DIARY OF A TRAVELIN' SOUL FAN
After last year's Hitsville Weekender was over, Bev and I planned to visit to the Australian National Northern Soul Weekender. Two Hitsville stalwarts in the guise of Denny Johnson and Pete Fowler had invited us out there and we figured it would also be a great opportunity to meet up with a few other people that we had worked or communicated with over the years of There's That Beat! and the Hitsville Soul Club. Our Son however, had other ideas and as the plans were being laid he informed us that we were going to be Grandparents and that the little 'un was due over the same weekend! Trip postponed for a year! As it turned out, this was a great blessing in disguise as it meant we could tie up the trip with a number of other things too. Here are my, somewhat hazy, recollections of a month on the road...
BROTHERS OF SOUL
Last Spring when Rob Moss first contacted me about his upcoming promotion of the Brothers Of Soul in UK I was certainly excited but a little sceptical. I wondered if Rob could motivate enough people to attend thus ensuring that the event took place. I needn't have worried as, on a grey day in October 2011, a large crowd of dedicated Detroit enthusiasts made their way to Coventry to enjoy a musical evening with a couple of true soul legends: Mr Fred Bridges and Mr Bobby Eaton.
Bev and I arrived courtesy of Monarch Airlines via Birmingham around mid afternoon, met up with my brother Kev, Dave and Julie Greet, Brummie Mick and a few others for a few pints then went to an Italian for dinner. From there it was straight to the gig. Bumping into people you haven't seen for a while is always a pleasure and that happened all night at this particular gig. Anticipation grew as the time for the guys to appear approached. Despite the fact that 2 of the original guys, (Robert and Ben Knight), had to stay back in the US due to health reasons, the chance to meet with Messrs Bridges and Eaton was a chance in a lifetime and the crowd of people at the Carribean Community Club in downtown Coventry grabbed it with both hands.
Rob drafted in a late substitute for the Knights which pushed local singer Johnny St John into the spotlight with only a few hours to learn the songs. Not an ideal situation but they all coped. Fred Bridges was also obviously suffering from a form of laryngitis but when the band, (Funk n Soul), struck up the anthemic "Bari Track" as their opening gambit you knew all was gonna be well!The addition of a string quartet was a master stroke by Rob and paid dividends as far as the musical presentation of the groups songs were concerned.
Despite his obvious discomfort and the fact that their lead singer was absent Fred Bridges gave his all on their rendition of I Am Nothing, the iconic Al Williams Detroit standard and we were then treated to a set of songs that the guys were instrumental in either writing or recording. Another highlight for me was their performance of I'd Be Grateful, one of my favourites of theirs.
These live events are always very special to me and I always find it a humbling experience to press the flesh, so to speak, of my musical heroes. The records are still relatively important to me but on a personal level, for me the emphasis has shifted to the people who created this fantastic music.
I was the first 'punter' into the changing room with Eddie Hubbard, Our Kevin and Chalkie doing the photo bits.
Greetings done, congrats all round and then photos of the guys with their records. Autographs and a final shake of the hand and 20 mins later we exited, elated, full of beans and as Eddie commented "We were like kids in a candy store". It's great to see us all, middle aged, bit heavier, bit balder but still full of passion for people like the Brothers Of Soul. In a world of X Factor mediocrity, of celebrity for celebrity sake, it was fantastic to see a knowledgeable crowd turn out to show love and respect to a pair of true Detroit soul legends.
Couldn't help but think of two great Mates who are no longer with us and what their reaction would have been but I'm sure Alan Pollard and Glenn Hunter would have been front and centre with big beaming smiles on their faces.
There then followed a couple of sets from Neil Rushton and Johnny Manship that mixed the tempos and styles with some of Detroit's finest 45s and more than one person commented on how fantastic it was to hear these records all lumped together hour after hour.
All in all a great night and a big thanks to all involved.
Next morning it was up and at 'em, a taxi to railway station and an hour and a half later we were picked up by my Son, along with my now almost one year old Grandson (Frankie), at Malvern Link and planning the next phase of our trip. We spent 6 days with the family including a wonderful lunch on Bev's Birthday at a riverside restaurant. It's unusual for us all to be together on birthdays etc so this was extra special as Bev got to spend time with Li'l Frankie on her birthday. A great afternoon.
