Friday, 29 July 2011

Kent Stop Loving You

There seems to be a universe of soul re-issues and compilations out there these days.  There’s not a dusty US r’n’b label that hasn’t had its back catalogue well and truly rinsed and re-mastered by enterprising labels from the UK to Germany to Japan.  So it’s hard to describe the impact that Kent Records had for a teenage lad stuck in the black music desert of rural Hampshire in the mid 1980s.  But I’m telling you now, Harboro Horace saved my life.

Harboro Horace aka northern soul legend Ady Croasdell is the man behind Kent Records’ stunning series of soul compilations and single artist re-issues that started life in the early 80s.  A subsidiary of Ace Records, Kent specialised in turning out high quality soul re-issues initially through its access to the vaults of its US parent company Kent/Modern and subsequently a range of other great underground soul labels like Okeh, Sceptre/Wand, Goldwax, Mirwood and others.

Growing up on a diet of The Jam, 2 Tone, The Who, The Small Faces and generally the gospel according to Paul Weller, largely force fed to me by my older brothers, I developed a keen ear for black music at a stupidly young age.  By the age of 14, I felt I’d had my fill of Stax, Atlantic and Motown.  I yearned for more but didn’t know where to turn.  Accidentally stumbling across the Record Collectors Centre in Guildford one Saturday afternoon (some might recall it was opposite the old bus depot) I came across a treasure trove of soul.  Real, bona fide, fuck off soul.  Crates of 45s in front of me, full of new names, artists and labels alike.  All depressingly out of the price range of me and my part time job at the Happy Eater. 

But what caught my eye was an LP called ‘On The Soul Side’.  16 tracks, 16 artists, striking art work, quirky sleeve notes and all for well under a tenner.  I was having some of that.  I got home and was blown away by the quality of the music therein.  The O’Jays ‘Lipstick Traces on a Cigarette’, Timi Yuro’s ‘What’s the Matter Baby?’ (covered brilliantly by The Small Faces, of course) and Benny Spellman’s simple but relentless ‘Fortune Teller’.  On reflection, by far from the best of their releases but this was a pivotal moment for me.  A serious, fulfilling and longstanding love affair with rare soul and, yes, Kent Records was about to begin.

That being Kent 006, I was soon on the case tracking down the first five releases and then playing catch up as Ady and his team brought out new comps at a prolific rate.   Each featuring the artwork of DJ Ian Clark and the sleeve notes from the sardonic pen of Harboro Horace.

Three things stand out about those Kent comps for me.
First, the quality control was amazing.  True, they took a couple of wrong turns.  But overall there’s hardly a filler among them.  Just track after track of great soul, largely focussed on the mid to late 60s golden age but also venturing in the 70s (introducing me to a whole new world of niceness) and deeper offerings.  In retrospect, the ballads and deep soul LPs they brought out are probably their finest, or maybe that’s just more my cup of tea these days.

Second, they did a brilliant job digging up unreleased masters from the vaults and giving them a new lease of life.  Maxine Brown’s ‘Torture’ languished for years on a cellar somewhere until Ady got hold of it, dropping it at his 100 Club residency to utter dance floor mayhem and then getting it out on Kent with much pride.  Ah, Maxine Brown.  Me and Ady loved that woman.  What a voice. 

Third, being the main man behind the 6TS all-nighters at the 100 Club, Ady was in a prime position to reflect was happening at that time on the rare soul scene.  Many of the comps that came out reflected pretty much what was on offer at either the 100 Club or Stafford’s Top of the World, the two premier nighters of the time.
This is an important point because, although the period is usually ignored in the oft-told history of the northern soul scene, the mid to late 80s were an utterly fantastic time for those of us involved.  As the bubble burst on the 70s heyday as the early 80s saw the closure of the Wigan Casino and the shedding of thousands of punters across the UK, the scene managed to go back underground and rediscover the joys of unearthing newly discovered rarities (known as ‘60s newies’ just to be confusing) and reinstating the ethos of maximum quality control.  No more brainless stomping instrumentals, no more Wigan’s Chosen Few, no more patches and baggy trousers.  Just real music heads loving their prime quality soul, from the 60s through to the modern and 70s selections.  Ady and other DJs like Keb Darge, Ian Clark, Brian Rae, Guy Hennigan, Butch, Soul Sam, Arthur Fenn, Tony Rounce and others were at the forefront of this.  And that’s what made Kent such a special vehicle for those of us looking for those special tracks. 

