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.

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.”

‘This Is Soul’

Listening obsessively to the likes of The Specials, The Beat, The Jam and Dexys for the previous couple of years, it was inevitable that those band’s musical roots were to follow closely behind in my own musical catalogue. 1960s and ’70s ska, soul and funk was about to hit me hard, and it all started with this vinyl gem released in the UK in 1968 – This Is Soul!

The album is a ‘best of’ from the Atlantic label, featuring Stax and soul heavyweights and mostly well-known nuggets. Like almost all my other second-hand vinyl purchases it came from Snu-Peas in Boscombe; still to this day a tiny, overstocked, gloriously dingy vinyl palace – my memory is shocking so where the money came from I haven’t the foggiest – pocket money perhaps, which would have been money very well spent. This album was stunning; a soul education which only enhanced my allegiance with school-friends who were sporting sta-prest slacks and Fred Perry tops with far more confidence than I could muster.

How best to describe This Is Soul? Emotional, inspirational, passionate, raw, cool and groovy as fuck. It took me another five or ten years to learn, but this album came from what was for me the golden era. In the mid 1960s popular music was evolving and challenging, drugs were having a beneficial effect on the music being recorded (if not on the musicians themselves), and American soul and rhythm ’n’ blues was riding high as an inspiration to bands, djs and music lovers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Soul just felt so wonderfully raw and real. Much of the Top 40 was horribly overly manufactured as those plastic New Romantics began appearing in droves. My hatred of those new ‘synthetic’ sounds was exaggerated by this new found love of 60s music, but I care as little for that now as I did then. What is soul? I’ll leave it to Ben E King…

“Some people really know / it’s deep down within us, it doesn’t show / soul is somethin’ that comes from deep inside / but soul is somethin’ that you can’t hide.”

  1. Mustang Sally – Wilson Pickett
  2. BABY – Carla Thomas
  3. Sweet Soul Music – Arthur Conley
  4. When A Man Loves A Woman – Percy Sledge
  5. I Got Everything I Need – Sam & Dave
  6. What Is Soul? – Ben E King
  7. Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song) – Otis Redding
  8. Knock On Wood – Eddie Floyd
  9. Keep Looking – Solomon Burke
  10. I Never Loved A Man – Aretha Franklin
  11. Warm & Tender Love – Percy Sledge
  12. Land Of A Thousand Dances – Wilson Pickett