Curtis Mayfield – ‘Move On Up’

By the spring of ’83 I’d turned 17, and following a six-month stint in WH Smith in the stockroom and toy department I landed a plum job… a three-month secondment on the ‘Youth Opportunity Programme’ in Discus Menswear. Wey, bloody hey. At school, once I was out of shorts, I had a two-track mind: music and sport. Academic learning took a very distant back seat and suffice to say my post-school career ambitions didn’t amount to much. At 17, music was my life, and whilst a £25 per week YOP job at Discus was lacking in aspiration, socially it was perfect for me.

Soul was already a passion, and the likes of Booker T & The MGs, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Curtis Mayfield were heavy turntable players. The latter’s Move On Up was well known to me, and one night in the summer of ’83 the setting moved from my bedroom to the dancefloor. I’d already seen Quadrophenia enough times to become very familiar with not just the music, but also the dress code and the northern soul shuffle. I’d squeezed into a few clubs as a 16-year old, but this one night, in the Neptune Bar at Boscombe Pier was a biggie.

I was watching Mods, or kids like me who had aspirations to be an Ace Face, or at least not a third class ticket. I watched, observed, studied and knew the time had come to do my thing. Now, New Edition’s Candy Girl was No.1 in the charts, and a cool take on ABC by The Jackson 5, but a soul stomper it was not. But as clear as day I remember this tune, and talc, and shuffling loafers. I also remember Move On Up, a soul classic, and giving it my best effort, hugging the dance floor perimeter. I was still battling shyness, I was far from cool, but I don’t think I let myself down.

Over the coming years, as my confidence improved, so did my dancing. Move On Up became a very firm favourite, not least when watching The Agency, Bournemouth’s soul tour-de-force in the late ‘80s. From the opening double drum hit and iconic brass intro this song evokes so many happy memories. The extended version was simply prolonged, bongo-heavy joy, but as much as the music it was Curtis’ positive message that was the inspiration.

“Move on up and keep on wishing / Remember your dream is your only scheme / So keep on pushing.”

The Jam – ‘The Gift’

If I had to pick my favourite album by The Jam I’d have to go for All Mod Cons, but as a pre-pubescent 12-year old it came a few years too early. By 1982 and with my schooldays coming to an end, The Gift was The Jam’s sixth and final long-player and whilst not their finest, there were new sounds and new influences that felt fresh, leading to a voyage way beyond its eleven tracks.

Soul and Motown had already become regular visitors to my turntable, but The Gift introduced me to a whole new scene. I was about to discover northern soul. Weller was never shy of nicking a riff, and with Trans-Global Express he could be accused of daylight robbery. I had little knowledge of northern, and much less than that of World Column’s pounding So Is The Sun, but I, like many others I sourced Weller’s inspiration and used it as my own.

The Gift, in patches, was heavy on the funk, none more so than on Precious, a double A-side single with soul-stomper Town Called Malice and the band’s third UK No.1 single. With northern, funk and stabs of jazz appearing for the first time, it was an album less immediate than its predecessor Sound Affects, but more an exciting, eclectic mix of new, old sounds. Weller was clearly getting into his early mod roots, seeking out the jazz riffs and digging the French café culture. This was Weller’s first foray into a different kind of early 80s new romantic.

Whilst Weller was delving further into his mod roots and broadening The Jam’s sound he was still a master of writing a classic, and Carnation was up there with his best. Beautiful, inward looking and riddled with self-doubt, it struck a chord with my ever-growing shy and introverted softer side. Then, to counter that emotion I would crank up the volume to the max to bring in the album’s rousing finale, The Gift. Then I’d play it again, and again almost as if to instil its positive message and can do attitude to ward off my self-doubt and shyness. Not for the first time and certainly not the last Weller was shaping my outlook on life and the way I lived it.

“Move – move – I’ve got the gift of life
Can’t you see it in the twinkle of my eye
I can’t stand up and I can’t sit down
I gotta keep movin’ – I gotta keep movin’
All the time that gets wasted hating
Why don’t you move together and make your heart feel better”

– The Gift