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Motown, France, Japan, Louisiana

Then, in September 2008, came another awesome box set, the three-CD, 75-track “Take Me To The River: A Southern Soul Story 1961-1977”, which as Tony Rounce and Martin Goggin explained, set out the story of Southern Soul “in an approximately chronological manner, from its early rumblings at the beginning of the 1960s, through its first golden era in the mid-60s and its second in the early 70s, and on to the valiant attempts to forestall its demise in the mid-to-late 70s” and featuring everything from “million-sellers to obscure 45s that didn’t get beyond the limits of the cities in which they were recorded”. Soul heaven indeed.

A great name from radio, writings and books, the inspirational and pioneering Charlie Gillett was remembered in “Honky Tonk: Charlie Gillett’s Radio Picks” which cherry-picked tracks classic and obscure from the broadcaster’s unmissable 1970s Radio London show. As the great man himself said: “As far as I was concerned, Honky Tonk was a shared forum and bulletin board for the music we all revered.” And that included everything from the original demo of ‘Sultans Of Swing’ by Dire Straits, through Bobby Charles’s ‘Small Town Talk’ to ‘Down On The Farm’ by Big Al Downing. Volume 2 followed in October 2014.

Not content with the best that the US could offer, Harlesden’s hi-steppers took a trip across the Channel in 2010 for a slice of the attractions offered by France’s yé-yé girls. “C'est Chic! French Girl Singers Of The 1960s”, expertly compiled by Mck Patrick, included tracks by France Gall, Alice Dona and, of course, Françoise Hardy. A follow-up album appeared in 2013 along with a solo set by the dreamy Ms Hardy, “Midnight Blues”. The man behind most of the greatest yé-yé records, writer, producer and Gauloises addict Serge Gainsbourg was also spotlighted in the Songwriter series with “Vamps et Vampire: The Songs Of Serge Gainsbourg”.

Ace went even further afield in 2009 when, with the help of Sheila Burgel, the Big Beat label took a look at the Land of Rising Sun with “Nippon Girls: Japanese Pop,Beat & Bossa Nova 1966-1970”. A trail-blazing introduction to the delights of the Japanese pop scene. It was followed by another volume plus a string-busting compilation of the work of guitarist “Terry” Takeshi Terauchi on “Nippon Guitars”. Then came “Nippon Rock'n'Roll: The Birth Of Japanese Rokabirii” which  documented the rise of Masaaki Hirao, the man dubbed “The Japanese Elvis”. As compiler Howard Williams expertly put it, this was US rock’n’roll “put through a rocking mangle; a smattering of jazz; a twist of New Orleans; and some Japanese folk songs with a greased-down quiff”.

Blues fans weren’t forgotten either. “Shattered Dreams - Funky Blues 1967-1978” chronicled in 2011 what many would see as the music’s last hurrah, drawn as Dean Rudland pointed out, from an era when bluesmen were not the big stars they had been a decade or so earlier and were struggling to keep it together in a world where their music was fast becoming a thing of the past. A companion volume, “Hard To Explain: More Shattered Dreams” followed in 2014. Both albums featured superlative tracks by the likes of Buddy Guy, Lowell Fulson, Albert King and Larry Davis.

A combination of Ace and Motown had always seemed an unlikely if not downright impossible dream. Amazingly, it came about in 2011 when Ace issued “Dance with the Contours”, a new expanded version of the group’s never-issued 1964 Gordy LP featuring the 12 originally-scheduled tracks plus a further dozen from the vaults, all recorded during the same time frame. Of the 26 tracks, 24 had never been issued in any form until now. This slice of Detroit heaven was followed by similar sets by Marv Johnson, the Monitors, Eddie Holland, Shorty Long, the Spinners, Mary Wells and Brenda Holloway plus a set each for “Motown Girls” and “Motown Guys”. A second Contours set “Just A Little Misunderstanding: Rare And Unissued Motown 1965-68” followed in 2014.

Gene Norman, a jazz-loving record company boss and promoter, famous for his Californian “Just Jazz” concerts had stayed up to date with the music he loved and in the mid-1960s he signed the Seeds, who turned out to be one of the most enduring groups of the psychedelic and garage era. Alec Palao anthologized them expertly for Big Beat with a series of expanded reissues of their groundbreaking albums beginning as well as a collection of the group’s A and B-sides from 1965-1970.

In the wealth and quality of its releases, Ace had been compared with another great label from the past, Decca’s London American, which, from the 1950s onwards, issued some of the greatest US recordings ever to make their way into the UK. So it was a marriage made in heaven when, starting in 2009, Ace delved into the vaults to produce a series of year-by-year London American reissues. Chronologically, the series goes back as far as 1956 and, at the other end, has reached 1965. Anyone’s who’s lusted after a triangle-centre Robin Luke (or even a London label Darrell Banks) will be delighted and enthralled by the tracks on offer here.

The music of South Louisiana music has always been an important part of Ace’s catalogue, so a series of albums of little heard and unreleased tracks, compiled by Ian Saddler, was always going to be a perfect fit. It started with several volumes  of “Boppin’ By the Bayou”  and went on to feature “Rhythm and Bluesin’ By The Bayou” as well two albums of “Bluesin’…” and one of swamp pop.

Sadly, we’ve reached a time when many of the rocking and soulful stars featured on the Ace family of reissues are heading for the that great round-up in the sky. 

Two music legends died just as CDs devoted to their work came out. Soul singer Mary Love was a good friend of Ace and headlined the bill at the premier Cleethorpes Northern and Rare Soul weekender and helped Ace and Kent to mark their 25th anniversaries, appearing at the celebratory live gigs. Her recordings opened and closed the first two vinyl Kent LPs and various artists CD, as well as appearing on the A-side of the initial Kent 45. Her death in 2013 was a very sad day. “Lay This Burden Down: The Very Best Of Mary Love” was a fitting tribute which all Mary’s pivotal Modern sides, remastered from the original tapes.

Studio boss Cosimo Matassa was the recording heart of New Orleans for many years and Louisiana expert John Broven compiled “Cracking The Cosimo Code: 60s New Orleans R&B And Soul” not knowing the 24-track album would act as tribute to the man who died aged 88 in September 2014. Some of the classic tracks by as John put it “the man in the control room of the only local recording studio that mattered” included Robert Parker’s ‘Barefootin’’, ‘Ooh Poo Pah Doo’ by Jessie Hill and the monumental ‘Tell It Like It Is’ by Aaron Neville.

Other deaths included those of the legendary record collector, researcher, album and CD compiler Ray Topping, whose passing in 2009 was marked by an obituary in The Times; Lux Interior, the American singer and a founding member of the Cramps who died at the young age of 62 in the same year, and Philip Chevron, lead singer and co-founder of the The Radiators (from Space) who died aged only 56 in 2013.

Finally, as Ace continues to bound robustly through the 21st century it’s good to see that our old friend from the earliest days of Ace – vinyl – is making a comeback with score or so of LPs, featuring everyone from Mouse And The Traps to Sam Dees, coming fresh from the presses on to our turntables and neatly bringing us full circle in this current history of our favourite record label.

Who knows what the next decade or so will bring? Those at Harlesden Towers probably have an idea, but they’re not letting on. But, hey, as long as it’s it's got a backbeat, you can't lose it, any old time you use it, we’ll be happy.

 

John Clarke

The Independent

© Ace records 2012-2016