Sunday, October 21, 2007

Keep Believing, Keep Pushing: The Story Of Lou Pride

FIrst Baptist ChurchNatalie & NatThe story of George Lou Pride begins in Chicago's North Side on 24th May 1950, when he was born. He performed a solo at grade school and became hooked on music! Along with his family, support came from local pastors Reverend Charles L Fairchild, and Reverend Edward J. Cole of the First Baptist Church. Father of singer Nat King Cole, Reverend Cole gave Lou advice about music as well as spiritual advice, and encouraged him to sing in the choir, directed by his wife Perlina. Lou recalls meeting Nat many times and greeting him in the street, and spent many days at the Cole house playing marbles with Natalie Cole, but it was BB King who was his biggest influence.

Lou at SuemiIn the late 60s, Lou was drafted into the US Army, and spent two years on bases in Germany, where he joined a group called The Karls. After leaving the army, he returned to Chicago, and formed a Sam & Dave style duet with a friend called LC, called LC & Lou (some sources claim that Lou was singing with and married to a woman known as 'JLC', but in Drew Vergis's interview Lou clearly states otherwise). After LC left the group to get married, Lou's manager Jim Dorman persuaded Lou to start a solo career. He decided to move to a new life in El Paso, Texas, where they thought they could get a deal with some friends.

Bill & Kenny in 1964Lou met a friend of Jim's, Kenny Smith, in an El Paso restuarant. Kenny was sure from the start that Lou was going to make fantastic music: "Lou Pride is one of the best people I have ever dealt with over the many years I have been involved in the music business." He decided to sign Lou to Suemi Records (their publicity tag-line read: "If you don't like it, sue me!"), which he co-owned with Bill 'Sparks' Taylor, and which had recorded a variety of country and rockabilly artists, and had some success with Bobby Fuller. When Lou arrived at their Tasmit Studio, Kenny was impressed and excited:

"He showed up to our studios wanting to put out a record of his band "The Funky Bunch" and I was glad to have a different type band play in the studio. They had horns and I had never dealt with horns before."

Fort Bliss 1960sThe Funky Bunch were a group of Lou's aquaintances from the nearby Fort Bliss army base. While he was astounded by their musicianship, Kenny wasn't so impressed with their name, and began searching for a better one. He thought wrongly that Lou billed himself as 'The Groove Merchant', so when it came to naming the band for the 45, The Groove Merchants was printed on the label.

Just 500 copies were pressed, and most were sold just in the local area. While the single never broke nationally, it was played frequently by Johnny "T" Thompson, a DJ at the time (who himself recorded songs such as So Much Going For You on Chess Records, the Top 20 hit Main Squeeze and Given Up On Love on New Miss Records, and more recently performed with the late Bill Pinkney in the Original Drifters). It provided Lou with regular bookings on the chittin' circuit across Texas. Lou explained to Drew Vergis how "the old hard-time crusty promoters" in Texas helped him hone his stage performance: "Percy told me one day, 'Boy, you're pretty good son, but you stay on stage too long! Get off the stage , son!'" That of course, led him to spend more and more nights away from his family home on the road. Despite this, Kenny describes Lou thus: "Lou was and still is one of those people that never complains and is always in a positive mood."

Lou at boards at Royal StudioFor the next Lou Pride session, Bill Taylor used his contacts through his uncle, who owned the distributor Hot Line Music Journal in Memphis and owned some stock in Hi Records, to arrange studio time at Willie Mitchell's Royal Studio. It is here that Lou recorded his funky, uptempo version of It's A Man's Mans World, backed by the Hodges Brothers and Howard Grimes. Sadly, it would be a short interlude, as Lou's family commitments life made extended trips away increasingly difficult.

