Friday, 5 April 2013

Let's Talk About Soul

Manifesto April, 2013

Summertime and the living is easy… not around these parts unfortunately with at least two floods!  Now as I write this article cloaked in stygian darkness and as rusty-brown leaves swirl around the windows, I am forced to contemplate the long hard winter.  Still, the Vibrations are on the way at the end of it all.  With that pleasant thought in mind – let’s talk about soul…

The BBC gave me a call recently upon the sad news that Frank Wilson had shed his mortal coil – as the only known owner of an original copy of his famous record it seems that I’m entwined in the legend that is the story of ‘Do I Love You’.  I was asked if I ever played the original 45, to which I replied that with various reissues of the said track I hardly needed to do that – and what is more I’m ever-so-slightly bored with the record anyway!  Incidentally is ‘Do I Love You’ the only case of a credible Northern Soul 45 being permissible for a deejay to play on the reissue?  Good job really because I’m not behind the decks at the moment and the other copy is in ‘Humberside’ (according to some sources).

Over the many years that I’ve been a record dealer I’ve seen a number of people enter the fray and fail to make it as an ongoing concern.  In the late eighties we had Labeat Records – a short-lived enterprise out of the East Midlands but one which managed to shape the future auctioning of Northern Soul records (a now regular circumstance).  A few years later one Pete Lowrie of Carlisle made something of a splash courtesy of scouring Detroit – but it didn’t last.  Both of the above, and others, had the lifespan of an antechinus but another has just retired after 30 years or so of purveying rare vinyl.  Based in Wolverhampton, Richard Domar was a controversial figure once voted (in a manner) ‘worst record dealer’ by a soul website!  Nonetheless Richard offered many interesting singles in his time – my copy of Ray Agee on Soultown came from him and I ‘discovered’ ‘Love’s Stormy Weather’ on his shelves filed as a poor cover of ‘Soul Man’ (the other side).  He also found ‘the box’ of Boss Four’s ‘Walkin By’ on Rim, tho’ had long since sold out of copies.  It might also be noted that he produced 7 issues of a fanzine ‘The Owl’s Effort’ in the late eighties.  They make interesting reading, coming from an era that is dismissed by many as ‘doldrums’ but which was actually very vibrant in many ways.  Domar was the victim of his own kind of brusque honesty as a telephone voice, but I got on well with him and wish him well in his record-less future.

In the search for CD-only tracks, recent months see Ace/Kent dominate this particular scenario – but not before comment on a release of their’s with no previously unissued tracks at all in the shape of ‘King Northern Soul Volume 3’.  The release takes advantage of the ever-widening spectrum of Northern Soul to produce a 24 track compilation which even the label itself (Kent) had doubted could occur after the first duo of volumes over 11 years ago.  The result will surely shock the vast majority for whom Northern Soul means ‘Do I Love You’ or ‘Get It Baby’ or, well, records like them that have traditionally defined the genre. One instrumental huge in 1975 (not ‛76 please Ady) in the shape of ‘Thunder’ (curiously depicted by the reissue) is about the only memory-jerker, to which we can add the fabulous Stafford spin ‘House of Broken Hearts’ by Hal Hardy and a bit of current demand for Charles Spurling’s  ‘That’s My Zone (He’s Pickin’ On).  The rest, and fine mid to uptempo soul they frequently are, stretch any definition of Northern Soul almost to breaking point.  Unusually for Kent (and Ady Croasdell) the sleevenotes are weak and error-strewn making for a very frustrating CD compilation overall.  I reviewed one of the first King Northern Soul albums at the time as ‘starting like the Champions League and ending like the Carling Cup’ – well the latter is now the Capitol One Cup, and 7-5 and 5-4 results apart is still not the most enthralling of football competitions; using that same old analogy I could perhaps say that at best this CD is the first two rounds of the old League Cup before the big boys come in.

