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Dave Godin's column for Soulful Kinda Music. Issue 48

I recently got a copy of Mick Patrick and Malcolm Baumgart’s compilation of SCEPTER tracks made by The Rocky Fellers, (WESTSIDE WESA 898) and hearing their
US hit track “Killer Joe” again after so many years was almost like falling into a time warp. Without a doubt in my view, music is the closest we at present have to a Time Machine, and what struck me, (and, at the same time reminded me of some basic truths) is how INNOCENT it all was then. Unashamed, naive, urgent and hormonal! Or does that merely describe how I was at that time? (Well, I think I’m still like that!) 

The trouble with all art forms that come from the bottom up is that eventually, (when all element of real danger has passed, and only pretend danger still exists), they will be seized upon by those who at the time it was actually happening, stood timidly on the outer fringes of it all. Then, when they feel it is safe to do so, seek to move in to become the Kings of the Castle in a realm from which they were initially excluded from. It is indeed, if you like, the revenge of the nerds! Britain, perhaps more than any other culture, has this apparent obsession with pigeon-holing things, as if having everything properly arranged and defined ensures we all know our proper place, and presumably this orderly sense of certainty will then usher in the Peaceable Kingdom of God on earth! No such luck, matey! It’s just a manifestation of neurotic insecurity. 

Over the past few years there has been a concerted effort to get the term “Southern Soul” into the national vocabulary in the same way Northern Soul is now universally recognised, and although it sounds quite cute, if you really examine the term, it is really quite meaningless. What is important to remember is that the term Northern Soul referred to Britain’s geography, not that of the USA, (as some mis-informed people still believe), so refering to Soul that is recorded and produced in the former Confederate States, (I’m not sure quite where they stand on recordings made in those states that were neutral), is really not that far from the rebel-yell that “The South will rise again!”.  

It also overlooks the fact that one of the great achievements of Blackamerican music is its constant ability and indeed, willingness, to absorb musical influences from all over the place, and of course, in a capitalist economy this will mostly be those from the records which are currently making the Top! 

This over-romanticised notion that some people have of Blackamerican performers and their music is in my view an albatross, albeit one that is orchestrated by a very tiny minority. Words like “purity” and “authenticity” are casually employed without any thought to what those words imply, and what is worse, Blackamerica itself has not been given any chance of input as to how such terms are defined. Of course when you are being interviewed, you soon pick up from where the interviewer is coming from, and it is understandable human nature that the interviewee will then proceed to give the sort of answers that he or she feels are expected of them, but privately, they may subsequently snort with derision. And indeed, why not? 

Of course the musical “purist” has little time for any record that is commercially successful as if the fact that it has made the charts demonstrates proof evidence that some serious degree of compromise must already have taken place. But, there is nothing new about two-faced double-think in the mind of folks who seek to dictate, and who want the world to become a reflection of their own personality. Look at the US government’s constant cosying up to the Chinese government (“favoured trading nation status”) which maintains an authoritarian grip over a country where the concept of “human rights” can hardly be said to exist, and compare it with their constant harrassment of poor little Cuba where at least you are still free to dance and shimmy if not to be cussed. And reflect too on how the politics of the last three years of Martin Luther King’s life have been air-brushed out of memory. (And, for the record, (you read it here first!), I don’t think history will judge Eddie Murphy too kindly.) 

This constant quest to “redeem tragedy” (James Carr is perhaps a good example, being the white liberal’s wet dream come true), and the stereotypical implications that go alongside these attitudes, has got to be exposed as the precious day-dreams they really are - like playing air-guitar, but with records, and other people’s lives. For these people, it is better an artist stand in the welfare line rather than compromise his “artistic integrity”, whilst they live out their (very often) comfortable middle-class lives and are often so tight-assed that they moan and complain, when they lay out £12 for a CD, if it has a track that is duplicated elsewhere in their collection. And that’s about 50p a track..! 

We encounter terms like “real Soul”, but we don’t encounter a definition of just what that is supposed to be, and if we did, it might seem a mite ludicrous if, as white Brits, any of us decided to do so. (I suspect of course that what is meant when someone uses that term is that “real Soul” is what THEY define as Soul). As I have said before, “only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches”, and if these people would only ask Blackamericans, and listen to their reply, (instead of jumping in first of all with their analysis), they might get to know, as the saying goes, where it’s at. 

And if “Southern Soul” is a “style” where does that place records like The Olympics’ “Good Lovin’”, Benny Spellamn’s “Fortune Teller”, Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay”, Homer Banks’ “A Lot Of Love” and so many other commercial hits that are uptempo and otherwise “up”? Or come to that, Jackie Lee’s wonderful “The Duck” which was also recorded south of that Mason-Dixon line so beloved of the Klan and today’s Christian Militia? 

When Viv Nicholson (the “Spend, Spend, Spend” gal) won her (then) fortune on the pools, her father answered the door to the man from Littlewoods, and when told what it was in connection with, said, “It’ll be me you’ll be wanting to talk to”. I think you’ll get my meaning... 

Now if you think that this column has been unduly wayward, just remember that the dullest people on earth are those who state that they “never discuss politics or religion”. Soul music, no matter how you cut it, is very much tied up with both these things, albeit perhaps on a subliminal level, so, I hope you will join me when I say that I love Soul music not because I aspire to the values it espouses, but because I share them! 

Finally, there’s another radio programme in the pipeline devoted to Northern Soul, (yes, I know, but this one does promise to be both different and fairly accurate, which was the sole reason I agreed to take part in it). I’m not sure when it is scheduled, but I’ll keep you posted. When I went to Manchester to record my part, I was able to pop in to Beat ‘n’ Rhythm Records and meet everyone there which was a real pleasure, and surely this be one of the very first ports of call you make if you want to get any record that is outside the remit of the mainstream stores. They also stock “Big Daddy” magazine in which I gave an e-x-h-a-u-s-t-i-v-e interview which is being stretched over two editions, but it quoted me accurately and didn’t seem to mind that I am at heart, one of life’s most naturally vulgar people! See what you think, ‘cos that don’t make me a bad person! 

Until next time, keep the faith.