Mind’; my copy claims to be on the Veep Gospel imprint and Washington’s delivery is so intense that I could see that particular ascription although the album is soul music all the way, if just a little orchestral. Better than ‘Get A Hold Of Yourself’ is her fantastic pacy recording of ‘I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good’ a gem of an album-only recording. The Casino more or less missed Baby Washington but I do remember either Richard or Russ (most likely the former) tipping her brilliant ‘I’m Good Enough For You’ (Cotillion), I’m bound to say that the scene in general has largely missed this one. Washington headed south to record this and the result is a fabulous brassy stomper, if you go for Betty Fikes ‘Prove It To Me’ – then you will love ‘I’m Good Enough For You’ which is even better. Why this wasn’t ever a monster is beyond me, sometimes even after these years the scene still mystifies. My final word on Baby is courtesy of her one and only 45 on Chess and a beat ballad of such incredible power in the shape of ‘Is It Worth It’. In fact I’d take the above two tracks as her best ever – quite a statement. Dusty covered her ‘Breakfast In Bed’ on Cotillion but pleasant enough as she is, the Hampstead lass couldn’t have gone anywhere near ‘Is It Worth It’ and a listen to the two versions of ‘Breakfast’ puts Dusty in her place to be honest.

An issue or two ago Soul Sam mentioned the Tommy Bryant 45 on T-Neck that I’ve been raving over for a while now. His name (Bryant) crops up again on another seven with a little demand behind it these days on the tiny Marlborough, Massachusetts label Cobra. The track is ‘Something On My Mind’ by T&T, who are Tommy and Tijuana apparently, an Ashford and Simpson song found also as a Diana Ross album track. Sadly the male half of the pairing doesn’t appear vocally, leaving Tijuana to do a good job on a skipping jazzy rhythm which will definitely appeal to those who like the lighter end of the soul spectrum. The lady sings well again on a version of ‘Betcha By Golly Wow’ on the reverse. Although officially a city, Marlborough is home to only 36,000 people yet it had at least one record label, illustrating the diversity that the US can come up with. For all Britain’s musical input (which is enormous) and regionality (the Mersey Sound, Manchester, Sheffield etc) the fact remains that 98% of vinyl came out of London where the business of distribution was based.

Soul Sam came up with a fantastic description of a type of soul music in July’s Manifesto referring to ‘80s bassline’, I don’t know whether it was inadvertent or if it is a term in use that I haven’t come across before but it really does sum a genre up. I know they are popular with some but it was never my cup of tea to be honest and when these records started cropping up it became the first sign that I should perhaps start looking backwards. Nor were all 80s records cut in such a style, many of the independent labels particularly southern ones served up records way different from those crunching drumbeats which often had an almost explosive, certainly intrusive, element to them. I probably own a couple of thousand records from the decade so I shouldn’t think of myself as a luddite too strongly. I remember thinking that L.J. Reynolds ‘Loving Man’ album in 1984 (Mercury) was pretty good despite the then-modern techniques, but a quick listen now reveals that time has relegated it from my affections, and I still say that Luther Vandross and Anita Baker have a lot to answer for in taking vocal mannerisms away from the church and through a jazz sequence that persists throughout ‘R&B’ today (in fact together with rap it is the basis of it). Actually some of the records that eschewed the crashing percussions and synthesizers and sang without the Vandross melisma retaining just a bassline, can be pretty good. Twelves in this region of my collection would include Jerry Warren ‘I Really Love You’ (Latosia) M.J. Wade ‘I’m Gonna Ball Baby’ (Helva) Jesse Mitchell ‘Time Is The Only Healer’ (JDM) Ford & Co ‘Be Who You Are’ (Lasso, actually 1991, wow!) and Roy Lee Johnson ‘All Night’ (Gold Thumb). Enjoyed going through those but who am I fooling? They are all over twenty years old. Modern eh? Here’s to 70s, and to 80s bassline, new definitions at last.

