George Jackson, Al's Bar, London. April 7th, 2001
One of the regular highlights of the month for Dawn and me is our visit to the George Jackson club at Al's Bar in Farringdon, so for Dawn to be invited to play a spot there as part of the April line-up made our last visit there a particularly special one.
For those of you who haven't been, this place really is a must-go for anyone with an open mind and a sense of wonder at just how TASTEFUL great Soul music can be. Strict-tempo Northern Soul oldies-fascists would hate it, but if you can gasp at a record without needing to dance to it, if you can ignore the era, the tempo and the zip code on the record label and just marvel at the sheer Soul content, then this is a club you will thank the Lord for.
George Jackson is not a Northern Soul club - but they do play Northern Soul records. It's not a Southern Soul club - they play plenty of records from North of the Mason-Dixon line. It's not a Sixties Soul club - they play Soul from way before and way after the big Seven-Oh, and it's not a Deep 'n' Slow club - they play plenty of really danceable stuff, especially towards the end of the night. George Jackson is just...George Jackson, a club where great Soul gets played, no matter what.
For anyone used to scenes stifled by rules and regulations about 'correct' tempos and 'the way things used to be when people did it by the book', George Jackson is a breath of fresh air, a determined tearing up of all available rulebooks and a return to seeing both the wood AND the trees. Sixties Deep Soul ballads rub shoulders with 70s butt-shakers, harmonising Sweet Soul honeydrippers with mid-60s finger-clickers, and cracked-voiced country grinders with supercharged Big-City epics, the overriding factor in all cases being the Soul content. You don't get many Xylophone Oldies, but you do get virtually everything else. The one thing you'll never get is a Pop Stomper.
The quality of the sides played on Saturday was staggering, with tracks like Bill Brandon's "Rainbow Road" and Eddie Jones' Let's Stop Fooling Ourselves" standing out from a lorryload of devastating slowies, and selections by Willie Tee, Purple Mundi, Syl Johnson and Eddie Giles getting the feet shuffling later on. Connoisseurs and complete strangers to Rare Soul got swept up in the mood, and by the end the 'intimate' (ie tiny) floor was heaving with everything from Northern Soul die-hards to Southern Soul purists and 'just passing by' members of the general public just shaking it to the sounds on a Saturday night. Finally, the lights went up and one of the aforementioned complete strangers rushed breathlessly up to the DJs and gasped "That was fantastic - what WAS that stuff you were playing?" Now THAT's what I call a job well done.
As of next month, George Jackson will be moving to the Smersh bar at 5 Ravey Street, London EC1, which I think will be a much better place for them than the quarry-tiled, thru-lounge sized venue they've occupied up till now, and the Smersh regulars should be more in sympathy with what the club is trying to achieve than the sometimes rather hit-and-miss passers-by who have occasionally stumbled in on the club at Al's bar. I, for one, can't wait until May 19th for my next fix of rule-book-free Soul. Conveniently, it's the same night as May's 100 Club, so anyone from out of town can check out what it's about, too. See you there!