Lou Pride in 1970sLou would continue to record for Suemi for another year, back in El Paso. I told some of the story of Lou's classic Northern Soul hit I'm Com'un Home In The Morn'un last year in another post. It highlighted the difficulties Lou was facing in trying to recording in El Paso, for Suemi, tour and gig to make money, and still make visits to his new girlfriend and to his family and children living up in Chicago. According to Kenny Smith, just 500 copies again were pressed. Ironically, had half of the thousands of UK bootlegs been genuine, Lou Pride would have been able to put his financial worries behind him, but Suemi Records had no idea that anyone in England had even heard of it. Instead, Lou, now a single father raising his young children, devoted himself to supporting them by keeping up his touring and live performances at jazz and blues festivals. As Lou describes it in an interview with Drew Vergis; "I was doing good on the road, then my mother got sick, and then things just fell apart!" In the late 70s, he returned to Chicago to visit his sick mother. She told him to go visit the Reverend Fairchild, in the church not 25 yards from his front door:

My pastor Reverend Fairchild, Curtis [Mayfield], Marvin [Yancy], Kevin Yancy, Natalie [Cole], my mom, all of them grew up together, and I said to my parents “Man I need a record deal!” He [Reverend Fairchild] said , “Well come on, come on, go to Atlanta with me." He said, "You'll need some hotel money", so I went down there, and he fed me and took good care of me , and he said, "Go to your room , I'll call you when I need you." I didn’t know what was goin' on, and he called the room the next day and said, "Come downstairs, someone wanna meet you", and Curtis Mayfield’s sitting in the room! You know how your mouth just drops? There's nothing to say but "How you doin', Curtis, I love you and admire you." By them being friends the Rev erend just says, "Curtis - the man needs a record deal", so Curtis says,"Can you sing?" "Yeah, sure, he sang in my choir!" So Curtis says I’ll give him a record deal!"

Curtis was impressed with Lou, and they were working on an album for Curtom Records , writing half of the songs each, up until Curtis Mayfield's accident in 1985. Several of those songs appeared later on CDs, as Lou continued to work with colleagues of Curtis with his support.
"I never ever saw him with sadness on his face" recalls Lou. It seems to be a temperament they have had in common.

And Lou is still recording, now with Severn Records with labelmates such as Johnny Jones, formerly of the King Kasuals, and still touring. Speaking of his first tour in England in 2003: "
When I got there it was an amazing sight for me, people just wanted to touch me and take pictures of me,and oh god, it was just beautiful man!"

Back to the beginning of the story, in El Paso with those 'Groove Merchants', and then the b-side to Lou's funky It's A Man's Man's World:

The Groove Merchants (Lou Pride & The Funky Bunch) - There's Got To Be Someone For Me (Suemi 4557)

Lou Pride - Your Love Is Fading (Suemi 4571 B)

Buy CDs of Lou Pride's recordings from Severn Records. Jazzman Records also sell a vinyl special edition containing three reissue singles. A recorded interview with Lou Pride from 2004, by Drew Vergis, can be heard at Quotes by Kenny Smith come from the Suemi Records website. Further information about Lou Pride comes from liner notes to Lou Pride: The Suemi Sessions, written by Kym Fuller and 'Jazzman' Gerald Short. Check out Vincent's FuFu Stew at the moment for a fabulous link to Natalie Cole Live. Unverified 'JLC' story credited to Andrew Hamilton of the All Music Guide...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Return Of The Groove Merchant: Lou Pride Is Back!

I am in a groove this week, and the posts keep coming...

Great news for soul fans! The Groove Merchant, Lou Pride, is back in concert in the
UK this month. Sadly he isn't coming my way again to Brighton, but he will be at the following venues:

Oct 24 Canterbury Festival Club (St Alphege's Church) 01227 378188
Oct 25 London 100 Club 0208 460 6941
Oct 26 Stamford Arts Centre 01780 763203
Oct 27 Penrith Playhouse 01228 409795
Oct 28 Newcastle, The Cluny 0191 230 4474

Thanks to Harry Lang on the Yahoo Southern Soul Forum for tipping us all off to this!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

99 1/2 Just Won't Do: Brown Eyed Has Got To 100!

I have let another milestone pass me by... my post about The Chants was in fact my 100th published post.! With all of the half-started posts strewn in my blogger dashboard, I never realised...