It wasn’t long before I was a regular on the dance floor at the 100 Club and that period from 85 to 89 was something special.  My haircut at the time was something special too, as I alarmingly found out through this YouTube clip recently >>>HERE<<< .  Yes, that’s me with ‘the Gazza’ coming into view around 2’35 ... Christ on a bike.

That was the 10th anniversary in 1989 and Ady’s still running those nights to this day.  That’s some passion.

While we’re on that footage, to get a flavour of the quality of those nights check out Chuck Jackson ‘What’s with this Loneliness?’  >>>HERE<<< and then Monique’s massive 100 Club anthem ‘If you Love Me’ >>>HERE<<<  Seriously this tune still makes me choke up when I hear it.  You basically don’t get much better soul music than this.  The bit where Monique’s voice cracks with emotion at 1’07.  Woah, I’m going all giddy.  A quintessential 100 Club moment that, a classy mid-tempo, soul-drenched production, intense music lovers shuffling away at 5am in that pitch dark sweat box with a rousing reception at the end of the track.  A unique place.

Amazingly Kent are still at it, still turning out the gems and still maintaining impeccable standards.  Last year’s ‘Deep Shadows’ compilation is among their very best.  You have to have it, no arguments.

There's plenty out there who sneer at the compilation.  Lawd knows, on a scene with obsessive collectors, cover ups and 45s going for upwards of a oner, there's plenty like that on the soul scene.  And good luck to the collectors, they're do a fine job.  But me, I'll always have a place in my heart for a good old comp.  Compiled with love, curated with care and served up to the proles, dancefloor democracy in action.  So let's hear it for the comps and let's hear it for Kent.

But going back, here’s my Top 10 compilations from that golden period:

Brain Stormers Kent 042
Very much a 100 Club-oriented affair with dance floor faves like Willie Hutch ‘Love Runs Out’ and the Malibus ‘Gee Baby I Love You’.  Then there’s the oh so classy and sophisticated tracks like Garland Green ‘Aint that Good Enough’ and Freddie Butler ‘That’s When I Need You’ which was lapped up by the knowledgable crowd down there.  And the Bobby Bland and Bud Harper tracks show a touch of the more rugged blues-tinged r’n’b that was popular in the mid 80s, particular up at Stafford.

Mecca Magic Kent 090
The Blackpool Mecca is up there with the Paradise Garage and Shoom as clubs I never went to but will definitely go to once my time machine is up and running.  So when Kent brought out this ode to the Ian Levine and Colin Curtis’s northern institution, I was made up.  And it doesn’t disappoint with Norman Connors ‘Once I’ve Been There’, Bobby Wilson’s ‘Deeper and Deeper’ and the Modulations ‘I Can’t Fight Your Love’ being highlights.  This LP was instrumental in waking up my senses to the beauty of 70s soul after a pretty much 60s only diet till then.  What a great steer this gave me.

Soul Superbowl Kent 060
Again, sums up the 100 Club for me.  Side 1 is all 60s with the beautiful and timeless ‘Please Give Me One More Chance’ by Clyde McPhatter, the mid-tempo ‘Baby Boy’ by Buster Jones, great lyrics, vocals and superb brass arrangements, always puts a smile on my face and then there’s the classic, almost doo-wop harmonies of the Commands ‘Hey, It’s Love’.  All topped off with Romance Wilson’s heartbreaking ballad ‘Where Does that Leave Me?’  And that’s just side 1.  The flip is an all 70s affair with Al Hudson’s ‘Spread Love’ (nicely covered in a house stylee by Lenny Fontana in the early 90s), Anacosta ‘What Kind of Love’ and the awesome Alicia Meyers ‘I Fooled You This Time’, a finer slice of soulful disco you will not find.  An impeccable vocal performance from Ms Meyers and my favourite string arrangement ever.  Yes, ever.  A bold statement but true none the less.

