Soul Civil War

This feature originally appeared in Record Mirror, November 20th 1971. 

Soul Civil War!
…the feud that rages between North and South
Tony Cummings reports

The pop Press have suddenly wakened up to a situation that the specialist soul Press has been carrying on about for a long time now, that in the North clubs pack ’em in playing soul.

As explained in a previous ‘Echoes’, this doesn’t knock out all Southern soul fans, the media may think the North is heavily into soul but a cynicism has crept into many a Southern soul fan’s assessment of their boogalooing Northern counterparts –

‘So a few dedicated soul freaks worry, not without cause, about the deceitful impression given to the massed pop -buyers of what soul is. Oddly enough, the type was originated and is now perpetuated, not by the accursed media, but by a portion of soul fans’ (Record Mirror, 11th September 1971).

Do Northerners, or their self-confessed champions agree that their insistence on keeping the discotheques dancing to a never-ending thumpety thump Detroit beat is harming soul or that their liking for old stereotyped trivia has little to do with the passion, the beauty, or the involvement of soul? You must be joking! –

‘Record Mirror also carried an article relating to the “up-North soul scene” which, although somewhat ambiguously written, amounted to an attack on the Northern scene in general, condemning it for shallowness and lack of true soul depth! In short, the article was a scurrilous blasphemy and its tone of dogmatic pedantry and doctrinaire authoritarianism was truly in keeping with the times in which we live’ (Blues & Soul, 68).

When ‘Black Hits – No Soul’ appeared I expected, and got, a shoal of criticism. Much was irrelevant – all reviewing is of course a statement of personal opinion, such an obvious fact should not need clarification – but a little was well founded – well, it was a long time since I’d journeyed ‘up North’.

I knew the records played but possibly, just possibly, the music needed to be heard in the environment of a Northern club before the hidden depths of musical magic spilled out from the amplifiers blasting ‘In Orbit‘ or ‘Darkest Days‘. So I, Clive Richardson and Roy Stanton of Shout, Lou McDermott of the London Blues Society and Mike Booth of Record Centre, hired a coach, filled it with R&B fans and set forth to the Blackpool Mecca. And the friendly, soulful North?

‘I don’t care how far you’ve bloody well come, you can’t come in with long hair like that’.

The speaker was one Mr Pye, the tight-lipped, dinner-jacketed Manager of the Blackpool Mecca. Mr Pye showed an amazing determination to re-enforce the possible prejudice and derision felt by the coach load towards the Northern soul scene without anyone getting near a Ric-Tic rarity.

Mecca establishments have the ties and suits hang-up so restrictions were checked out earlier on the ‘phone – but hair length had mysteriously escaped mention. In an angry editorial in the latest Shout, Roy Stanton questions the morality of a situation where an establishment rejects long-hairs but turns a blind eye to pill pushers, who ‘despite their Edwardian outlook capitalise so obscenely on their younger generation’ and even hints at more sinister reasons for the snub. But the situation for Blackpool soul fans is less involved with such basic moral issues. To hear soul you must restrict your appearance to a carefully defined pattern and when entry is obtained, expect and get a similar restriction on the music played.

These restrictions were obvious to Mike Booth, the only one from the party who entered Mecca’s hallowed gates, though ‘You’re not with those London troublemakers?’ from the man at the door hardly spelt welcome. He was pleased that at least a few non-mid-period Detroit records were played, Paul Humphries and The Cool Aid Chemists and instrumental James Brown, and the deejay was a very nice guy, indeed he pleaded with the management in vain for the lifting of the hair-bar, but monotony could not be avoided as record after record was played with the arrangement, mood and style lifted exactly from the previous one.

Mike met the eccentrics that evening, a guy who has Ric Tic tattooed on his arm, guys who service the deejays with totally unknown mediocrity (do they realise what a come down it is to London fans when they eventually get hold of Mel Hueston’s ‘Searchin’‘ and find out how mundane it is?) and guys who dismiss every slow record as non-soulful. Mike’s confusion on coming back to the coach is understandable: “the Mecca was like being in a crowd of lunatics all telling you how mad you are.” The saddest part though of the North vs. South affair happened before the turning away of the multitude.