During our stay in Malvern Quantas decided to ground their fleet and it looked touch and go whether we would make the OZ gig or not! We kept an eye on the news and decided we would risk setting off to the airport as it appeared they were on the verge of restarting their schedules. Just prior to our departure fellow Hitsvillers Dave and Janet Ferguson and Kev and Bev Parker had departed and it looked like we just might all make it a full Hitsville reunion after all.
Next leg was the flight to Hong Kong. A leisurely train ride from Birmingham to Heathrow (for 6UKP each!!), saw us checked in, bags deposited and awaiting the departure. We were going to make it after all. 6pm next day we arrived in Hong Kong, transferred to the Kowloon Hotel and by 8pm were hitting Nathan Street!
It had been over 10 years since I visited Hong Kong and I was expecting a few changes. The only change I spotted was another skyscraper on the peninsula side! A great Italian meal with a few Tiger beers later, we decided to get the head down and hit the city in the morning.
For those that use the Big Red Bus type tours when exploring cities I have to say that the Hong Kong one is the best I've ever experienced. We climbed aboard at 9am with a harbor crossing on the Star Ferry and didn't finish until 9pm when we meandered round Mong Kok , my old stomping ground.
In between we managed just about most of the 'must do' stuff including The Peak, Sampan ride around the Harbour, Fort Stanley, Wan Chai, etc before having a great dinner on the fifth floor terrace of the Stone Grill Restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui. We also managed a visit to Bobby Taylor's Skylark Lounge where the inaugural Asian Northern Soul Weekender will take place next March. The location is ideally situated in Central Hong Kong next to the busy nightlife area of Aberdeen and should prove a good location for the event. Next day saw us wonder along the Esplanade taking in the sights of the harbor, a look around the bustling shopping arcades, a visit to the Space Museum in the afternoon and then a shuttle to the airport for our next leg - Perth, Australia.
PERTH - AUSTRALIA
Our arrival in Australia couldn't have been more welcoming. Our old Mate Barry Simpson had insisted on picking us up at 8am and we were soon on our way to the Simpsons home at Mullaloo, where were to spend our first Antipodean day/night with him and his lovely wife Kay. One huge breakfast later Bev and I were fast asleep for a few hours before shaking off the jetlag in order to enjoy a fantastic home cooked dinner with our hosts.
Few drinks later and Barry and I 'retired' to his record room to satisfy the anorak gene we are both lumbered with...and satisfy it we certainly did! Most people who know me will vouch for the fact that I am at my happiest when delving into the lives and history of my music making heroes.
This can sometimes cause problems with non anorak types who for some unfathomable reason don't seem to get as excited when discussing the lives of 75 year old black record producers! Fortunately, Mr Simpson is a kindred spirit and we both spent the next 4 hours playing records, tracing events in the Motown timeline, poring over memorabilia from the Donovan building in Detroit and generally entertaining ourselves as only fellow anoraks would appreciate.
We then set up some photo pictures, played a few 45s and discussed at length the merits of being bitten by the bug that is Motown.
At one stage we put together the sequence of events relating to Raynoma Gordy's 'bootlegging' of Mary Wells' "My Guy" when she needed a cash injection to sustain the Jobete NY office. We traced an original letter that Barry had sourced that contained a notification to Berry Gordy from the Nashville Mains plant about his wife's activities. It also included a response from Gordy. We had both the original and the bootleg copy of the 45 also, connected the dates of manufacture from the plant, orders for demos, release and chart records and eventually concluded that the letter was indeed relating to that particular incident. Smug? We were well chuffed! LOL!
Amongst Barry's stuff was a cheque from Marv Johnson made out to Thomas "Beans" Bowles for $20. Wonder what the story behind that particular transaction was!
The highlight of the evening for me though came in a wonderful threesome: Handling, for the very first time, Martha Reeves and The Vandellas original bio created by Motown's International Talent Management Agency arm. Barry has a pristine copy complete with the original coloured envelope it was dispatched in.The originals of these early Motown bios are particularly hard to find so to handle a mint one was a great thrill. Nice!
The piece de resistance of the evening was discovering that Barry had secured the original promo photo of Henry Lumpkin with the annotation of "Personal Management by Berry Gordy Enterprises". It's one of the few early Motown Promo photos I haven't yet located and was well pleased to have at last actually seen an original.
A couple of pics of us both as a momento of a great night (see above), a final cup of coffee and we called it a night.