'Til Next Time

Tim Brown

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Saturday, 27 August 2011

August 2011

Manifesto column August, 2011

New arrangements and deadlines at Manifesto mean that I have to make comment on previous editions from the one before last – and perhaps I’m losing my mojo because I can’t find much to carp about at all. One or two points worthy of deliberation cropped up in the June issue however…. 

Having published and distributed no less than seven books of various kinds, I could tell Keith Rylatt a thing or two about the book business. This isn’t the time or the place to deliver a sermon on turning the printed word into pounds, shillings and pence, but I do know that every year sees hundreds, if not thousands, of highly commendable specialist books printed (and presumably a number of poor ones as well). In almost every instance the author or publisher is, rightly or wrongly, bursting with pride at his or her achievement and can see little beyond the assumption that many people will want to own it (mostly, some books are so specialist that even the most blinkered writer could not assume good sales). The problem is that, as far as the book distribution trade is concerned, this situation has been seen countless times before and unless you are writing about wine, Katie Price or the Beatles then your book about soul or zoos or trams or ….whatever is just one of many markets they don’t really comprehend or want to. This leaves the specialist going directly to a market they know, or hope they know. Even then, in an internet age where many do not need paper or in a recession where money is tight, there are some potential customers who consider £20 or more for a book to be an unnecessary expense. That Detroit doesn’t really care about its own musical heritage doesn’t surprise me, in some ways the very essence of the UK rare soul scene was conceived amongst dusty, not-so-old 45s that had been rejected and left, unloved, on shelves and boxes. Perhaps that is the reason why Americans considered that ‘Groovesville USA’ should be re-written for their consumption – in short they don’t really get it and never have.

Richard Searling’s ‘Top 50 of The 1980s’ came out of nowhere just idling away on page 6 in June’s Manifesto. Whilst not disagreeing that there are a half century of solid soul winners in the Hotspur’s choice, I was surprised to see a definite lack of rarer records and a fair dismissal of the 80s trend for so-called ‘indies’, the small label sevens that became rather a buoyant collector’s scene at one time providing an important dimension for the re-launch of the modern scene in the later part of the decade (together with crossover). My own personal choice would have turned to more southern-orientated records I’m sure and whilst there isn’t the space (or time to be honest) to go into a top 50 of my own now (perhaps later) I would have gone for Frankie Saunders ‘Blues Time in Birmingham’ (Sho Me), Sam Dees ‘After All’ (Pen Pad 12”), Carl Sims ‘Seventeen Days of Loving’ (Edge), Willie Johnson ‘What I’m Going To Do (Without Your Love)’ (Savannah Int), Otis Clay ‘The Only Way Is Up’ (Echo), David Sea ‘Angel’ (Hy-Tyde), Z.Z. Hill ‘Cheating In The Next Room’ (Malaco) and on and on and on. Viva la difference.

I recently picked up a copy of Adam’s Apples ‘Don’t Take It Out On This World’ on Canadian Brunswick. A rare record on US label this must have sold to one man and his dog north of the border. A surprising number of Northern Soul items gained a Canadian release, many on labels such as Apex or Reo and an odd one or two are even different takes such as Helen Troy on Kapp or the reissue of R. Dean Taylor’s ‘Let’s Go Somewhere’ on Tamla Motown. Just like the UK, Canada had its own native soul recording too, perhaps not as profligate as this country (Detroit, for instance, is only a five hour drive from Toronto) and sometimes utilizing American artists in any case. Given that my long-time associate Martin Koppel has been permanently based in Canada for almost 40 years many releases have come our way – perhaps even more surprising are those that haven’t and I’ll start a little look at a few Canadian releases with one of these, and probably the most legendary of them all.