To help me celebrate it, here is the late, the great, the wicked Wilson Pickett, to sing that ode to perfection, 99 1/2 Won't Do. I just hope 102 is enough! Accompanying him, The Alabama Christian Movement For Human Rights Choir sing the hymn and freedom song from which Pickett, Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper took their inspiration.

Carlton ReeseIn the summer of 1963, in the midst of the gruelling Birmingham, Alabama protests co-ordinated by Rev Fred Shuttlesworth of the ACMHR and Rev Martin Luther King of the SCLC, the Alabama Christian Movement Choir perfomed nightly at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in support of the protests. According to historian Wilson Fallin Jr: "In two organizations within the ACMHR, women made up the majority of the members. The ACMHR choir, formed in 1960, was intended to enhance the spirituality of the Monday night meetings. Twenty-three members formed the group. Most were Baptist women who sang in their church choirs and were accustomed to singing songs similar to those sung by the movement choir, including spirituals and gospel hymns. They sang "God Will Make a Way Some How," Walk with me Lord," and "Ninety-Nine and a Half Won't Do." One member of the choir remarked that "the choir sang with faith in God knowing that his power worked through their songs to give courage." In the mass meetings, female singers allowed their emotions to take over, and on many occasions, they had to be restrained by the ushers."

Choir conductor Carlton Reese adapted the lyrics to add new civil-rights phrases to a popular gospel song sung by Mother Katie Bell Nubin (mother of even more famous Sister Rosetta Tharpe). Reese is leading the singing, backed by a powerful thumping Hammond organ. This version was recorded by folk singer Guy Carawan. The recording served a dual purpose, giving nightly hope and strength to those taking part in the protest, but also as a conscious element of Project C, a strategy to confront the racialist system of segregation in the city head-on in a high-visibility strategy that would engage the entire nation. The singers themselves faced intimidation and arrest. Cleopatra Kennedy was 20 years old in 1963 when she sang solos for the choir. She recalls what it was like the first time she was sent to jail: "That first time, she was in jail for 14 days, but the group sang songs and stomped their feet on the iron beds to make their music. "Singing songs was our way of keeping our self-esteem up, of washing away fear," she says. The day after she was released, she went back on the picket line." When Martin Luther King was arrested and jailed in April of that year, local liberal white church leaders wrote to him urging him to tone down the movement's activities, calling them "unwise and untimely". His response was the famous Letter From A Birmingham Jail, with his powerful riposte: "For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant 'Never." The situation would become even more ense later in that year, with the use of dogs and fire hoses against student and youth protestors, and the bombing of the 16th Street Church during a Sunday school session, with the tragic death of four children. It was in trying times like these that freedom songs could give hope and inspiration.

Jerry Wexler & Wilson PickettJump forward in time two years, to May 1965. Wilson Pickett arrived in Memphis courtesy of Jerry Wexler, who was sure that The Little Label That Could had the spark he needed to secure Pickett, former member of The Falcons, an elusive r&b hit. Pickett sat down with Steve Cropper, and within a matter of half-an-hour, they had come up with In The Midnight Hour and Don't Fight It, both taking the behind-the-beat Stax sound in a new direction by incorporating a behind-the-beat 'Jerk' rhythm. Not a bad night's work! So pleased was he with the sessions, that he sent each of the MGs a $100 thank-you gift.

Eddie Floyd publicity photoWexler and Pickett were eager to return in October and again in December 1965. Eddie Floyd, Wilson's old partner from The Falcons, Steve Cropper, keen to earn some more songwriting money, and Donald Dunn, impressed with Pickett's vocal ability, were all pleased to see him again. Jim Stewart was less keen, perhaps fearful that Atlantic Records were borrowing too much of the Stax sound. The MGs were joined this time by Isaac Hayes, brought in to play piano while Booker T Jones was at college. The new sessions were more difficult, as the group felt the pressure to reproduce what they had achieved in May. Nervous about the prospect, Steve Cropper turned to the experienced Eddie Floyd for advice about songwriting. Cropper said in an interview with Gerry Hershey: "He had been on the stage, and he knew what was going on... He was real helpful to me. Eddie knew the pulse on the street, he knew the pulse of the ghettos of Chicago and Detroit, and I didn't know jack shit about that..."