Elsewhere amongst the Ace/Kent compilations the southern states offer up at least one track off George Jackson’s ‘Let The Best Man Win’ CD subtitled ‘The Fame Recordings Volume 2’, in the shape of the outrageous pounder ‘It’s Not Safe To Mess On Me’.  I’m tempted to say one or two other tracks from this comp would cause a stir if they were on tiny, obscure labels – and ‘It’s Not Safe’ would probably be worth a small fortune.  ‘We’re The Soul Girls!’ visits the output of Jeanne and the Darlings plus the Charmels from Volt Records.  The first of these two girl groups offer the fantastic gospelesque midpacer ‘Changes’ which has seen release on CD before in the nineties, ‘I’m In Love With You’is possibly too mellow for Northern Soulers but is a rather wonderful just-below-midpacer.  The Charmels have no less than 7 unreleased-at-the-time tracks on this CD and both ‘Baby Hurry’ and ‘Oo-oh A-a-ah’ would not disappoint fans of Memphis stompers such as ‘Keep My Woman Home’ or ‘Changes’.  Seventies fans could do a lot worse than Darrow Fletcher ‘Crossover Records – 1975-79 L.A. Soul Sessions’ (Kent) even if nothing actually touches the released 45 ‘This Time (I’ll Be The Fool)’, tho even that one is the previously unreleased ‘album’ cut on the CD.  Many of our heroes now plough undistinguished furrows – in the case of Darrow Fletcher he is now a painter and decorator – so all credit to Kent for putting him in the spotlight after all these years. Not all is Kent on small shiny disc however, and Outta Sight’s compilation ‘Crossover To Modern Soul’ sees Deniece Chandlers ‘I’m Not Like The Others’ see the light of day for the first time.  This is a version, probably the original, of the Little Jimmy Gandy song on Roulette that had crossover popularity at one time.  Chandler was to metamorphose into Deniece Williams of course.  Also of note is the launching of Point of Views’ ‘I’m Superman’ (Instant) as a seventies in-demander which seems to be very rare.  Available at the moment is a double CD of Mary Wells’ 20th Century Fox (Soul Music Records) material which includes her two albums for the label, one of which, ‘Love Songs To The Beatles’ is quite awful, not due to the songs (which are classics of the pop genre) but the quasi-M.O.R. manner in which they are produced.  There are 4 tracks on the CD which didn’t make it to vinyl back in the day (mid-sixties) ‘I’m Learnin’ is up there with other Mary Wells post-Motown dancers on not only 20th Century but Atco and Reprise too.  Actually these tracks came out previously on CD in 1996 on John Abbey’s Ichiban imprint but that release is very difficult to find now…. So here’s your chance.

Onto vinyl and another interesting previously unissued cut that has its 45 is ‘Psychedelic Soul Part 3’ issued by Outta Sight on a Thomas lookalike.  In some ways it is rather more of a curiosity with improvising in less-than-serious style over the backing track, makes a refreshing change although my mum doesn’t like it much (she goes for Part 1 having been subjected to it so much in the middle seventies – quite true!).  Had an order recently from a dyed-in-the-wool Northern fan for a clutch of JAMES BROWN singles, it was bound to happen really with at least a part of the current scene going rather funky.  Amongst them was ‘Sexy,Sexy,Sexy’ on Polydor – a track that caused me to remember more from the middle seventies and the Barker boys from Todmorden who put me onto the above when the Mecca/Cleethorpes had started to play Black Nasty, East Coast Connection etc.  At that time the disc in question was not rare enough to be played but I loved its remorseless rhythm.  And it shares more or less the same backing track as the great ‘Money Won’t Change You’ (King) from 1966 as well.

Far away from the hit status that James Brown enjoyed we move on to L.A.’s Flodavieur label and a 1964 release from the grammatically challenged INCONQUERABLES.  This label first came to the notice of the UK’s rare soul aficionados via The Antellects ‘Love Slave’ in the nineties.  Often held up as the 8th wonder of the world, I always thought it to be somewhat dull and actually I prefer ‘For Your Love’ by the Inconquerables which is the release before it.  One thing that could be said in favour of the Antellects is that it sounds rather ahead of its time by a couple of years at least, whilst the Inconquerables is firmly of a 1964 vintage that saw doo-wop elements firmly incorporated into the new wave of soul music.  In actual fact these doo-wop influences impart a warmth to the record that Dell’s recordings on Argo and Vee Jay at, or before, this time.  Coming in at around 70mph ‘For Your Love’ has enough about it to encourage any dancefloor but I particularly appreciate the record when the lead singer injects urgency and passion into his pleas as the song reaches the finishing line.  Those who are into impassioned doo-wop ballads reaching out for the soul era really shouldn’t miss the flip ‘Wait For Me’ which in essence is a Deep Soul record with doo-wop overtones.  Incidentally, as if reputedly issued on yellow vinyl in addition to the more usual black.

