The Agency

Towards the end of 1985 I’d managed to land a plum gig, DJing at Charivari with my mate, Gary. We’d been regular punters for many months and had got to know Pete and Toby well enough to ask for a slot. A two-week trial doing the first hour led to a permanent residency and we fucking loved it. We could pretty much play whatever we wanted, but they knew our tastes, so we just played what we loved. What an absolute joy, and looking back, the opportunity to DJ to 275 young, musically receptive kooks, freaks and hipsters who shared a distaste for the mainstream was a bit of a life changer.

In ‘85 the destruction of Bournemouth’s pub, club and live music culture was years away. Outside Charivari, The Third Side, Whiskeys, Bacchus and Micawber’s became our most frequented watering holes, but there was no shortage of choice for alternative tastes. We were befriending musos and mavericks with gusto and around that time, mejor amigo Simon, a young dude with prodigious confidence knew a character of much repute named Sandy, who was the singer in a band. A soul band. The Soul Band. The Agency.

From 2006 my business would be promoting local music, my passion for which started twenty years earlier with The Agency. Formed not many months before my first experience, these guys already seemed not just seamless, but masters of their art. Sandy was the front man; cool, pork-pied, sharp-suited, a mover and groover whose performance personified soul. Behind Sandy was Tim Holt aka Mr.Soul on rhythm guitar and a motley crew of absolute funksters who ripped it up every one of the dozens of times I saw them play.

After a deep trawl, I discovered this beauty on the band’s facebook page. One of The Agency’s first gigs in 1985…

The Agency had a tight as hell rhythm section with badass bass and toms & tablas as prominent as the full kit, and a lead guitarist who looked like a prog-rock god but like played like Ernie Isley. The icing on the mille-feuille was the band’s own version of The Memphis Horns, a three, four or do I remember five-piece horn section. The band’s line-up was as fluid as the music, and years down the line Sandy left and Andy hit the front adding guitar and no less groove.

Playing a few of their own but mostly covers of soul, funk, R&B and Stax, The Agency cemented and enhanced my love of the likes of Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and Wilson Pickett and fed my desire to learn more. I danced my fucking ass off to these guys for the next few years, venue Little Peters was sweaty basement heaven and I soul-shuffled with as much mastery as I could muster. The band continued in various guises over the next three decades and may have stopped playing now. A 30 year anniversary gig stormed the Tivoli Theatre in 2015 and beyond that I’m really not sure, but fellas… 35 years later, thank you for your soul and inspiration.

The Isley Brothers – ‘Forever Gold’

Ahh… The Isley Brothers. What a beautiful family of absolute dudes. Packed with killer singles during the early and mid ‘70s, the psychedelic funk & soul and blissed-out vocals are all perfectly captured on their ’77 release Forever Gold. Formed in the ‘50s, The Isley’s were legendary before any of these tunes were written, but that status went up a bunch of notches during the seventies.

These guys had earned their chops a hundred times over by the time That Lady was released in ’73, tutoring Jimi Hendrix from ’63-’65 who was a clear inspiration for the psychedelic guitar on many of these tracks ten years later. The absolute groove on these tunes, regardless of tempo, is impeccable, but it’s not just the groove, it’s the message and sentiment on tracks like Highways Of My Life and Harvest For The World which hit me just as hard.

Sometimes musically it’s the simpler the better that works, when just the most basic groove works best. Lennon was a master of that, and in so many songs it’s that simplicity that wins me over. Highways Of My Life got me for just that reason. Everything is beautifully simple, and just the faintest change in tempo mid-song just kills me.

Me and my amigos loved this album. In many ways it was the soundtrack to our time living together, summing up our brotherly love and sheer passion for a work of musical art. For me this was The Isley Brothers at their peak; pre-disco and groovin’ the hell out of the funk-rock. But, pinning a genre on Forever Gold is a waste of time. This ain’t no disco, R&B, funk or soul. This is The Isley Brothers.

Bob Marley and The Wailers – ‘Legend’

By the summer of ’85 our social life was gathering pace. At age 17 I was a shy boy with limited confidence having led a sheltered and comfortable life, certainly compared to my closest friends. Life had been relatively straightforward, and my character and personality was yet to blossom. At 19 I was playing catch up with much gusto. My mates were in bands, we were hitting bars, pubs and clubs and very quickly we found our spiritual home – Charivari at The Cabaret Club.

