23rd June 2013
Mary Love Remembered
I first came across Mary Love’s wonderful music as a teenager, dancing to ‘You Turned My Bitter Into Sweet’ and ‘Lay This Burden Down’ at “Old Soul” gatherings for lovers of the uptempo mid 60s soul sound (soon to be coined Northern Soul in the UK). As a record collector I had picked up other Modern label recordings like ‘Let Me Know’ and ‘Hey Stoney Face’ over the years and got to love her ballad ‘Baby I’ll Come’ too. In the late 70s my friend and eventual co-founder of the 6Ts Randy Cozens turned me on to ‘I’m In Your Hands’, the flip of ‘You Turned My Bitter Into Sweet’, that I had foolishly neglected for the excellence of the disc’s other side. With Randy’s championing of it that track became something of an anthem for the early 6Ts dances and when we switched to all-nighters it was adopted as an appropriately emotional and majestic ender to the night’s soul session.
In 1982 I got to compile an LP of Modern and Kent recordings for a new UK reissue soul label that Ace Records were setting up which was to be called Kent. Mary’s contributions to the influential Los Angeles labels were the most important of an impressive discography of mid 60s soul. Her unaccompanied sweet and soulful voice enunciating “Yooou” meant that ‘Bitter’ just had to be the opening track. It heralded a series of soul LPs that would influence the vintage soul scene for decades to come. ‘Let Me Know’ saw the album out as the final track, but a second LP was already planned. Sales more than warranted it and we had saved ‘Lay This Burden Down’ to be the opener and ‘I’m In Your Hands’ was track eight, side two. The opening and closing tracks for any compilation are prestigious and have to be musical highlights, for Mary to earn all four on the first two LPs speaks volumes about her music. ‘Baby I’ll Come’ and her duet with Arthur Adams, ‘Let’s Get Together’, were then featured on the third Kent LP “Slow And Moody, Black And Bluesy” while most of the rest of her sides were dotted throughout the following (just short of a hundred) vinyl albums.
By 1993 I had decided to try running a Northern Soul Weekender at a great venue in Cleethorpes that I knew and was considering which artists to bring over to attract the rare soul crowd. I had already established a good relationship with Mary over the phone from getting artist royalties to her, for which she was always grateful. I had not been in touch for some years though, and knew that she was now a minister apparently only prepared to sing songs of a religious nature. She had performed a set, mainly from her inspirational 80s releases on the Co-Love label, for the UK’s modern soul crowd who had adopted ‘Come Out Of The Sandbox’ as an anthemic, soulful crossover play for their weekend get-together. Rod Dearlove’s magazine Voices From The Shadows championed these releases and organised her first UK visit. I did not get to that Fleetwood show but heard that she had sung a version of ‘You Turned My Bitter Into Sweet’ with the lyrics devoted to her saviour.
I knew the Northern scene would not really want a show like that but thought I would ask Mary if she would reconsider her policy of not performing secular songs. I caught her at the right time, she was with her musical and life partner of the time, Brad Comer, and they were happy to visit the UK again and would sing the songs we thought would suit the crowd best. This included inspirational ones such as ‘Sandbox’ and the stunning ballad ‘The Price’ from the same era, which had blown me away on hearing the new material.
The couple duly arrived and were a pleasure to deal with. It was the first event of that size that I had run and their patience at my utter incompetence helped me through; the whole weekend had an air of adventure about it. It was also the first live gig I had arranged and my lack of experience meant that I was out of my depth and very nervous that I could have a major flop on my hands. Tony Middleton had already given a good performance but problems with the sound and lack of rehearsal made it a slightly shambolic set with great moments and awkward moments. However when Mary got onto the stage and hit the first notes of ‘Let Me Know’ the energy levels soared, the musicians responded and she delivered a stunning set that washed away all my fears and relieved the pressure of a very tense time. The fact that we have just celebrated 20 years of the event is partly down to Mary’s first performance for us.
By the early 90s the transition from vinyl releases to CD was almost complete and in 1994 Kent issued all the Modern recordings in conjunction with the best of Mary’s inspirational sides for Co-Love and some unissued secular recordings she had cut a decade or so earlier. We named it “Then And Now” CDKEND 109.
Mary’s continued popularity with the vintage soul crowd meant she made occasional visits to Europe and when it came to singers for the big soul revue we organised to celebrate Kent Records 25th anniversary in 2007, Mary’s name was first on the list. Again she gave a wonderful show and it meant a lot to have her there with us.
We have deleted Mary’s CD while we plan a new compilation covering her whole career, sadly Mary will not be around to see that tribute to her wonderful singing.
I learned of Mary’s passing by email while attending a memorial all day dance to my original 6TS partner Randy, being run by his two sons Terry and Paul. The news hit me hard but it was probably the perfect environment to make the announcement and celebrate Mary’s life and talents. I ended my set with ‘I’m In Your Hands’ which was a tribute to two fine soul people who had been separated geographically, but were united spiritually.