A warm welcome back to Boston-based Noah Schaffer. who attended the Skegness Northern Soul Survivors Weekend in September. Here's his review.
The British resort chain Butlins long suffered from a reputation as a dated destination point stocked with corny entertainers. But for the past four years the Butlins Skegness location has, at least for one weekend, been as soulful a place as you'll find thanks to its Northern Soul Survivors weekend. The fourth edition was no exception as it welcomes six bona fide legends plus several talented UK artists, once again backed exceptionally by the Diane Shaw Band.
Friday night kicked off with Chris Clark (pictured above), one of the few white stars to grace the Motown label and, like many of her peers this weekend, an American artist who almost never performs at home. (One of the few exceptions was her Ponderosa Stomp set where she had the misfortune to be battling a bad cold.) At Skegness she radiated a hippie earth mother persona with her long blind hair, knee high boots and a set that included earnest versions of her Motown recordings including the Smokey Robinson-penned 'From Head to Tow' and Holland-Dozier-Holland's 'Love's Gone Bad.' UK singer Paul Stuart Davies joined in for a duet on 'The Way You Do The Things You Do.'
After Clark's charming but eccentric segment a polished professional Eddie Holman was the perfect close. The enduring success of 'Hey There Lonely Girl' means he often appears in the US at doo-wop and lowrider soul revues, but typically just for short segments on multi-act bills. So it was a treat to hear him offer a solid hour of nothing but his own classic recordings. 'This Can't Be True, 'Eddie's My Name'. 'Stay Mine For Heaven's Sake', 'All In The Game' and 'I Love You' proved that Holman is no one hit wonder. But of course the night climaxed with a lengthy offering of his signature @Hey There Lonely Girl', with Holman proving true his boast that he can still hit the song's impossible falsetto notes. What a first class performer.
Like any Northern Soul event many attendees were as or even more interested om dancing to DJs than hearing the live acts, and vinyl sets were on offer in several rooms. (A few noted correctly that the setlists tended to be limited to the most common Northern Soul tracks with the same tunes being heard multiple times if one walked around). This year Russ Winstanley was joined by another famed Northern Soul DJ and producer, Ian Levine. Despite recovering from a recent stroke Levine still presided over hours of music and also did a revealing Q&A session with Winstanley that tackled some of the myths and realities of the early days of Northern Soul. (One wishes there had also been interviews with the artists). Two Levine-produced artists, Steve Brookstein of the Four Vandals and Tahira Jumah, perfomed afternoon sets to tracks. (A third, reality TV contestant Anton Stephens blew off his appearance, effectively ending his relationship with Levine.) Diane Shaw herself did a Saturday afternoon show showcasing the excellent material from her first LP as well as previewing material from her next project which is due out this year.
Saturday night paired up two of Northern Soul's most iconic acts. First on was 83 year old Tommy Hunt (above), the former Flamingos vocalist who also had a notable solo career. Two years ago Hunt had collapsed during the Skegness finale. This time around he promised to stay properly hydrated and even brought on stage the nurse who assisted him to offer a plaque and his appreciation. His set list was clearly the result of decades on the Northern Soul circuit - he's long lived in the UK - and included covers like 'The Snake, 'Keep On Keepin' On' and 'Tobacco Road' and even Kris Kristofferson's 'Help Me Make It Through The Night' (which he was recorded singing at Wigan's Casino Club over 40 years ago). His set ended with the adoring crowd joyously singing along to his Northern Soul anthems 'Lovin' On The Losing Side' and 'Crackin'Up Over You.' At one of his well-attended meet and gretet sessions Hunt offered up the happy news that he'll be performing in the US this summer as part of a large early rock'n'roll event in Atlantic City.
Wrapping up Saturday was Dean Parrish (above), who earned his place in Northern Soul history when 'I'm On My Way' became one the last three songs played at each Wigan Casino dance. He remains in excellent voice, opening with his version of the Exciters hit retitled 'Tell Her', the Paul Weller-written 'Left, Right and Center,' Ray Charles' 'Unchain My Heart' and, proving his vocal prowess, Timi Yuro's 'It'll Never Be Over For Me' before ending with a powerful take on Bobby Bland's 'Turn On Your Love Light'.
Sunday afternoon found the fine UK soul man Paul Stuart Davies offering a chance to hear live songs associated with the likes of Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson. Chris Clark reprised her duet with Davies on 'The Way You Do The Things You Do' and sounded quite comfortable with the jazzy arrangement.
Sunday night started with Pat Lewis, a Detroit singer who is beloved in the UK but under-recognised on her home shores. Opening with mid-60s cuts like 'I'll Wait', which was written by George Clinton before there was a Parliament or a Funkadelic, Lewis hit her stride on the Levine-produced 'Something New To Do' and a just-released cover of Gil Scott-Heron's 'The Bottle'. She invited by inviting Sidney Barnes (below) up for 'Can't Shake It Loose', which he had co-written for her along with Clinton some 50 years ago.
Sidney Barnes is a man with a fascinating history as a singer, songwriter, actor and industry insider at Motown among many other labels. He finished up the night with his own energetic set, and yet again George Clinton was represented via 'Heart Trouble' and the JJ Barnes classic 'Our Love Is In The Pocket' which Sidney Barnes wrote with Clinton. This was billed as Sidney's farewell UK appearance, but he explained that he simply wanted to focus on music business endeavours that don't involve international travel.
Other songs touched by Barnes included the Jeff Barry-produced 'You'' Always Be In Style' and an especially powerful take on his debut single 'Wait My Love.' The segment finished with a rollicking 'Standing On Solid Ground', Barnes' modern soul anthem. All of the entertainers from the weekend, except for Eddie Holman, were still present, and, per Skegness tradition, they reappeared to recreate the famous '3 Before 8', the last songs of the night played at the Wigan Casino. Paul Stuart Davies started things off with 'Long After Tonight Is All Over' and Diane Shaw offered 'Time Will Pass You By.' Of xourse there was no need for anyone to sing a cover of I'm On My Way' with Dean Parrish present. the night ended with the entire cast coming back for an extended 'Do I love You. If there was any doubt that both artists and audience did not want the evening to end it came when the band finished up and exhausted stage crew put the house lights and music back on. Tommy Hunt, Chris Clark and Dean Parrish started singing along to 'Wade In The Water'. Davies also announced that he had been recording all the veteran acts in his Butlins bedroom and would be releasing a charity single featuring all of them.
Next year's Skegness weekend will focus more on UK-based acts, including Angelo Starr (Edwin's brother), Lorraine Silver, Parrish, Hunt, the Signatures, Davies and, interestingly, the Voices of Africa Gospel Choir which has collaborated with Davies in the past. Brenda Holloway will be representing Detroit. Shaw and her phenomenal band will be taking the year off to focus on theirown music. Whoever takes their place will have a high bar to clear.
Photos by Jarek Majdzinski.