Eddie Floyd and Cropper had been working on a new song for a whole week, 634-5789, before Wilson arrived back in Memphis on 19th December. After hearing a tape, a clearly tense and nervous Pickett let fly: "This is it? This is my hit tune? It's a piece of shit!" Eddie Floyd had to be prised off his old buddy! But apparently, it had been no different in the old days with The Falcons...

Later on that day, Wilson had calmed down, and so had Eddie, so they went over to Pickett's hotel to write something else. Eddie and Steve noticed a Coca-Cola billboard, with the slogan 'Ninety-Nine And A Half Won't Do.' Recalling the gospel tune and the freedom song, and with Eddie suggesting they add that stop-start behind-the-beat jerk feel, soon Pickett had another classic in the can, so to speak!

Wilson Pickett at FAME with Jimmy Johnson and Clarence CarterThe songwriting and recording relationship was sometimes explosive but always professional, and could have produced even more hits, had not Jim Stewart become uncomfortable with the amount of studio time devoted to an Atlantic artist. Citing Pickett's 'drunkenness' (an assertion that Cropper and others hotly dispute, citing Pickett's sober dedication to every session), Stewart packed Pickett and Jerry Wexler back to New York. It was time for them to try to find similar magic at FAME Studios...

The Alabama Christian Movement Choir - 99 1/2 Won't Do

Wilson Pickett - Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won't Do)

Read A Letter From A Birmingham Jail here...

Information from Soulsville: USA by Rob Bowman, Nowhere To Run by Gerry Hershey, and liner notes of Voices Of The Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom Songs 1960-1966 by Bernice Johnson Reagon and Phyllis May. Wilson Fallin's article about the ACMHR and the role of women in the organisation can be found here. Visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to read more and to study eye-witness accounts of events from 1956-1963. Quote from Cleopatra Kennedy from an interview for Baylor University magazine.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Isaac On His First Go Round: Sir Isaac & The Doo-Dads

In 1962, Isaac Hayes was graduating Manassas High School in Memphis, and contemplating whether to find a way to study for his early ambition of becoming a doctor, find a steady job at a local meat-packing company to support his young family, or to pursue a career in music...

After a guidance counsellor at school had persuaded him to enter a talent concert, which he won by singing Nat King Cole's "Looking Back", Isaac had begun to learn the baritone and alto sax with Lucian Coleman, and had begun to make contacts with some of Memphis' premier musicians, whom he would watch as they turned up to play at the clubs on Thomas Street in the 'North Chicago' district of Memphis.

In 1961, in one version of the story, he impressed respected band leader Ben Branch while singing "The Very Thought Of You" by Arthur Prysock, after being snuck into Currie's Club Tropicana, and sang three nights a week with the band for the next two years - backed by Branch, Floyd Newman on alto sax, Emerson Able on tenor sax, Larry Brown on bass guitar, Eddie Jones on piano, Herbert Thomas and Herman Green on trumpets, Big Bell James on drums, and Clarence Nelson on guitar. However, in another version of the story, told by band-member and eye-witness Howard 'Bulldog' Grimes over here at the amazing blog Lost And Found: The Memphis Sound, it was thanks to the rest of the band and Mr Johnnie Currie, the club owner, and a lot of shouting in the kitchen, that Ben Branch even allowed Isaac up on stage! As it turned out, Ben had been wrong, and Isaac was a great hit, singing Brook Benton's "Just A Matter Of Time"!