‘Charivari’ meaning: ‘a medley of discordant sounds’

Charivari was the brainchild of Toby Rose and Pete Young. In 1985 new romantics had all but vanished and the hip-hop and acid scene were yet to really kick in. Wham, Duran Duran, Madonna and Shakin’ Stevens were top of the pops and Bournemouth was crying out for an alternative club.

Charivari was packed on a weekly basis with nearly 300 mods, punks, goths, hippies, suedeheads, rastas, skinheads, rockabillies, beatniks and all manner of student alternatives who wanted to be amongst like-minded, wide-eyed music appreciados, and if there was one artist who seemed to be appreciado’d more than any other, it was Bob Marley. His music transcended barriers; be it musical, political or whichever youth cult you’d aspire to. The sheer joy of Could You Be Loved is futile to resist.

Legend had been released the year before and was the obvious go to album, even though most of the songs were at least faintly familiar to me already. Whilst the album showcases none of Marley’s early ska roots, it simply glows with love and empathy, pleading for kindness and unity in a world full of injustice and oppression.

Mention Jamaican culture and Rastafarianism and Bob Marley comes to mind immediately, and with a message of such genuine warmth and love, no other artist’s music has had such ability to bring people together. Whilst Bob Marley personifies reggae music, his music was enriched with funk and soul rhythms and pop melodies. His legacy lives on far beyond his music…

“The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively”

Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – ‘Rattlesnakes’

So, I was working in Discus, a ‘trendy’ menswear boutique, and I was shopping for clothes in Bizarre Bazaar, a grubby, dishevelled, glorious palace of second-hand clobber. My boss said I should smarten up in the shop’s trendy togs, saying I looked like a beatnik, which made me a very happy man. Job done, considering my influence of sixties style and culture was now mixed with a new roll-necked songster.

Lloyd Cole & The Commotions’ Rattlesnakes was a huge influence musically, lyrically, and in the album’s all-encompassing fragrance and melancholy. It oozed masculine sensitivity, referencing a host of style and literary icons, which as an all too easily influenced 18 year-old fed my intrigue massively. I related to Lloyd Cole’s visually shy and faintly awkward persona, whilst his lyrics were clearly that of a deep-thinker, beautifully gushing what it felt like to be a young romantic.

“She’s got cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin and she’s sexually enlightened by Cosmopolitan.” – Perfect Skin

At the time, Prefab Sprout’s Swoon was another gem of an album; musically exquisite, though with lyrics bordering on ‘trying too hard’, it was Rattlesnakes that was far more personally relatable. Lloyd Cole’s songs read like books, teeming with cultural references urging exploration, wrapped in such genuine timelessness that any accusation of pretentiousness is instantly dismissed.

Reaching a lofty No.65 in the Top 40 singles chart in late ’84, musically and lyrically Rattlesnakes is bordering on perfection…

Jodie wears a hat although it hasn’t rained for six days
She says a girl needs a gun these days
Hey on account of all the rattlesnakes

She looks like Eve Marie saint in On The Waterfront
She reads Simone de Beauvoir in her American circumstance

She’s less than sure if her heart has come to stay in San Jose
And her never-born child still haunts her
As she speeds down the freeway
As she tries her luck with the traffic police
Out of boredom more than spite
She never finds no trouble, she tries too hard
She’s obvious despite herself

She looks like Eve Marie Saint in On The Waterfront
She says all she needs is therapy, yeah
All you need is, love is all you need

Jodie never sleeps ’cause there are always needles in the hay
She says that a girl needs a gun these days
Hey on account of all the rattlesnakes

She looks like Eve Marie Saint in on the waterfront
As she reads Simone de Beauvoir in her American circumstance
Her heart, heart’s like crazy paving
Upside down and back to front
She says “ooh, it’s so hard to love
When love was your great disappointment.”

Rattlesnakes was the band’s finest work. Their two following albums, whilst being hugely playable and achieving higher chart success, lacked Rattlesnakes’ romance and emotional impact. The closer Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken? squeezed out the last drops of an album loaded with depth and sentiment, an album which, like many other sensitive souls, seemed like it was released with me in mind.