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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