Isaac also sang gospel with The Morning Stars, and doo-wop with The Ambassadors, The Teen Tones and The Missiles, played r&b with Calvin & the Swing Cats, before graduating, and his singing was so good that he had been offered many college scholarships to study vocal music. Amongst those who had encouraged Isaac at the school was Emerson Able, school band teacher and tenor sax player with Ben Branch, who is featured here at Lost And Found: The Memphis Sound, and is recovering from a recent heart attack. At one point, the story goes, Emerson actually kicked Isaac out of the school band to get him to focus more, perhaps to remind him that playing nights wit Ben Branch and himself wasn't going to be enough without an education! Manassas High School is where Isaac Hayes chose to place his historical marker, in thanks for the encouragement they gave him. He continues to support the school in many ways, including attending events during Black History Month (in the photo below Isaac is standing with Dr Linkwood Williams, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, the African-American pilots and officers of WWII)Isaac Hayes with Dr Linkwood Williams, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, at Manassas High School, Black History Month 2005

However, in need of money, he had to turn them all down and started work full-time at the processing plant. It was only by chance that Isaac heard of an opportunity to perhaps continue in music. Sidney Kirk persuaded him to go down to Chips Moman's American Sound Studios for an audition for Chip's new Youngstown Records label.

Sir Isaac & The Doodads - Laura, We're On Our Last Go-Round (A-side) Youngstown 1962
Sir Isaac & The Doodads - Sweet Temptation (B-side)
Youngstown 1962

Moman decided to record them performing Laura, We're On Our Last Go-Round by Patti Ferguson, and Sweet Temptations by Merle Travis. The band was Isaac on vocals, Sidney on piano, Ronnie Capone on drums, and Tommy Cogbill on bass, while apparently, those sweet, tempting backing singers are in fact Isaac himself on an overdub. Isaac's singing on Laura demonstrates a purity and honesty in his tenor range, while Sweet Tmeptation begins to reveal the earthiness and allure possed by his baritone voice, which would later become his trademark. Sadly, the record went nowhere at the time, but Isaac Hayes turned up nearly every evening after work to learn more about recording from Chip, and hoping to get more work, perhaps as a backing singer or saxophonist. Just before Christmas, Sidney Kirk decided to quit music and go into the Air Force. And it was ironically the loss of his partner that set Isaac Hayes on the route to success. Fanny Kirk phoned him just before New Year to see if he knew a piano player for the New Year's Eve party at The Southern Club. Getting desperate for money, Isaac found himself saying that he would play the gig:

"After I accepted it, I broke into a cold sweat ... I was scared to death. I said "What am I doing? I don't know how to play piano. They gonna kill me!"

Read what happen
ed next here from an excerpt of Rob Bowman's Soulville USA: The Story of Stax Records...

Buy Soulsville USA. Now!

Information and photos for this post come courtesy of Rob Bowman's research, and the dedication of Scott and Preston Lauterbach at Lost And Found: The Memphis Sound. The recordings here are from a reissue by San American records (#950), of Little Rock Arkansas, where Joe Lee was sound engineer and did some work with Allen Orange in the 70s. Go over to the Soul Detective to read more about this...

Saturday, October 06, 2007

More Soul Britannia: The Chants Of Liverpool 8

The Chants In 1963Time for some more Soul Britannia, and we are returning to Toxteth, Liverpool, to continue the story of The Chants...

As the excellent Soulpool website explains, and as discussed in a previous post, the musical heritage of Liverpool and the origins of the Merseybeat explosion have deep roots. Some of those roots were drawing nutrients from the singing groups and bands of Toxteth, Liverpool 8, an area of Liverpool with a large Caribbean population long pre-dating the Windrush generation. Local halls such as the Nigerian, the Sierra Leone, Stanley House, the Rialto Ballroom, and the All Nations, built by the Toxteth community, or the White House pub, were popular venues for local people to hear r&b, and a big draw to black GIs from RAF Burtonwood. Some of the key r&b acts of the late 50s and early 60s - Derry Wilkie, Sugar Dean and Colin Areety, The Sobells, The Conquests, The Poppies and The Chants - all came from Toxteth.

It was in this environment that The Shades - Joe and Edmund Ankrah, Nat Smeda, Alan Harding and Eddie Amoo - honed their craft, enough to be noticed by the young and eager Paul McCartney, who met Joe Ankrah in a New Brighton ballroom, and invited them to come along to The Cavern. The other Beatles were equally enthusiastic, and they decided to play behind as the backing band. The response from the audience was enough to convince Epstein to sign the renamed Chants, but it would not be the magical mystery tour of fame that they had expected. Rather, they would take the long and winding road to the real thing...