A lazy morning lie in ensued before yet another hearty breakfast then next up was a short ride to Hillary's Harbour, a marina set on the coast that comprises shops, restaurants, and leisure facilities.
As it was Saturday there were lots of families relaxing and enjoying themselves and it reminded Bev and I of our time in Florida when we used to visit the St Pete's Beach Marina on a regular basis. After wandering round the shops we decided on eating at Breakwaters Restaurant and after a few pints of the local brew had a great lunch watching the boats come and go.
I can't thank Kay and Barry enough for our visit with them. It was a pleasure to spend time in such great company and Bev and I hope to reciprocate their tremendous hospitality when they finally hit the Hitsville Weekender sometime in the future.
Next was a short move to Denny and Claire Johnson's home in Iluka, with who we would spend the next couple of days, to get sorted before attending the Irish Club, Perth's premier Northern Soul gig. Denny sort of kept up the tone of our visit with a quick "Dave, first things first...this is the beer fridge!" Needless to say a few scoops were the order of the day as we caught up with each other. I'd been asked by Pete Fowler to do a spot and ran a few by Denny as the girls got ready. Once we were all spruced up it was off to a local eatery for my first (but not last), Barramundi of the trip, with garlic mash and whole slew of local brew! Fed, watered, and ready to rock n roll we met up with Kev and Bev Parker back at the Johnson's for a few 'scoops' whilst Denny finalized his records for his set later then set off to The Irish Club for the gig.
IRISH CLUB - PERTH
To greet us at the door of the Irish Club were Pete and Maxine Fowler old friends from Hitsville and the current organizers of the club. Once inside and at the bar Dave and Janet Ferguson arrived and our Hitsville contingent was now complete 12000 miles away.
As we arrived Ronnie was just finishing up his opening set so unfortunately we missed that but Nige Loveless was about to take to the Technics and he played lots of stuff on OZ labels. I'd worked with Nige on a comprehensive feature about the OZ soul 45s so it was great to meet him in person and buy him a beer at last.
At 11pm it was my turn to try and keep the dancers happy and I'm pleased to say that most of the crowd were up for it and my hour only saw the dance-floor thin out on two occasions, both being records that maybe the crowd hadn't heard before, Chino Feaster "The Girl I Love" on the better mix version on Strakers Records and a 70s version of the old Rex Garvin number 'You Can Do It By Yourself" by the Dynamos on Dynamo Records.
The remainder of my set was tailored to the dancers requirements of the night and a few big oldies interspersed with some quality cheapies seemed to be the right recipe for a good night.
Was particularly good to dust off things like The Four Perfections, Herbie Hunter, Frank Dell, Jimmy Burns and the Del Larks that I don't play much nowadays in amongst a couple of REO Detroit items that, rather shamefuly, have hardly ever seen the light of day in my record room. The crowd seemed to appreciate them all equally.
My last 45 of the set was probably the most popular play of the night. The Just Brothers "Sliced Tomatoes" was a surprising 'hit' with the dancefloor and it left a full floor to the next guys.
The residents Pete and Denny filled the last couple of hours with a series of classics including a few big hitting oldies sprinkled amongst some nice rarities. Pete had recently acquired a stock issue of the Yum Yums and this was the first time in 35 years that I'd handled this particular Holy Grail.
Pete and Denny know their crowd well and everyone seemed to have a great time as only Ex Pats can. When your opportunities for soul are limited you tend to go for it 100% from the off. As the refrains of the final 45 faded we made our way home, happy as Larry, having arranged to attend a session at Pete and Maxine's the following night. Looked like it was gonna be another 45/beerfest...He He, love it!
Following morning saw me up early and on the road running down to the coast for a jog around the area and to clear some beer out of my system! Clair gave me some local knowledge and I found myself jogging along the coastal road amongst the sand dune renovation taking place on Burns Beach.
The area is a joggers paradise. Sea vistas, empty beaches and clear paths led me to go further than I originally planned but an hour later I managed to find my way back after a very enjoyable close up look at the coast of Western Australia. We then enjoyed a fantastic breakfast with Denny, Claire and their two kids, Nicole and Sean. Sean was under pressure revising for exams later in the week so hopefully we didn't disturb his concentration too much and he'll have been successful by now and can relax a little.
thanks go to Dave Moore for yet another enjoyable read, due to the size his account of his travels has been two parted
Part two which includes a look at the Aussie Weekender now follows..