Pat Hervey is a white Canadian artist (still alive to this day) often likened to Brenda Lee but who occasionally veered towards black music (apparently she recorded a version of Mitty Collier’s ‘Pain’ that I’ve yet to hear). By the later 60s, she was signed to Stan Klees’ Red Leaf label (which has a Northern sound by the Charmaines on it). Nothing came of her time with the label and this Toronto artist moved to Vancouver in 1969. Before doing this, she did a moonlight session as part of a one-off girl group THE TIARAS with a release on Op-Art which sank out of sight immediately. That Hervey was signed to another label hardly helped matters, rather like Dennis Edwards on International Soulville I suppose. And that was that until my one-time apprentice Andy Dyson turned a copy of the Op-Art single up about 8 or 9 years ago, duly reporting to my office with said vinyl for sale. The record was entitled ‘Surprise’ and was coupled with ‘Foolish Girl’. To be honest on the day the tracks seemed a little lightweight and I refused the offer of the disc. I thought little more about it and didn’t realise that, months later, Butch’s ‘Belita Woods’ cover-up and ‘Surprise’ cover-up (by whom I can’t remember, probably the ‘Del Larks’ knowing him) were the coupling I was previously offered. Since that time brother Dyson came up 4 more copies – all from the same source and as it happened, a source known to Martin Koppel. No more copies have been located and the record’s Canadian origins will surely ensure that it will remain very rare indeed.

The oddest episode in Canadian Soul must surely be the Right On! label. Utilising the exact artwork of Dave Godin’s UK label, the Canadian imprint appears to plagiarise its British counterpart; for instance there is a release by AC/DC Soulful Symphony (Godin was a well-known gay person) also one by the Ad Libs (‘The Boy From New York City’ was an all-time Godin favourite) but it isn’t the Ad Libs!

Another Godin rave was Dolly Gilmore’s ‘Sweet Sweet Baby’ on the Orlando label Dove – and what do we have on Canadian Right On! But Ms Dolly Gilmore’s ‘Sweet Sweet Man’, like the Ad Libs with no apparent connection to the bona-fide original artist. Sammy Gaha’s ‘Thank You Thank You’ is perhaps the most famous record on the label reaching £300 or so in price although this is a French recording issued first on Gaha’s own promo and then in a picture sleeve on Barclay revealing Gaha to be just a little white. In addition there is a disco/funk record by Heem and a rumour that Rozaa and Wine’s ‘Disco Boogie Woman’ which did come out on Godin’s UK Right On! label came out on this Canadian imprint as well. If true, the last of these is most surprising because when I asked Godin, a few years before his 2004 death, about Canadian Right On! he claimed absolutely no knowledge of it at all. When one considers all of the above, it has to be one of the strangest circumstances I’ve ever encountered in music. And to round it all off, Chris Bartley’s ‘I See Your Name’, one of UK Right On’s better releases, was issued in Canada on the Extra label (probably promo only) again, not helped by a misprinted label stating him to be Christ Bartley, for this reason if no other it is a rare 45.

Another rarity on Canadian label-only is from the southern soul artist Lotsa Poppa who cut rather a Solomon Burke figure in his heyday and was named by Sam Cooke and Dinah Washington (real name Julius High Jr, he recorded once as Little Julius on Diamond). His versions of ‘Tennessee Waltz’ and ‘She Ain’t Gonna Do Right’ recorded whilst touring Canada saw a limited promo run (like Sammy Gaha in France not on a named label) before occupying one side of a very rare picture sleeved E.P. on the Lotta Soul imprint. Possibly of more interest to Northern Soul fans is the other side which finds Montreal white soul band The Persuaders covering Bobby Bland’s ‘With These Hands’ in an acceptable manner but one which could never compete with the great man himself.