Pure Soul Kent 019
Not the most original title but it does what it says on the tin.  Kent put out a heap of deep soul ballads, including the much acclaimed Dave Godin compiled series Deep Soul 1 – 3.  But this collection of gems stands out.  If only for the Saints ‘Mirror, Mirror on the Wall’.  Will you hear more powerful gospel soaked vocals?  Not many.  Classy gear from Bobby Bland and Garland Green again.

Trippin’ On Your Soul Kent 096
A comp from 1990 and another 70s selection.  Outstanding quality throughout, the Staple Singers ‘Trippin on your Love’ being an obvious contender but the Charmels ‘Sea Shells’, the Madd Lads ‘Did My Baby Call?’, John Gary Williams ‘Come What May’ and Rance Allen’s ‘Aint No Need for Crying’ are all 5 star, gold plated must haves.  In fact, every single track on this comp pretty much fits that description.

On the Soul Side Kent 006
Not the best by a long shot but the first in my collection so it has to get a mention.  And it has a simple charm.  The O’Jays standing the test of time, what a group they were from their very early 60s output to their golden Philadelphia International age, there’s no denying their absolute class.

A Whole Lotta Soul is Here Kent 048
One of the best for representing the scene at the time.  The Trends ‘Not Too Old to Cry’ and the Impressions ‘I Need You’ showing the attention to quality that the DJs and dancefloor alike were giving at the time, mid or even down tempo tracks were getting dropped and the clued up punters would lose themselves in the harmonies, production and soulfulness without needing a pounding beat to keep them going.  Little Charles and the Sidewinders ‘Talking About You Babe’ is a mighty production in every sense, massive brass, massive vocals, massive anthem basically.

Leapers, Sleeper and Creepers Kent 031
Worth it just for Patrice Holloway’s civil rights anthem ‘Stay With Your Own Kind’, superb lyrics telling the story of doomed love affair between a young sister and her white fella, sung with such heartfelt emotion that you’d think it was a true tale from Patrice herself.  Perhaps it was.  There’s a great little track from Bobby Womack with ‘What You Gonna Do (When Your Love is Gone)’ and a gorgeous down tempo delight in Sam E Solo ‘Tears Keep Falling’.  One of those sophisticated productions, the kinda down to mid tempo tracks we’d call ‘beat ballads’.  It just oozes class.  Right up my strasse, that one.

Club Soul Kent 022
A nod to the northern scene’s heritage, featuring selections that first got played at London’s Flamingo right back in the pioneering mod days.  So you have classic items like Chuck Jackson’s ‘Hand it Over’, Jack Montgomery ‘Dearly Beloved’ and Nella Dodd’s ‘Honey Boy’.  But why I picked this is for one track alone.  Big Maybelle comes correct with ‘Lord, What Are You Doing to Me?’  This is music from the very depths of the heart, a heartfelt expression of the human experience at its rawest.  If you listen to this without developing goose bumps or a lump in your throat then you are not human.  Or you’re just a dick.

Soul Class of 66 Kent 011
I love this because it features Garland Green turning in yet another classy gem ‘Girl I Love You’.  And I played this as me and my missus walked down the aisle after getting wed.  And I’m a soppy old git. 

My 100 Club Top 10
Garland Green - Girl I Love You
Cajun Hart - Gotta Find a Way
Maxine Brown - Let Me Give You My Loving
Monique - If You Love Me
Sam Fletcher - I'd Think It Over
Johnny Maestro - Stepping Out of the Picture
Melba Moore - The Magic Touch
Tony Middleton - Spanish Maiden
Spyder Turner - Just Can't Make it Anymore
Betty Moorer - Speed Up

Matt Dykes July 2011.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Matt, that's a very appreciated look back. Ady