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.”

After ten years on Twitter, it’s time to call a halt.

Ten years ago today, I tweeted for the first time. News of the fledgling venture – then only a few months old, with just over 50,000 users – had reached my corner of blogland, and for a few days there was a small flurry of sign-ups, as we all took turns at answering the question we were being asked: not “What’s happening?”, nor its predecessor “What’s on your mind?”, but simply “What are you doing?”

For those first few months – before @replies, hashtags, retweets, automatically abbreviated URLs and integrated image hosting – we cleaved closely to the strictures of the question, and answered it mainly with present participles. It’s a creative project, we told ourselves: a series of pauses in the day, when we homed in on the here and now, and shared snippets of our realities. Tweets stood alone; conversations were largely frowned upon.

None of us foresaw what Twitter was to become. I had my first hunch when my partner K – who, rather to my dismay, had never bothered much with blogs – became fascinated with my timeline, stealing glimpses whenever he walked past the laptop. I couldn’t quite work out why, when blog posts had left him cold, tweets were drawing him in. But it was happening everywhere, with escalating rapidity, especially after people in the public eye started following the lead of early adopters such as Stephen Fry.

Gradually, the scope of the service expanded. Chatting became easier, and less irksome to onlookers. You could keep up with new blog posts, freed from the bother of feed readers – or you could micro-blog right here, with pics and links. You could commune with celebs. News stories might break here first. Via searches and hashtags, you could gauge responses to issues of the day. You could raise your profile, promote your work, build your brand. The whole world was here now. With minimal effort, you could stay informed, tracking the zeitgeist, swimming at the front of the slipstream.

Spambots were a nuisance, trolls a rarity. That soon switched around. Things started getting nasty. Outrage became a common currency. There were many casualties. But on we scrolled, as our reflective pauses and quick quips mutated into an ever-present dripfeed of hyperbole and hot takes.

Ten years on, the world’s a darker place. Some of us have been here before; the Thatcher-Reagan years felt like a tunnel from which we might never emerge, for instance. But then, there have always been two realities: the global, led by news stories, and the personal, informed by our immediate surroundings and experiences. The former has always had a bearing on the latter, of course – but it feels now as if the boundaries are blurring. By bleeding the two together so seamlessly and efficiently, Twitter is constantly thrusting harsh outer realities into delicate inner receptors.

This no longer feels healthy or useful. Twitter largely stopped being fun a long time ago; now, it feels like a drain on the collective well-being.

I’m dealing with it by re-compartmentalising. I’ll keep up with the news like I used to, at ring-fenced intervals. For the rest of the time, I’d rather be present in my own reality – which, to my great good fortune, happens to be a pleasant place to dwell. And I’d like to recover some of my lost attention span, too. Long reads. Books. Analogue media in general.

I can live with being second to breaking news. Hell, I can positively thrive without having whatever fuckwittery the fuckwits are spouting today repeatedly shoved under my face. I’ve seen enough Express/Mail screengrabs, Hopkins/Mensch smackdowns and Johnson/Trump GIFs for one lifetime, thanks all the same.

Besides which, ten years is long enough to be doing the same thing every day. Most of those formerly blogging early adopters moved on yonks ago, and my real-life friends are almost all on Facebook (which has its own multiple irritations, but compensates for them with companionship, conversation, and a “Hide All From…” option which I take constant glee in wielding). I no longer have stuff to pimp, or a profile to maintain.

I’ve been planning to do this for weeks. As the old saying goes, it feels like unchaining myself from a lunatic.

Adieu, Twitter. We’re done.

7 Songs From My Youth

First posted on Facebook, as a series of seven daily posts.

Day 1.

I’ve been nominated by JFH, a long-lost friend from university days, to take part in ‪#‎musikchallenge‬: seven songs from my youth, posted over a week. Here’s my first choice: a song I fell obsessively in love with, shortly after my twelfth birthday. Or rather, it’s two songs, contrasting but inseparably linked. The first is inspired by a painting; the second is a miniature lament. Both are exquisitely put together, with a level of invention and craft that I had never heard before. Thus began my six-month journey from glam to prog.

Day 2.

For Day 2, I’ve skipped past prog and gone straight to punk. Some historical context for you: having signed to CBS records, who had promised them full artistic control, The Clash were pissed off that the label had released Remote Control – one of the lesser tracks from their debut album – as their second single, without consulting the band. “Our next single will be called COMPLETE Control”, they snarled.

And so it came to pass. Produced by Lee Perry, pioneer of dub reggae, the track journeys from petulance to paranoia, climaxing with an exultant roar of defiance. For me, it’s their finest single. (And then they released an under-par follow-up and an iffy second album, at which point I lost interest, hey ho.)