For several meandering columns Blues and Soul’s Dave Godin wrote with unbelievable optimism about how the Ric-Tic groovers are helping service the cause of soul. They are, in fact, damaging the cause of real soul and could conceivably eventually destroy it, as far as British releases go. After mountains of total irrelevancies (and pages still to come no doubt) about purist outlooks and ‘setting ourselves up’ (seen any good Dave Godin Seals Of Approval recently?) he ends with a plea for total soul unity –

‘It is unlikely in my opinion that soul music will ever be an overwhelming popular commodity in Britain, like say, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, etc. so surely it is better to realise our minority position and not let the small differences of opinion that exist become magnified out of all proportion into gigantic issues? It’s a storm in a teacup. You like soul funky? Great. You like it up-tempo? Great. You like it heavy? Great. You like it teeny-bopperish? Great. You like it mean, moody and magnificent? Great. But remember, it’s soul music that you like’. (Blues & Soul, 70).

The obvious inference, of course, be glad that any soul hits. In fact, people who really care about rhythm and blues music seldom are as stupid as this and realise that good pop records are better than bad pop-soul records and that a succession of dancing-string irrelevancies ultimately harms the image of soul, and must affect what sort of black records get released in the UK.

Be joyful that the Tams and Al Green hit, they deserve to, not because they’re by black singers but because they’re good. Let’s hope ‘Barefootin’ in China Town‘ or ‘It Ain’t Necessary‘ never make the charts, their contribution to Northern dancers’ egos may be immense, but their contribution to soul is nil.

`How can you call “monotonously, insiduously ordinary” such in-demand records as ‘I Feel An Urge Coming On‘ by Joe Armstead, ‘Hit And Run‘ by Rose Battiste, ‘A Mighty Good Way‘ by Robert Banks, ‘It Ain’t Necessary‘ by Mamie Galore, ‘Little Queenie‘ by Bill Black’s Combo, ‘The Next In Line‘ by Hoagy Lands, ‘Feels Good‘ by Bobby Wilson or ‘Every Beat Of My Heart‘ by the Du-Ettes’. (Ian Levine, Blackpool, letter September ’71).

And in the twilight world of Northern soul rarities, records are dropped from clubs’ playlists once the audience get the record as well as the deejays.

You prove how ill-informed you are by imagining that “Chains Of Love” by Chuck Jackson, “What’s Wrong With Me Baby” by the Invitations and “I Got A Feeling” by Barbara Randolph are in-demand oldies. The first two lost their popularity over a year ago. The third lost its popularity 2½ years ago’. (Ian Levine).

And what of soul in the South? Is a distorted soul scene better than no scene at all? When soul ceased to have the right sort of image, London, and all points further South, dropped its soul clubs in favour of progressive pop. Now the only London haunts you can hear R&B blasting from a deejay’s sound system are few and far between.

In the West End there’s the Roaring Twenties, the Cue Club or further out obscurer places like the Railway, Harrow or Mr Bee’s, Peckham, but beautiful clubs though they undoubtedly are, the majority of their clientele want the black underground – reggae. If you want more than the occasional James Brown between the latest Jamaican pre-releases, London doesn’t have a soul discotheque … or does it?

Until a couple of weeks ago, what you had to do was come out of Mile End tube station, turn left, walk for a quarter of a mile and there’s a pub, the Fountain. Every Thursday, a deejay, Terry Davis, played the sort of records which persuaded soul fans to journey 10 or 15 or more miles to sit or stand, grabbing the sounds. There were hangups – no dancing; it’s a pub, so youngsters were kept out; and it wasn’t particularly large; but at least it showed that R&B fans do exist in London.

The non-dancing thing oddly proved the Fountain’s greatest advantage. What Terry loses in atmosphere he makes up for in not being restricted to a continual dance beat and played a much larger cross-section of what soul is, and should be made to appear. The Motown oldies, the Jerry-o’s and James Brown’s blasted forth but also Ralfi Pagan’s “Make It With You,” the Dramatics’ “What You See Is What You Get,” George Perkins’ “Crying In The Streets,” even, incredulously, the Showmen’s “It Will Stand” and Etta James’ “Roll With Me Henry.”

London badly needs some soul discotheques but at least there were Thursdays at the Fountain – until recently. Terry has been sacked, the management decided to turn Thursday’s over to semi-progressive schlock like the other nights. As they said, “We’ll get a bigger crowd with long-hair music.”