Steve Bellamy - Mod Memories: That Driving Beat
Detroit may be the home of Tamla Motown and Memphis the home of Stax but for my money the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg did more for English Mods than either of the other two. Let me explain.
It’s 1960. Rock and Roll from Sun records rules the America airwaves. Elvis is King and in Detroit and Memphis the sound of Soul music was just getting off the ground. People like Berry Gordy (of Tamla) and Jim Stewart (of Stax) were recording the R&B and gospel acts that had, up to now, only been on the local circuit but were destined for the Soul hall of fame. Marvin Gaye, Jr. Walker, Wilson Pickett, and Rufus Thomas to name but a few. It was a seminal era for 'that driving beat'
Meanwhile in England it’s still World War II at the BBC. Vera Lynne is still singing 'We’ll meet again' Billy Cotton is still doing his 'Armed Forces Band Show' and the hottest dance tunes are played on the BBC light service. Real toe tappers like 'Chattanooga Choo Choo' and 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B' There wasn’t a top ten of *anything* and kids like me didn’t have any say whatsoever in what 'tin pan alley' was foisting on the public as 'pop' music. Things weren’t looking too good for our Sheffield hero, Steve.
|"Clothes Make The Man"|
Little Richard, The Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, The Coasters, The Drifters, The Contours and of course Chubby Checker doing 'The Twist' all poured out of that magic box and into my heart and soul. I was hooked. For the next five years I was one of the late night 'under the bedcovers' kids that made Radio Luxembourg the lbed coversegend that it has become. We listened nightly to DJ's spinning new chart records from the US. There were R&B shows with Howling Wolf and John Lee Hooker. Jazz shows with Ramsey Lewis and Ray Charles and the one that truly made it all worthwhile 'Soul Sounds' from the US billboard charts. It was from Radio Luxembourg thaLuxembourgt I learnt about the Detroit sound, The Philly sound and that new funky Soul music being made in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Later on the famous UK pirate radio stations added to this bounty of dance music that was being pumped into my ears. In particular Mike Ravens R&B show was a 'not to be missed' broadcast especially as he opened with Phil Upchurch’s 'You can’t sit down' – my kind of guy.
Unfortunately, although the music said 'you can’t sit down' I had to. There was nowhere to go to dance to 'that driving beat' except the local youth club and the church hall dances held every Saturday afternoon but, trust me here, you really don’t want me to tell you about them. It was, again, a bad time for our boy Steve. Talk about all dressed up and nowhere to go, I was all tuned up and nowhere to go.
And then my other uncle, who was a Sheffield bus driver at the time, came to visit us and upon hearing one of my precious records said 'bloody hell fire Jack sounds just like that jungle music them idiots play at that fucking Esquire club round the back of the bus station'. Words that changed my life. Thank you Uncle Frank. Eloquently put.
The next day I declined the charms of Mr. White’s English language, P.E and Physics, took the day off from school and went in search of the Esquire. Didn’t take too long to find it. I mean it had a reputation in Sheffield and everybody over 40 who you asked, knew just where it was and why it was to be avoided. – my kind of place.
My first night at the Esquire was in many ways better than my first night of sex. Well almost. I walked into the club to the beautiful sound of Sam Cooke singing Chain Gang and saw a dance floor full of kids, all my age, actually dancing and enjoying themselves. Talk about coming home. Talk about my generation. I felt like crying. In fact I think I did. It was a revelation. So, I wasn’t the only 'nutter' in the city after all.
"I’m in with the in crowd, I go where the in crowd goes, I’m in with the in crowd and I know what the in crowd knows"
From then on I lived only for the nights when I could jump on the 6:30 bus to Sheffield, pay my two shillings and sixpence entrance money and dance the night away. I made some great friends, learnt about clothes, drugs, girls and above all the music. The Northern Mod scene started there and I was part of it. We travelled around to other clubs (The Wheel, Clouds etc) and wherever we went we met other kids, who dressed like us, talked like us and above all liked our music. We were bound together by a common love of the music. We were Mods and this was our generation.
So while England and the rest of the world were going Beatle crazy we at the Esquire were in a way insulated from it. After all we knew who the Beatles, Stones, Yardbirds and Small Faces were copying and we preferred the originals, thank you. It was a good time for our boy Steve.
Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on R&B or Soul music. I don’t have an encyclopedic memory of record titles, artists and labels. Dave Godin once tried to turn me onto some ‘real deep soul’ recorded by some obviously very depressed guy in Chicago who sounded so miserable I really thought he was having a nervous breakdown on the record. I like my soul music fast, snappy and above all danceable. I suppose I am a shallow self-centred old school Mod but we all have our faults right.
Eventually I had to go to the US and see it all for myself. I went to New York’s Apollo theatre and saw The Impressions. I went to Chicago and saw Sam & Dave. I went to Detroit and actually sat in the studio while Martha and The Vandellas recorded ‘Heat Wave’ It was all good and I had a great time.
Sometimes my oldest kid likes to quote Cicero (106-43 B.C.) at me "No Sane man will dance" but what the fuck did Cicero know, he never went to the Sheffield Esquire now did he?