Just like the UK, Canada had a tradition of West Indian immigrants from the mid-fifties onwards and ultimately a tiny handful of these were to record soul music. Prime amongst these must be The Mighty Pope. His unusual name actually came from a piece of land his father owned in Jamaica that was thought to be shaped like the Vatican! Pope’s actual name is Earle Heedram, at the age of 20 (1965) he emigrated to Toronto and soon found himself performing R&B/Soul as lead singer of the Shieks. Other vocalists in The Shieks included Jackie Opel and one Lynval ‘Eddie’ Spencer (yes, the ‘If This Is Love’ guy on Arc, certainly one of the greatest Canadian-only soul 45s). Pope’s next move was to replace transvestite singer Jackie Shane in Frank Motley’s band The Hitch-Hiker’s as lead vocalist. Two rare albums for the Paragon label in 1969 and 1970 provide a pleasing mix of covers and original numbers. A one-off release on the Heart label ‘Mr Fortune’ was the Hitch-Hikers swansong. Eventually The Mighty Pope became a solo artist signed to RCA Canada and an eponymously titled album in 1977. The year before saw Pope’s version of Jesse James’ ‘If You Want A Love Affair’ released and being not-too-dissimilar to the original is, not surprisingly, a UK in-demander. I suppose I would take Jesse James but only marginally as Pope does a fine job on vocals.

The Canadian-only theme is one I will return to at some other point but I’ll leave with a brief oddity in the shape of ‘True Patron Of The Arts’ by The Queen City Show Band. In recent years this Ramsey Lewisish instrumental has seen a little demand, it was released on Pow! Records in the US and Page One Records in the UK where the band itself was credited as Patron Of The Arts. The Canadian version however, on Barry, is a vocal to the track – a bit blue-eyed for me but indicative of the kind of strange quirk that records can throw up all around the world.

‘Til Next Time

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Tuesday, 26 July 2011

July 2011

Manifesto column July, 2011

Like many minority hobbies, I like to think that we are all basically on the same side in pursuing our interests – perhaps a naïve stance given conflicting interests, holier-than-thou moral stances and all-round blackguarding but nonetheless I assume we all want soul music to get the recognition it deserves.  I’ve never been shy in displaying my admiration for ‘In The Basement’ magazine and I was sorry to find out recently that it is to discontinue early next year. 

‘In The Basement’ is published in Brighton by one David Cole, the orientation is towards Deep and Southern styles, indeed I can see that Northern Soul is frequently a mystery to its Editor.  In the full scheme of things, ‘Northern’ rarely exists in its own right – a good example is the current edition of ‘Basement’ where a lengthy letter from singer Lamar Thomas bemoans British categorisation of black music genres – so essential background information or interviews often come from artists who are embraced only momentarily by UK factions.  I’ve written magazines, newsletters, books and articles such as this one for many years now so I can tell that the amount of work going into each ‘Basement’ is very considerable.  Editor Cole will maintain an internet presence but I can’t get excited about that I’m afraid – less of a hollow victory than a rock solid defeat.  Books, magazines and other paper publications have a character and a convenience that the laptop or Kindle can never approach (and I say that as the first person ever to have a Northern Soul book available through the latter medium).  There are advantages – printed news can never compete with the internet in terms of speed for instance but overall the demise of publications at the hands of cyberspace is not welcome at all.  Perhaps more than any other vehicle ‘In The Basement’ keeps me up-to-date on the ever-increasing rate at which soul singers from the golden era shed their mortal coil. 

Going back as far as January (the 3rd, to be accurate), we see that LARRY HANCOCK of S.O.U.L. and Truth died in his hometown of Cleveland.  It may seem at first that Hancock was a name unknown to UK rare soul aficionados but he had a quite considerable contribution firstly as the falsetto lead singer on three releases by the Intertains on Uptown (actually one release came out with different flipsides) all of which are of interest to Northern Soulers and came out between 1965 and 1966.  Around the same time Hancock co-wrote ‘Working On Your Case’ for the O’Jays with one-time group member Bobby Massey as one side of their only release on Minit Records.  In ’71 he joined S.O.U.L., an acronym for Sounds Of Unity and Love with records such as ‘This Time Around’ and ‘The Joneses’ finding recent attention in the UK.  After S.O.U.L. broke up, Hancock joined the three remaining members of the Imperial Wonders to form Truth whose ‘Coming Home’ on Devaki was in-demand a few years ago.  They also recorded for Nickel Shoe and S.O.C. with the incredible ballad ‘Come Back Home’ being not only outstanding but at seven minutes, quite the longest 45 single I’ve ever come across!  He later performed in one of the many versions of the Platters.

