The Trammps – That’s Where The Happy People Go (Atlantic)
The O’Jays – I Love Music (Philadelphia International)
Fatback Band – (Do The) Spanish Hustle (Polydor)
Juggy Jones – Inside America (Contempo)
Glitter Band – Makes You Blind (Bell)
LJ Johnson – Your Magic Put A Spell On Me (Phillips)
Brass Construction – Movin’ (United Artists*)
Billy Ocean – Love Really Hurts Without You (GTO)
William Bell – Happy (Stax)
George McCrae – Honey I (Jayboy)
Tina Charles – I Love To Love (But My Baby Loves To Dance) (CBS)
Four Seasons – December ‘63 (Oh What A Night) (Warner Brothers)
The Blackbyrds – Rock Creek Park (Fantasy)
Ronnie Laws – Always There (Blue Note)
Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes – Wake Up Everybody (Philadelphia International)
* denotes US Import
Other tracks considered: Archie Bell & The Drells – I Could Dance All Night (Philadelphia International) / Eddie Kendricks – He’s A Friend (Tamla Motown) / Ralph Carter – Extra Extra (Mercury) / The Stylistics – Funky Weekend (Avco) / The Trammps – Love Epidemic (Philadelphia International) / Wing & A Prayer Fife & Drum Corps – Baby Face (Atlantic)
February’s Time Capsule opens with The Trammps, arguably the biggest Disco act of the time. This is underlined by the fact that the Philadelphia band had three records on release for three different labels – ‘That’s Where The Happy People Go’ on Atlantic, ‘Love Epidemic’ on Philadelphia International and ‘Rubber Band’ on Buddah. This was hot on the heels of ‘Hold Back The Night’, one of the biggest tracks in UK clubland during recent months, and their Atlantic debut, ‘Hooked For Life’. Their best remembered single was yet to come though – this was, of course, ‘Disco Inferno’, a British hit in 1977, which would go huge in the clubs all over again in 1978, following its inclusion on the soundtrack of ‘Saturday Night Fever’.
The programme includes a quartet on British recordings, including a true wild card in the Glitter Band’s ‘Makes You Blind’, which was picked up by Funk DJ’s after appearing on the flip side of their final UK hit single, ‘People Like You And People Like Me’, resulting in an unlikely club hit.
Also from the UK is ‘Love Really Hurts Without You’, the debut hit from Billy Ocean, and ‘Your Magic Put A Spell On Me’ by US vocalist LJ Johnson, courtesy of the original UK DJ/Producer, Ian Levine. Regarded by many as Northern Soul’s most influential DJ, Levine would cause a major schism on the scene when he, and fellow Blackpool Mecca resident, Colin Curtis, began to include Disco releases in their playlist. He also started to produce his own tracks, for artists including The Exciters, Evelyn Thomas and Barbara Pennington (who’d score a big US Disco hit with ‘Twenty-Four Hours A Day’ in 1977). ‘Your Magic Put A Spell On Me’ would give Ian Levine his second top 30 success of 1976 (the first being ‘Weak Spot’ by Evelyn Thomas), but the hits would quickly dry up. Levine would go on to become DJ at the UK’s best-known gay club, Heaven, in London, before returning to the charts in the mid-80’s, having been a major force in developing the Hi-NRG genre. He would later produce a number of ‘boy bands’, including Take That.
The final British release featured is ‘I Love To Love (But My Baby Loves To Dance)’ by Tina Charles, which was produced by Biddu, an Indian musician who’d moved to Britain in the late 60’s and subsequently made his name recording (originally as a b-side) ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, a number 1 on both sides of the Atlantic (and pretty much everywhere else) for Carl Douglas in 1974. Tina Charles had enjoyed success the previous year, singing lead on ‘I’m On Fire’, a top 5 hit for 5OOO Volts. Earlier in the same year, she had appeared as one of the backing vocalists (along with another noted British singer of the period, Linda Lewis) on Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel’s chart topper, ‘Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)’. Twelve months on she found herself back at number one, but this time as a solo artist, with a track that was based on two seminal Disco releases from 1974, George McCrae’s ‘Rock Your Baby’ and ‘Rock The Boat’ by Hues Corperation. ‘I Love To Love’ is very much regarded as a pop track these days, but, at the time, it would just fail to reach the summit of Blues & Soul’s UK singles chart, peaking at number 2. Incidentally, the bass player on the track, also Charles’s partner of the time, was Trevor Horn, the seminal 80’s record producer (Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Malcolm McLaren, ABC, Art Of Noise, Yes, Grace Jones etc).
