Europe, and the UK in particular, has taken the uncharted territories of black American soul music and made it its own. Fans of Northern Soul, Rare Groove, Deep Soul, Deep Funk, Modern Soul, Crossover and Popcorn and many other sub-species often look at their areas of interest through the eyes of European DJs, collectors, researchers and web sites. Kent, being a label that caters very much to all these genres and their fans, often approach the music from those angles but we always try and remember that this music is black American first and foremost, and was made within the cultural context of its particular era.
We use a lot of hindsight, as forty years of accumulated knowledge should not be ignored, but once in a while we look at the music through nostalgic eyes. The CELLAR OF SOUL series is one of the best examples of this and is particularly memory jerking as the team of compilers were all collecting the music at the time, and know the impact that these sides had on them and their friends. It is therefore soul music, as it appeared, when it first landed on these shores.
There was a large cultural difference between black American and primarily, white UK teenagers anyway, but the different ways in which we heard the music further diverged the two groups’ tastes. In America the many and varied radio stations gave the music-lover opportunities to hear hundreds of new releases and to buy whichever grabbed their approval. In the UK soul releases were far fewer, subject to the whims of the largely clueless record executives and had little chance of making it onto the very limited national radio stations’ playlists. It made it frustratingly hard, but exciting, work for the fans to find any sort of soul to listen to. Once found, the uncensored decks of the discotheques turned out to be the best medium for collectors to share this great music with the crowd. Understandably brave young British soul brothers and sisters weren’t going to just sit down, listen and appreciate in that milieu; they were going to get up and dance their arses off.
Hence most UK soul releases were aimed at DJs and dancers and KENT’S CELLAR OF SOUL VOL 2 reflects this. There are only a handful of ballads on here, but the listening is still more than tuneful with a good selection of melodious mid tempo numbers that were more acceptable in the mid-60s than in the BPM (beats per minute) conscious days of the 70s. The actual dances were more varied too, and frantic soul sounds like Bobbi Lynn’s Earthquake and the Olympics’ Mirwood powerhouse Mine Exclusively could be programmed into the evening without any adverse dance-floor reaction.
The notes go into some detail on the UK influences on American soul and its re-interpretation over here. The most obvious example on this CD is Geno Washington’s first Piccadilly single Water, which was written by a top pairing from New York’s Brill Building but only ever recorded in London by this US ex-serviceman and his all Brit Ram Jam band. There are also strong UK links to the tracks by Dee Dee Warwick, JJ Jackson, Bobby Wells and Prince & Princess but you’ll have to peer into the booklet to see the studious essays on those.
The general feel of this CD is happy, up, positive and fun, which is reflective of the swinging London, Manchester and Market Harborough scenes of the time. Tracks like King George’s Drive On James, James & Bobby’s Do Unto Me and the Intrigues’ In A Moment reflect this optimism and the feel-good factor that was sweeping the communities that these sounds came out of and the very different but also positive world where they were played. It’s heartening and a little bit scary, that the quality of all the 26 tracks is so high and yet none of these recordings have featured on Kent CDs before. That includes Joe Tex’s You’d Better Believe It Baby which has managed to elude the four CDs we have already released on him. As in the previous Cellar volume, most of the tracks were issued over here at the time.
Rarity was not a factor in compiling this album, but it’s surprising how many of these songs are hard to find now and also how many are better known here than in their place of birth. Darrow Fletcher was amazed to hear that collectors several thousand miles away were still playing his frighteningly mature message of teenage soul angst The Pain Gets A Little Deeper forty years after it had dropped out of the Billboard R&B chart. Hearing of its popularity for this release has helped persuade him to visit these shores for the first time and to get his four decades of back appreciation that are due to him at the 6TS Cleethorpes’ Northern Soul weekender this June.
Like Darrow’s impassioned vocal, Debbie Taylor contributes a vocal tour de force for her defining work Never Gonna Let Him Know and Al Greene starting out on his amazing soul journey croons sublimely on Back Up Train, a hit fully three years before his famed Hi era.
So if you went into your local record shop in 1967 and asked them to order you the latest release on Action, Direction, Stateside or Beacon or just wish you could go and do that now; this one’s for you.
PS Can an instrumental be soulful: discuss.
By Ady Croasdell