At the much-missed Blues Estafette in Utrecht, Holland, I was fortunate enough to see CLAY HAMMOND perform in November 2000.  On February 4th this year, aged 74, Hammond died in Houston, Texas.  It would be almost unfair to accuse Hammond of having a Sam Cooke-ish delivery because he started singing in the Mighty Clouds of Joy as long ago as 1956.  His solo career started on Tag Records in 1959 and he recorded music up until 2003.  Whilst never enjoying a so-called ‘classic’ on the Northern Soul scene, several of his recordings on Kent plus ‘Dance Little Girl’ (Duo Disc, Keymen) do fit the genre and have been played from time to time.  Also fitting the type but seemingly ignored is 1964’s ‘We Gotta Get Married’ on Liberty, although Sam Cooke is an appropriate finger to point at this release, the 45 also reminds this writer of various Impressions midtempo discs of the time, whilst the wailing fade-out would perhaps be emotionally further than either of the above two legendary acts would have committed to vinyl then. 

Away from the grim reaper we can turn our mind to current releases and, at the risk of being accused of favouritism, the Outta Sight label.  The month of May saw us turning our attention to Curtis Mayfield-related Northern Soul with a compact disc full of suchlike entitled ‘Curtis Mayfield’s Windy City Winners’ with material from Mayfield, Curtom and Thomas labels plus three 45s.  MARVIN SMITH’S ‘Who Will Do Your Running Now’ has not been reissued before, whilst owners of Sherry Gibbs ‘Crazy’ on T.N.T. might be surprised to find out that this is actually the FASCINATIONS – we are happy to offer the true identity of the unissued-at-the-time stormer backed with the evergreen ‘Girls Are Out To Get You’ – and finally a first ever release of the MAYFIELD SINGERS ‘My Baby Changes Like The Weather’.  One interesting element came out of the whole project in that we would have liked (despite its over-exposure in many ways) to include ‘Move On Up’ but due to licensing difficulties, could not do so.  It wasn’t that fact that was surprising so much as the fact that ‘Move On Up’ is a complete and utter US non-hit!  In fact on the Curtom label I have only EVER found demo copies.  As weird as this may sound, could it be that it didn’t actually ever get a commercial release and that ‘Move On Up’ is a UK-generated phenomenon?  It may be so – let me know if you have a non-promo copy on Curtom. 

Almost an avalanche of products on compact disc from Kent lately amongst which are some very interesting previously-unissued tracks.  Since the Satintones compilation last year, Kent have been putting out Motown material on artists who haven’t warranted specific CD projects before and recently THE MONITORS and MARV JOHNSON have seen such projects.  It says much for the sheer quantum of recordings in Motown’s vaults that Kent have been able to offer previously-unreleased tracks of some quality.  Taking the Johnson release first, the disc covers the artist’s second stint at the label between 1964 and 1971 and the release (entitled ‘I’ll Pick A Rose For My Rose’ after his UK hit) finds a gem in ‘There Goes A Lonely Man’.  We are informed that the track has been around on acetate for years but haven’t come across it before and I’m sure that it wouldn’t have been in such pristine sound quality.  From ’64 and therefore able to feature the Temptations on backing vocals (after ‘My Girl’ they were too important for such day-to-day tasks) ‘There Goes A Lonely Man’ is a snappy midtempo dancer sounding two years ahead of its time.  Three other ‘new’ tracks are included but don’t reach the altitude of ‘There Goes’.  In listening to his ‘I’ll Pick A Rose’ album for the first time in many years (decades?) I’m surprised that ‘Sleep Little One’ and ‘So Glad You Chose Me’ weren’t more popular album-only spins on the scene.  Incidentally, I’m sure I’ve seen (even owned) ‘Steep’ on a foreign Tamla Motown 45 in the past. 

