Thursday, April 05, 2007

Soul Britannia

This weekend is soul weekend on BBC4 which is great, because there's a chance to see some classic acts, including, so far, Aaron Neville, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Ann Peebles (right), Gladys Knight and the Pips, Dan Penn, Bobby Womack and Aretha Franklin. But I have mixed feelings about the central slot Soul Britannia, which is devoted to the soul scene in the UK in the 1960s. When artists such as Eric Burdon, Georgie Fame, Jimmy James, Geno Washington - even Dusty Springfield - are portrayed as soul singers I have to laugh. They are copyists so far as I'm concerned, perpetuating the British disease of the cover version. Dusty may have had a decent voice, but she was playing at being a black American soul singer, not very convincingly. And is it really true that Julie Driscoll sold more records in the sixties than Aretha Franklin? Surely not. It was interesting that the programme spent a lot of time on ska, which was to my mind equal to much of the best soul of the time. But outside of a handful of mods and, of course, West Indians, it was very much a minority taste.

For me, the original US soul records (and Jamaican ska) were and are still the best. And so it was with live acts. In Rockin' Croydon, a history of rock, folk, jazz and blues in and around Croydon in the 1960s by Chris Groom, I came across a quote from none other than myself, from my time as a reporter on the Croydon Advertiser. I quote:

'The "most exciting show to be seen at the Fairfield Halls in a long, long time" - that was the Advertiser's verdict on the Otis Redding show on 27th March (1967). A superb soul bill that also featured Sam and Dave, Arthur Conley, Eddie Floyd and the Mar-Keys, the house band on the tour were Booker T and the MGs, onstage for the entire evening to back all the artists. According to journalist Nick Cobban, Sam and Dave stole the show with their polished, professional stage act, "generating so much excitement, the roof might have caved in at any moment". Following on their ten minute version of 'Hold on I'm coming' compere Emperor Rosko had some trouble calming the audience down.'


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