Working on the Cheapo Cheapo record stall in Rupert Street market, Soho in 1973 I was constantly scouring the stock for the Puzzles' My Sweet Baby or Gerry and Paul's The Cat Walk, two old US imports that were getting spun in the Northern Soul clubs of the time. In the meantime all the hip young black Londoners were coming down for the cheap copies of Fatback Band's funky Perception singles Street Dance and Nija Walk that we'd picked up demos of in quantity. As an end product of this country's education system, I should really have twigged the fact that the Puzzles and Gerry and Paul's label, having the same name as the funk band, were affiliated-.-but unless a record had Arthur Wright, Mike Terry or Kenny Gamble on it, my interest would not have been aroused in those early days. However I dug both types of sound and would spin away to one up North, while I jigged around in army trousers and see-through plastic sandals to the other down the Kings Road.
The Fatback label came before the band, about the same time as the remarkable shop that is pictured on the front of this CD. Known as the Home Of Fatback it was Bill Curtis' business centre for his bands, a booking agency for local talent, an academy of music, a place to organise parties and functions and much more. Named after Bill's unusual style of drumming, it became the label name when Bill ventured into the record business and he also adopted it for his band name when he was eventually ready to record them. That was after the label had closed and Bill had set up BC Project II for the initial Fatback singles, credited to Johnny King and the Fatback Band. These songs were proto-funk numbers but also contained some fine melodies which was inevitable with the band's strong musical roots. On vinyl they are as scarce as a sexually naive new R&B video and one of the three is in an extended version from the recently found master tape.
The link between Gerry Thomas and Bill Curtis is explored in the notes, explaining how Gerry progressed from the Jimmy Castor Bunch via Gerry and Paul & The Soul Emissaries to the Fatback Band, which he didn't officially join until the late 70s. The Puzzles/Diplomats story is also told and the confusion over them being the same group is cleared up. And I think we've also explained the mystery of which side is which on Gerry & Paul's Cat Walk / Little Bit Of Soul instrumental single.
The music is of high quality throughout and tracks like Peace, Love Not War by the early Fatback, I Need You by the Puzzles and Mary Davis' beautiful ballad Stop Pretending are particular highlights. Big bonuses come in the form of unissued tapes from Mary who had two great songs left on the shelf and two catchy numbers from a singer named Jimmy Williams. Being 16 tracks worth of material it is a rare mid price Kent CD but one the connoisseurs will enthuse over and another part of black music's rich history described and explained.
by Ady Croasdell