Friday, 24 June 2011

White Boy-Black Soul

It was some time in the spring of 65; and I had run away from home again, (don’t ask why as it is of no consequence to this post). It was a late Saturday night and I was wandering around the streets of London’s West End. Some how I ended up in Wardour Street in front of a club I had long heard of ‘The Flamingo’. Hard to remember how much money I had with me, but it couldn’t have been more of than a pound or so, as I recall the entrance fee to the allnighter was 10 shillings. What I do recall is the first song to hit my ears as I descended down the stairs into the club- Smokey Robinson and Miracles ‘Going to a Go Go’. The more the night progressed the more I became a disciple of a music genre called SOUL. I was a mixed up kid back then, (many of us were), and this ‘Afro American’ import went deep into my broken spirit and filled the cracks.

Soul was the music staple for a typical 60’s Mod. As most of the established British media, like the BBC, had no interest in Mod related matters, such as fashion, music or a new club- the vibe of this ‘hot’ music passed through a Mod ‘bush wire’; I don’t know how it worked but it was effective. Soul record labels such as Tamla Motown, Stax and Chess were enjoying hits and record sales long before the names of their recording stars became a glint in the public’s eye.
Soul music has its roots in gospel music and rhythm and blues. Ray Charles is often cited as inventing the soul genre with his string of hits starting with 1954's "I Got a Woman". Another view has it that Solomon Burke's early recordings for Atlantic Records created the soul style; his early 1960s songs "Cry to Me", "Just Out of Reach" and "Down in the Valley" are considered soul classics. Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke are also often acknowledged as soul forefathers. The discussion who conceived this wonderful music style can go on forever. The truth is, though, it found its major following in the UK, long before it even made headway in its home market of the USA. In fact British bands, like The Rolling Stones- (especially), and the Beatles were selling it back to American teenagers, most of whom did not realize that it had been created on home ground!
Albeit, Soul music artists were predominantly male, the few female performers though, were in a class of their own, as Aretha Franklin singing the soul classic ‘I Never Loved a Man’ shows. Irma Thomas, Gladys Knight, and of course groups, such as the Supremes, made sure that female presence was also felt.
Many major British bands were influenced one way or another by this deep rhythmic genre of music; The Beatles covered a few Tamla hits, The Rolling Stones, recorded songs by many greats such as Solomon Burke and Rufus Thomas, just to name two! Nearly every band in town, from The Zombies to-‘God help us!- Herman’s Hermits, were trying to soul it, and many were screwing it up- to be as good as the originals needed more than most of the local bands could offer! There were exceptions. Groups such as Spencer Davis, with their amazing Steve Windwood, or The Small Faces, with their front man Steve Marriott, could put the feeling across better than most; I have to admit that I only realized this fact latter in life, as at the time I was totally engrossed in the American imports that I immediately judged any UK cover as rubbish- apologies to Rod Stewart, who also has that special it!

I consider the Ram Jam as being one of the major ‘Soul’ clubs of that era. And it is there I had the pleasure of seeing greats, such as Solomon Burke, Junior Walker and the All Stars, (most of whom were the legendary Funk Brothers), Rufus Thomas and Joe Tex. Sadly though I missed the great ‘Stax’ tour of 1967, another major regret in my life’s diary. I had chances to see the irreplaceable Otis Redding, but due to circumstances beyond my control, missed them all! My work in latter life, working as a barman in clubs and hotels, has given me the opportunity to see some of the idols of my youth- James Brown and Ray Charles being the most prominent. But like most of the Soul artists mentioned here they too have ‘crossed the river’- behind though they have left music that still helps me to fill up the cracks.

I end this post with the fabulous James Brown doing his 'Night Train'!!


  1. Like the people who were 'there' for Punk, excellent to read the memories and tales of this era.

  2. One of the reasons I love collecting vinyl soul is the thought that it might have originally been cherished by a hip young mod playing it before going up west to dance all night. Nice entry - thanks.

  3. Jealous! Always great to read first-hand accounts. Notice you didn't mention The Action when talking of UK soul acts. Obviously they weren't as commercially successful but wondered how aware you were of them at the time? Cheers.

  4. @Monkey- Writing a blog you have to set your self limits- I would of loved to have mentioned all the great artists of Soul, but for that I would need to write a book! I saw the the Action a few times,at the Tiles and Ram Jam, but in all honesty I was more into the Rik n'Bekers and Ronnie Jones & the Q Set. I have an interview coming up with Chester Simon who was the base player in the Q Set- I'll make sure to bring up The Action with him!
    Thanks for the great comment!

  5. Sure, know what you mean. The Action are a bit of pet love of mine so I tend to try to shoehorn them into every discussion of the period!