Despite Epstein's management, nothing seemed to happen for The Chants through early 1963, and as they continued to miss the wave of the Mersey Sound, they managed to convince a clearly-disinterested Epstein to release them from their contract. They had to go to Manchester to find Ted Ross, who arranged a record deal with Pye Records in London in April 1963. Such a journey to find musical success was not at all unusual in the British music industry, which was overwhelmingly centred on the capital for many decades. It would, however, leave The Chants particularly isolated from the musical influences and musicians that underpinned their vision for themselves.

The Chants - I Could Write A Book
The Chants - I Don't Care

Pye Records, a big industry hitter which was trying to embrace this new youth fashion for 'beat' music, were not an r&b label. 'They had no idea what to do with a black doo-wop group, they just had no idea.' recalled Eddie Amoo in an interview. While other r&b groups, for example The Kinks, could turn up at Pye and just start playing the way they wanted to sound, The Chants, as a harmony singing group, suffered from the need to rely upon the hired musicians and arrangements designed by people unfamiliar with all of the nuances of doo-wop and r&b. Eddie in another interview explained the impact this had upon them:

"But in that era - late 60s, the very early 70s - most black bands in this country that were recorded were recorded like white bands, and they sounded like white bands. They used to record The Chants like a white pop band, which we weren't. We weren't musically adept enough in them days to establish what we really wanted ourselves - we weren't musicians then."

Eddie talks with some bitterness about this upon the career of The Chants, but at the end of the day, the other musicians could only bring the influences they had to the table, and that seems to have extended only as afar as the latest releases of the 'beat' and 'mod' scene - r&b influenced, to be sure, but too adulterated for what The Chants wanted. You do sense that Eddie is directing his ire more at their management and at A&R at Pye itself, who either from benign ignorance, or paternal condescension, did not put enough thought into how The Chants worked best, and didn't hire the kind of arranger and band that would have made a difference. With Pye unaware of The Chants best interests, as Eddie admitted, they were also too inexperienced to know how to ask for what they wanted.

The Chants around 1968
So, during the 1960s, you can hear the sound of The Chants changing with the dominant trends of 60s British pop, and changing accompaniment, from Merseybeat ballads to psychedelic-tinged pop in the late 60s. Live, they continued to attract a loyal following, regularly performing at venues such as The Twisted Wheel in Manchester and touring Europe, where they played alongside Curtis Mayfield and The Four Tops at US Army bases in Germany. Whatever they tried, however, they still could not break into the pop market for commercial success. It is not entirely clear that even if they had hit the magic formula, that they would have profitted from that success. Geno Washington, who despite low single sales made a success of a series of 'live' albums, cashing in on his immense popularity on the live circuit, became embroilled in a legal fight over the royalties he was owed by Pye, a battle he lost and saw him bow out at the end of the 60s.

'Battling Bessie' Braddock, long-time campaigning MP for Liverpool Exchange.
In their singles of the late 60s, The Chants developed messages into a number of their songs, perhaps in part inspired by the problems and barriers they had tried to overcome in their career. For the community of Toxteth, they continued to be feted, and in particular, local MP, 'Battling' Bessie Braddock, had strongly supported them ever since their first recording.

The Chants - Progress

The Chants - You Don't Know What I Know

all of this, The Chants had to also make a living. Increasingly, they took bookings to perform less at the cutting edge of soul, and more on the cabaret circuit of popular standards mixed with a few of their Mersey hits. This way, the rest of the Chants could continue in music and put food on the table, but for Eddie Amoo, it was not what he had dreamt of. He began to perform less and less with The Chants, and made his way back to Toxteth, where he discovered a new possibility unexpectedly close to home. His younger brother Chris had formed his own band...