A few issues ago, I reviewed the Kent Contours CD which included the infamous track ‘Do The See Saw’ – a previously unissued cut which escaped Motown’s vaults to emerge as the backing track to Tom & Jerrio’s ‘Boo-Ga-Loo’ (ABC) which was a big hit in 1965, resulting in a successful lawsuit from Gordy’s company. Well, I can now inform Ace/Kent that ‘Boo-Ga-Loo’ wasn’t the only occasion on which the track was used.  Word has it that Andre Williams was allegedly responsible for returning to Chicago with certain ‘prizes’ from the Motown studio (hence ‘Boo-Ga-Loo’) and the band track to ‘Do The See Saw’ also ended up on the tiny Soulville label (nothing to do with Philly’s label of the same name) and MAURICE JACKSON’S ‘ It’s To (Sic) Late Baby’.  Jackson was eventually to join the Independents but additionally had a few obscure solo releases on labels such as Plum and Parral with ‘Lucky Fellow’ on Candle Light achieving quite a demand amongst crossover fans and the old rare groove crowd.  In all fairness ‘It’s To Late Baby’ is more of interest for the circumstances surrounding it than the quality on offer but it is another piece of the gradually emerging jigsaw of our music.

Far from the two obscure Los Angeles and Chicago circumstances above is London, England and the Island logo (which actually started in 1959 in Jamaica hence the name).  Proving that even our own nation has not yielded up all of its sixties treasures is LLANS THELWELL and ‘Lonely Night’ (Island 262).  Actually it isn’t Thelwell that we fixate upon here but a very accomplished West Indian singer by the unlikely name of Busty Brown (don’t Google it, you will only get in deep waters!), if you look around you will find a number of excellently sung reggae/ska numbers putting him up there with the best of the genre such as Jackie Opel or Phillip and James.  Thelwell reveals his true personata on the reverse side in the shape of ‘Choo Choo Ska’ which is a decent example of that kind of thing I suppose. Much more heavyweight is ‘Lonely Night’ which hits a somewhat between midtempo and a ballad over which Brown delivers in a style not unlike America’s Little Buster (for a convenient comparison).  True, there is the cavernous slightly ‘tinny’ sound of a West Indian band (Thelwell and his Celestials) but I think that this only adds to the charm of a great soul record sitting at the very top of those from such a background.  From 1966 this has to be a tough one to find and as it isn’t in the only UK price guide to Northern Soul, I would have to place it at least at a £100.

Finally, a last minute addendum due to an interesting new CD from Kent ‘Kent 30, Best Of Kent Northern’ (isn’t that missing “the”?). Basically Adey Croasdell celebrates the 30th anniversary of Kent Records with a selection of 30 tracks representing the afore-mentioned lifespan of the famous label. There are quite a few alternate takes and mixes of tracks like ‘The Magic Touch’, ‘You Only Live Twice’ and ‘I’m Shooting High’ plus three totally new-to-CD things of which the Marva Holiday is rather horrible, the Gary & Gary cut using the backing track from ‘Baby Without You’ rather interesting (but white) and Alexander Patton’s ‘(True Love Is) In The Heart’ totally fantastic. Of course I raved over the Alexander Patton in Manifesto some time ago only to have brother Croasdell inform me that it wasn’t up to scratch for a variety of bizarre reasons, now it seems it’s the primo piece on the compilation starring as the very first track! And I’ll bet good money that it ends up as a 45 too. Strange. Almost as good as the overall compilations is the 22-page booklet inside telling the story of Kent Records. In fact the whole Ace/Kent story would make an interesting book in its own right – yet another great suggestion from myself to the North London record company. Perhaps I should start charging a consultancy fee! 

Til Next Time

Tim Brown

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