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I FIRST CAME across the Roomates back in the late 80s when I was editor of a small doo wop magazine. Concentrating mainly on the Italian American groups of the New York area in the late 50s and early 60s it quickly became apparent that there was a group right here in the UK who, according to the readers' letters I was receiving, were singing and recording in that very style.
It was just a matter of time before I got hold of a recording of theirs and I immediately knew we were on the same wavelength "singing from the same sheet" as it were. The sound I was hearing could have been some unreleased master from the legendary Laurie Records' vaults in New York where Dion and the Belmonts cut the immortal I Wonder Why and the Mystics sang Hushabye.
Steve Webb from the group eventually got in touch and the exchange of letters in those pre-email days kept the post office busy, as we compared record collections and listed favourites. My greatest pleasure has been watching the Roomates develop and mature. As we became friends over the years I became privy to the latest demos and works-in-progress by the band. Owing to my "good taste" I've been allowed to throw the odd opinion or two the way of the group. Though often ignored, I found they were always interested in a neutral viewpoint outside the confines that a vocal group live within. I am always impressed by the music they produce, sometimes crossing the boundaries outside what one would call "classic" doo wop but always in harmony.
You don't really have to know where the Roomates come from. You may already have an idea the Roomates come from England via Philadelphia and New York and it took "40" years for them to get here. Formed in the mid 1980s a quintet of young British rock'n'roll fans broke away from their contemporaries who were busy embracing rockabilly, to form a group who set out to prove there was more to music than slap bass clicks and rim shots.
Three of those original idealists are singing on this very album in the shape of Nick Kennedy and brothers Mark and Steve Webb who celebrate 18 years together with the release of this album. The fourth Roomate, "new boy" Glenn Brentnall, joined them in 1990 giving us the classic Roomates line-up who've been in perfect harmony for the past 14 years.
Dion and the Belmonts are clearly a major influence on the Roomates but they also appreciate Dion's less well known and uncredited backing group the Del Satins (can you imagine Runaround Sue or The Wanderer without them?) the Elegants, the Skyliners, the Duprees, the Mystics and the Passions to name just a handful of groups. You'll hear them echoed in many of the songs here but the Roomates write and perform their own material most of the time only covering songs which they feel they could do justice to. A prime example here is Skyline Of Manhattan a stunning and beautiful ballad originally by the Jade Four whom most of us would never have heard of until now. And if you're like me, you'll be pretty grateful they did.
There is no doubting that these guys are fantastic singers, but if you consider their impressive knowledge of the genre, the research they put in, the endless hours of rehearsals, then you begin to pick things up in their music that only aficionados would notice like the occasional slightly off-key but entirely intentional note a sign that they have studied the subject very closely indeed and take their art very seriously. You most certainly are not listening to a gang of wannabe impersonators here the Roomates most definitely are the real thing.
by GORDON WATSON Editor, Koolsville Magazine