Please play this with as much volume as your circumstances will allow!

Day 3.

It’s Day 3 of ‪#‎musikchallenge‬: seven songs from my youth, all of which I fell obsessively in love with. For me, Blondie’s Dreaming absolutely captures a time, a place and a renewed state of mind, as I emerged from a thoroughly ghastly adolescence and began to enjoy being a teenager at last. I felt carefree, newly connected to the world outside of my own head, full of optimism for what lay ahead – and this song, more than any other, provided the perfect soundtrack.

Day 4.

For Day 4, I’ve chosen one of the many songs from my “formative” years that allowed me to wallow in my youthful angst, of which there was more than plenty. But in this case, I felt that the singer (Howard Devoto) wasn’t just indulging in self-denigrating self-pity, but that he was also mocking himself for doing so, in a sardonic, almost self-glorifying way. And so, even as I wallowed along with him, I could smile at myself in the process. (Oh, and there’s a killer bassline too, from the wonderful Barry Adamson.)

Day 5.

It’s Day 5 of ‪#‎musikchallenge‬, and we’ve reached the “shared student house off Derby Road” years. I wanted to pick something that JFH and I would have danced to – probably at the Babel club on Huntingdon Street, which for some strange reason became our favourite bopping shop until the much cooler Asylum opened in late 1982 – but the main reason for my obsessive love of this song was its almost comically overblown romantic idealism, which matched my own state of mind with pinpoint accuracy. I had started coming out to friends, but was still a few months away from taking my first timid steps onto the Nottingham gay scene. In the meantime, I pined – and “The Look Of Love” was tailor-made for pining.

Day 6.

For Day 6, I’m back in West Berlin, dancing till dawn on Sunday mornings at the vast Metropol club in Nollendorfplatz: anonymous in the crowd, streaks in my hair, lasers in my eyes, “room odorisers” wafting through the air around me, still a little over-awed by the whole spectacle. Of the many club tracks that soundtracked my coming of age on the gay scene, this one hung around for longer than most – I must have heard it almost every weekend for well over a year – and although it might sound cheesy to modern ears, it had a particularly intense energy rush that drew me into the middle of the floor, time after time.

Day 7.

It’s now April 1985. I’m back from my year in Berlin, and edging towards my final exams at Nottingham University. I’ve not listened to many guitar bands of late, but a new crop of twangy, retro-tinged Americans have caught my ear: Los Lobos, Jason and the Scorchers, R.E.M… and The Long Ryders, who have just released a single, I Had A Dream. It’s my absolute favourite track of the moment, with a concluding instrumental break that’s shiver-inducingly powerful.

The Long Ryders are touring the UK, and they’ve booked a Friday night date in the compact, low-ceilinged, super-humid basement of The Garage, a nightclub in the Lace Market. I go down there with Dymbel and his good pal, the late DS. We head for the front, inches away from the band, and thrash about wildly – it’s a great gig.

The following night, in another nightclub, I meet K; we’ve been a couple ever since. During that time, I’ve fallen in love with countless more songs, and I’ve yet to lose my enthusiasm for discovering fresh new music. But as much as I still value music as a central part of my life, I don’t think I’m anywhere near as obsessive in my attachment to specific tracks: playing them over and over again for weeks – or even months – on end, as if nothing matters more in life.

So let’s leave me here, on my last night as a single young man: slicked in sweat and slopped lager, and leaping around to a slamming new band, wholly unaware of how fundamentally his life was about to change. Thanks to JFH for suggesting that I take this ride, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the tunes!

 

Who are the longest running UK bloggers?

Since my Twitter feed is currently getting jammed up with @replies on this topic, let’s take the subject to a more appropriate platform.

In order to qualify, bloggers need to be a) based in the UK, b) still blogging now, c) with all their archives still in one place (so multiple URLs are still allowed).

Cut-off date: February 2002.

Please let us know of any omissions!

(Update: I’m getting progressively more relaxed about c), as you’ll see below.)