The Monitors have a similar UK appreciation slant to Marv Johnson so ‘Say You’ – The Motown Anthology 1963-1968 will be welcome here.  No less than a dozen previously-unissued tracks make the release essential.  Another take of ‘Crying In The Night’ will prick a few ears up, ‘My Love Grows Stronger’ could easily be played but ‘Show Me You Can Dance’ takes the N. Soul honours for me with its cavernous backbeat and an increasingly impassioned lead vocal from Richard Street which really carries the track.  Hopefully this track can overcome the egos of those deejays who want to play only that which is exclusive rather than that which is ‘new’ (in retro terms).

More Motown material crops up on a first–ever PATRICE HOLLOWAY compilation which combines the Capitol and Motown material of Brenda’s sister over 25 tracks.  Of course Patrice is a Northern Soul legend for at least 4 of her Capitol sides (sadly no previously unissed from this particular source) but she is hardly regarded as a Motown artist despite one ultra-rare 45 for V.I.P. It is therefore surprising to see and hear 10 unissued masters from the Gordy Empire, I’m forced to relate, that from a pure soul perspective at least, they are mostly unsatisfying BUT there is one gem and I’m amazed to see that the sleevenotes completely overlook the fabulous ‘Love Walked Right In’.  On a scene that has taken a turn for the uptempo in recent years, a just-above beat ballad atmospheric opus may not be right for turntable action however, we must put that aspect aside and hail a quite brilliant track.  A few years ago (1990!) material from Marvin Gaye and Oma Heard (mis-credited as Oma Page) came to light including the incredible ‘Is It A Dream’ sounding light years distant from a 1964 recording, ‘Love Walked Right In’ shares the same moody, tensile atmosphere and I’d bet this is from the same session.  Why the sleevenotes virtually ignore it is beyond me. 

The last Kent release I’d like to mention goes some way away from Motown and heads for Florence, Alabama and no less than 48 tracks from Southern Soul songthrush CANDI STATON.  Rather like Loleatta Holloway, Staton’s career can be divided into disco and pre-disco eras with true soul fans mostly going for the latter.  Compiler Dean Rudland suggests that the tremendous previously unissued ‘One More Hurt’ from 1973 might have pre-empted Staton’s ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ dancefloor success and whilst that sentiment is somewhat naïve (or was merely filling paper) the fact remains that this is a foot-tapper of the highest order with those bittersweet vocals well in control and the Muscle Shoals production sweetened with strings making it a ‘must’ for certain modern rooms.  I say ‘certain’ because there are at least four factions at work modern-wise and I don’t think ‘One More Hurt’ counts as a ‘flava’. If your particular brand of Northern or Modern doesn’t feature this track then it’s your loss I can assure you.

Just about space and time to squeeze in a couple of old 45s in then, and this month’s ‘surprise from my shelves’ sounds unlikely but is well worth paying attention to.  Frank Guida’s S.P.Q.R. and Legrand stable keeps coming up with the odd thing (I can’t get my head around that rockin’ instrumental ‘Back Slop‘!) although many err towards the older sound!  One might think that a disc entitled ‘Church Street Sally’ would be quirky to say the least, indeed it is, but in a take-no-prisoners stomping style that should become a total monster.  The gritty, uncompromising singer is JIMMY MOORE who made a handful of singles around Norfolk, Virginia and, I would think, is un-connected to others of the same name such as the guy in Moses and Joshua Dillard.  This has the saxophone, the breaks, the grits but what do I know when ex-chart singles such as ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ can pack dancefloors?

‘Til Next Time

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