Jackie Wilson – ‘The Soul Years’

I’d been a soul obsessive since picking up This Is Soul at Snu-Peas in 1981. Soul was the staple of my DJ set at Charivari, and intensified by my love of The Agency. By 1986 my ears had been focussed on the classic artists: Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Curtis Mayfield and James Brown. Also heavy on my turntable rotation was War & Peace by Edwin Starr, a glorious soul-stomper with hints of psychedelia that like Grease, had copious amounts of groove and meaning.

War & Peace also dipped into northern soul, and these tracks, plus the prompting of Pete Young guided me towards some new sounds and new labels. Pete made me a mixtape. They were a thing. The cassette was littered with northern soul classics and some stompers from the Kent label by the likes of Young Holt Unlimited and Johnny Otis, and best of all it turned me on to ‘Mr. Excitement’, the R&B and soul legend, Jackie Wilson.

My Top 5 all-time soul singers:

1. Jackie Wilson
2. Marvin Gaye
3. Aretha Franklin
4. Al Green
5. Otis Redding

Pete’s tape motivated me to check out a load of new, mostly northern soul singers, but it was Jackie Wilson’s The Soul Years that was my first post-tape purchase. Jackie Wilson is best known for the classic Higher and Higher and the 1957 single Reet Petite, a rock n roll staple nowhere to be seen on The Soul Years, which showcases Wilson’s vocal flair and prowess. Jackie Wilson’s stage performance was up there with the very best, but I was just blown away by the sincerity and sheer depth of soul on the likes of I’m The One To Do It, You Got Me Walking and the euphoric northern soul floor-filler, Because Of You.

Of the 16 tracks on Soul Galore, all but a few I’d play in a DJ set. But this was no ‘best of’. Jackie Wilson had huge success for ten years before these gems were recorded, but in 1966 he joined forces with Chicago soul producer Carl Davis, and began recording with Motown musicians including the legendary Funk Brothers. An absolute match made in heaven and this album is perfect proof. If there’s a singer who gives me goosebumps way beyond the norm, it’s Jackie Wilson. But on The Soul Years it’s the energy, the strings, the production, the songs, along side those stunning vocals. It’s all there. The complete package.

The Spoons

By early ’86 and with the Charivari DJ residence established, I was feeling, for the first time, very much a part of something. Bournemouth in the mid ‘80s had a fantastic alternative scene, underground but everywhere, if you knew where to look. My friends, cohorts and co-habitants Simon and Gary were in Sketches Of Utopia, one of many quality bands playing the local pubs & clubs. They and many others played Charivari, who hosted a variety of acts as wide as the stage was small, including Julian Clary & Fanny The Wonder Dog aka The Joan Collins Fan Club and Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Yes, a wide variety.

Charivari attracted the most eclectic bunch of heady non-conformists you could imagine. The rockabilly and psychobilly scene was particularly prominent, but the colossal mix of style and musical orientation on show illuminated the place. The club seemed to crackle with possibilities. Watching an eager couple fuck fully clothed on a seat less than ten feet from me was not something I was used to. Neither was catching a fella shooting up, though at least that was confined to the toilets. Three original local bands in particular did it for me in 1986: The Swis, The Vibration Doctors, and following a gig at The Third Side Club featuring the debut of a certain Lance Riley on vocals, The Spoons.

I’d known Lance briefly before The Third Side gig, and judging by the turnout that night he’d invited half of Bournemouth to see them play. With a heavy ‘60s sound and hooks that could kill, The Spoons became my local Fabs. Stylistically, Lance was a Jim Morrison, Bryan Ferry and Roddy Frame hybrid, Phil was Revolver era John Lennon. Mark, Aftermath era Keith Richards and Budgie, Black And White era JJ Burnel. Make-up didn’t go missing. Paisley was everywhere. These were the mainstays of ’86 Spoons. On drums Steve was replaced by Nick who was replaced by Simon, and after a year or two Mark left too, but in ‘86 and into ‘87 The Spoons, like dozens of others, were MY local band.

My love of lists has always included all-time favourite bands, and for a year or so The Spoons were in my Top 10. Fucking ridiculous, but there they were at about No.8 just behind The Doors and ahead of, I dunno, The Byrds. Whist Lance was in his element as king strut out front, Budgie didn’t need to make any effort to look cool. But it was Phil, aka Hugo Slater that demanded attention. Duelling Rickenbackers with Budgie, Phil was THE main man, as much Lou Reed as Lennon, he was the chief bard, harmoniser and funny as fuck. Posers, the lot of ‘em, but they were seriously good, so all that peacocking just enhanced their appeal.

Sinner, She’s Yesterday, Show Me How, Valentine… their songs had an aura, a riff-heavy mix of all things groovy; an indie tinged mix of Beatles, Zombies and Loaded era Velvets. As great as the songs were, they shone all the more due to the vocal skills of Lance Riley. Looks count for nothing if you sound like Simon Le Bon, but Lance oozed Bryan Ferry class and had a voice to match his waistcoat. Velvety. The Spoons were too ‘60s to jump on the Roses and Mondays bandwagon, ultimately peaking in ’89 under the brief management of U2 producer, Steve Lillywhite, with appearances on MTV and VH1 with their first single Show Me How. But, following Phil’s imminent departure, it was all but over. In hindsight, as fab as The Spoons were, a place in my Top 10 bands of all time might now be a struggle, but if there’s a list of Top 10 from Bournemouth, The Spoons would be nudging the top.

Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Smash Hits’

Whilst my early teenage years around 1980 saw me primarily fixating on music of that time, by the mid ‘80s my focus on an earlier era was, if not deliberate, then blindingly apparent. I’ve always had a preoccupation with lists and numbers, and this obsession stretches to dates, so to be exact 1965-1972 was where I was very much at. Music from that era expanded, blossomed and created more genius than in any other period since, well, ever. Why? Well, drugs may have played a part. The talent and is always there amongst those lucky enough to be blessed with it, but for six or so years drugs really pushed that talent along.

Pot had a huge, positive, mind-expanding influence in the mid ‘60s, and in the late ‘60s acid had a similar, though far more creative effect. These drugs, for the large part, worked on many of the most influential artists of that era, and those artists influenced a whole new generation until the early ‘70s. Cocaine on the other hand, the most prominent drug around ’72-’73 had a more destructive effect. Death, primarily. Now, I’m simplifying things massively and I know there are many, many exceptions, the numerous ‘acid casualties’ and the abstention of Frank Zappa spring to mind, but that’s my theory (which I can expand on at much length if anyone’s interested) and I’m sticking to it. Which brings me on to Jimi Hendrix.

By the tail end of ’85 I’d heard Hendrix plenty, but owned nothing other than a scratchy as hell live LP. If I was DJing at Charivari then Hendrix has to be on the turntable. A visit to my second home at Snu-Peas set me up with Smash Hits by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. There were several different versions released, but the UK issue in 1968 included the singles’ A&B sides, plus other tracks from Are You Experienced. Hendrix, Mitchell and Redding achieved, created and turned on more artists in a two-year period than any other band in history, bar one.

Think psychedelia, the Summer Of Love, Monterey or Woodstock are one man reigns. In 1967 Hendrix was a beautiful guiding light, showing everyone the way to a higher musical conscience, and yes, drugs were a positive influence. As 1986 dawned, I got high on a few things, one of which was Smash Hits, a sunning, overblown psychedelic blues groove. Hendrix, for that two-year period was THE MAN. To quote Rolling Stone magazine: “His riffs were a pre-metal funk bulldozer, and his lead lines were an electric LSD trip down to the crossroads, where he pimp-slapped the devil.”