12 March 1999 – Giles Turnbull

21 May 1999 – Lindsay Marshall: Bifurcated Rivets

10 June 1999 – Gordon McLean (under various blog titles)

January 2000 – Meg Pickard (formerly not.so.soft and meish, last updated June 2013, old archives set to private)

26 February 2000 – Robyn Wilder (formerly Orbyn, no old archives)

4 March 2000 – Darren: Linkmachinego

early March 2000 – Ann Carrier: Pixeldiva (not updated since February 2014)

7 March 2000 – John Robinson: Sore Eyes

15 March 2000 – Phil Gyford (see also Phil’s comment on The Haddock Directory, which started in 1996)

20 March 2000 – Jez Higgins: The Coffee Grounds

26 March 2000 – Tom Ewing: Freaky Trigger (formerly New York London Paris Munich)

29 April 2001 – Masher: Masher.tv (formerly Masher’s Blog) (older archives missing)

16 May 2000 – Mo Morgan (some long hiatuses, archives incomplete)

31 May 2000 – Nick Jordan (archives incomplete)

3 June 2000 – Cal Henderson: iamcal.com (not updated since February 2014)

25 September 2000 – Graybo: Grayblog

3 October 2000 – Brooke Magnanti (formerly methylsalicylate and Belle De Jour, no old archives)

15 October 2000 – Vaughan Simons: An Unreliable Witness (formerly Wherever You Are, last public post November 2013, all later entries currently set to private)

12 January 2001 – Alan Taylor: Oddverse (formerly Disconnected Zeitgeist)

12 January 2001 – Simon Hayes Budgen: No Rock and Roll Fun

1 February 2001 – Jonathan Green: Overyourhead

4 July 2001 – Matilda: Matilda The Cat

11 July 2001 – Julian Bond: Voidstar

late  July 2001 – Anna Pickard: Little Red Boat

29 July 2001 – Stuart Ian Burns: Feeling Listless

29 July 2001 – Dave Kennamatic: Blogging Up The Works (formerly Kennamatic)

12 September 2001 – Karen/Erzsebel: Uborka / Rise

October 2001 – Mark Sinker: hashtag tashlan (formerly radio free narnia)

30 October 2001 – Mike Atkinson: Troubled Diva (many long hiatuses in recent years!)

6 November 2001 – Perry de Havilland & Natalie Solent (and others): Samizdata

January 2002 – Hg: Hydragenic (archives wiped until 2004)

4 January 2002 – Marcello Carlin (formerly The Church Of Me)

16 January 2002 – Sasha Frieze: Sashinka (last updated September 2013)

5 February 2002 – Gert: Gertsamtkunstwerk (formerly Mad Musings Of Me)

6 February 2002 – Alastair Coleman: Scaryduck

27 February 2002 – Arseblog (based outside the UK, but British content)

Stuff what I wrote in 2013

January:

February:

March:

April:

May:

June:

July:

August:

September:

October:

November:

December:

Uborka Friday Cocktail Orders.

Humbled by your collective self-effacement, I have waivered the PIMP YER STUFF rule. And in accordance with @merialc’s request, all cocktails will contain added flecks of gold.

Please collect your orders from the bar. Your ambient cocktail-sipping soundtrack can be found here.

For me: a Long Island Iced Tea, in memory of my happy sojourn in Manila last year.

For @erzsebel: a Bloody Mary. Her choice has something to do with wasps. I have no idea why, as I have always left entomological matters to my civil partner @ktd (a former expert on the subject).

For @Gert: “one of those champagne and Guinness things”. Black Velvet, I believe. I apologise for the lack of Alannah Myles on the mix CD.

For @gordon: a Peartini. I’ve always been more of a lychee-tini man myself, but each to his own.

For @helen_kara: a Margarita, fit for a domestic goddess.

For @graybouk: a vodka, lime and soda. GRAYBOQUOTE: “I love the way that my tune has two listeners – I’m so proud!”

For @uwitness: a Lomg Slow Domestos Up Against The Wall, with ice and iron filings. So much classier than these modern-day Vim-based alternatives.

And finally, for @TrailDragon: a large flaming Sambuca, to wash away the insipid taste of the carrots on which he has been chomping. Just don’t start playing THE SAMBUCA GAME, alright?

The year has been 2004, the blogging has been Second Wave Pre-Book Deal Old School, and I’ve been Troubled Diva Mike. I now return you to your regular hiatus. Cheers!

Uborka Friday Cocktails

HIATUS BREAKER ALERT! Following a special dispensation from @erzsebel, I am opening the bar for UBORKA COCKTAILS, for THIS AFTERNOON ONLY.

However, drinks orders will only be accepted if you PIMP YER STUFF, either on the Twitter or in this comments box. Update: I have waivered this rule, on grounds of inappropriateness to the era of British blogging which this post references.

Orders will be totted up, and drinks doled out, at 16:45 UK time.

NOTE: If you haven’t the foggiest idea what I’m on about, then please resume the default “Troubled Diva on Indefinite Blogging Hiatus” position.

UPDATE: COCKTAILS ARE SERVED.