"The Real Thing started out with three people, then went to five, then they dropped two out and by 1975 they'd become a trio - Ray, Dave and Chris. But by then Chris [Amoo] and I had started to write together. I wrote the first three Real Thing singles. I was still with The Chants, but I was writing for The Real Thing, because The Chants were no longer a vehicle for the songs I was writing - The Chants were doing cabaret, and The Real Thing were able to play these songs live, so I was writing and giving the songs to Chris."

Eddie Amoo, Chris Amoo, Ray Lake, Dave Smith(and Kenny Davis, not pictured)The Real Thing were more fortunate than The Chants had been in that they were able to secure the services of some people with experience of soul music, in the form of songwriter Ken Gold, who had written songs for Aretha Franklin, Jackie Wilson and Eugene Record, and producers such as Jerome Rimson, who had played with The Detroit Emeralds, Hugh Masekela and others. They also had the experience of Eddie Amoo, who wrote many of The Real Thing hits with his brother, to steer them away from decisions that might stymie their career.

Such considerations were important, for essentially, the mass commercial appeal of 'soul music' had begun to dissappear not long after the 'mod' heyday of 1965-66, and by 1967, new influences focused more on the psychedelic scene had taken their place in British youth culture. It is important to remember that youth cultures in those times were not fuelled by 20 and 30-somethings living an ete
rnal youth, but by teenagers just entering the world of work. In 1970, 95% of people under the age of 45 in Britain were married, and embarking on a new family life, which did not involve following the latest musical trends. An entire generation who had been inspired somewhat by soul music had essentially 'grown up' and settled down, sometimes casually tuning into Tony Blackburn on Radio 2 to hear some old Motown hits. It wasn't until the mid 70s that a new disco-influenced soul began make an impression on the record-buying public, who were by then a quite different generation of teenagers.

This time, the band set out deliberately to write those hit records, and they succeeded time after time, with classic disco soul like You To Me Are Everything and Can You Feel The Force in which even Pye Records could not fail to see the potential. Beneath the surface of success, however, the band yearned to venture further into funk and to write lyrics with a wider meaning. By the mid 70s, racial tensions in Toxteth were building to levels not experienced since 1948, despite the outlawing of
overt racial discrimination The Race Relations Act. Britain was in the midst of yet another period of economic decline after a short respite of the early 70s, Merseyside itself was suffering a major slump, and many people looked around for easy explanations. While small in actual number, the National Front were a prominent and highly vocal group, and their activities in the mid 1970s validated a much larger swathe of petty prejudices amongst white Britons. Levels of unemployment were higher in Liverpool 8 than in the surrounding districts, as people struggled. Housing, welfare and education in Toxteth was maintained badly by a bankrupted council increasingly preoccupied by ideological disputes about socialism. Meanwhile, Merseyside Police were becoming increasingly heavy-handed with the application of stop and search powers. It was in this environment that The Real Thing wrote their masterpiece, Children Of The Ghetto. Sadly, the song's call for action to change conditions were ignored, and political interest in the difficulties of Liverpool 8 would only be pricked by the Toxteth Riots in 1981.

The Real Thing - Liverpool Medley: Liverpool 8/Children Of The Ghetto/Stanhope Street

Joe Ankrah at a recent Art In Liverpool event opening a new local galleryThe Real Thing Today: Chris Amoo, Eddie Amoo and Dave Smith
Today, Joe Ankrah, who also left The Chants in the 1970s to perform with Ashanti with brother Edmund, is a respected artist, working and living in Liverpool 8. Eddie and Chris Amoo still tour with The Real Thing. Bizarrely, one of their former tour bassists, Des Tong, went on to form a computer company, and devised some of the motion-capture technology that is used in film and animation today.

Information about the Chants came from excellent articles by Bill Harry, Des Tong, and The Soulpool website. Bessie Braddock photo by Bert Hardy/Getty Images. Chants photos courtesy of Bill Harry and Des Tong. Dave Haslam has written a particularly good article and interview with Eddie Amoo about The Real Thing. You can buy "The Real Thing: Children Of The Ghetto - Greatest Hits" direct from itunes.