The record ‘I Love To Love’ replaced at the top of the chart was ‘December ‘63 (Oh What A Night)’, a hugely popular dancefloor tune with the more mainstream audience, by one of the biggest US Pop groups of the 60’s, the Four Seasons, who’d previously made an impact in the clubs and discotheques in 1975 with ‘Who Loves You’ and ‘The Night’, both top 10 hits in the UK. Four Season’s singer, Frankie Valli, had previously scored the Northern Soul crowd, via his 1970 release, ‘You’re Ready Now’, which just missed the UK Top 10, having achieved classic status on the Northern scene.
Along with LJ Johnson, Northern Soul is represented here by William Bell’s ‘Happy’ (originally from 1969). The O’Jays ‘I Love Music’ was also a big track at the Blackpool Mecca, where, as previously stated, more contemporary Disco releases had begun to feature, but this was a record that was obviously being played by far more Funk than Northern DJ’s nationwide, as The O’Jays where one of the leading bands in black music, with classic records under their belt, including ‘Love Train’ and ‘Backstabbers’. Listed as one of the Top 5 All-Time Dance/Disco records by US chart compilers, Billboard, ‘I Love Music’, was a hard act to follow, and the O’Jays, unsurprisingly, never managed to scale these dizzy Disco heights again.
Two Jazz-Funk classics are included (or rather Funk-Jazz, as Blues & Soul described it at the time), ‘Always There’ by Ronnie Laws and ‘Rock Creek Park by Donald Byrd’s Blackbyrds. Five years later, in 1981, both of these tracks would appear in my ‘Wigan Pier Jazz-Funk Oldies’ list, along with the Fatback Band’s ‘(Do The) Spanish Hustle’, which was something of a departure from the trio of Funk floorfillers that had preceded it – ‘(Are You Ready) Do The Bus Stop’, ‘Yum Yum (Gimme Some)’ and ‘Wicki Wacky’. ‘Spanish Hustle’ would be the Fatback Band’s biggest UK hit (reaching number 10) until 1987, when their 1984 single, ‘I Found Lovin’’, finally cracked the Top 10 on its third chart run, peaking at number 7.
This would be the month I bought my first US import, the debut album by Brass Construction. I’d heard it playing at a record shop in nearby Birkenhead called Rox and, despite it being more expensive than an LP released in this country, I had to have it. Rox would stock a few copies of the most popular imports that were being played over in Liverpool by Les Spaine at The Timepiece and on Radio Merseyside by Soul show presenter, Terry Lennaine. I think I came across Les Spaine’s name for the first time in this shop, as there was a chart from The Timepiece on the wall, with Brass Construction in top spot. It was a hugely influential album, a real Funk landmark, which would inspire countless black musicians, including the coming wave of Brit Funk bands like Hi-Tension and Light Of The World, who’d emerge towards the end of the decade. It was made up of just 6 tracks, all with one word titles (‘Movin’’, ‘Peekin’’, ‘Changin’’, ‘Love’, ‘Talkin’’ and ‘Dance’) and described in Blues & Soul, on its British release the following month, as ‘perfection’; the magazine hailing it as ‘the Funk album of all-time!’.
Finally, to close the programme, I’ve included a second Philly Sound single, ‘Wake Up Everybody’, an end of night anthem by Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes, featuring, of course, Teddy Pendergrass on vocals.
In February ‘76, in addition to the Chelsea Reach, I started working, initially on Tuesday nights, at the Penny Farthing, a club that was further along New Brighton promenade. It was next door to the Golden Guinea, where I’d really make my name locally, but that was still a way off; I wouldn’t become the DJ there until the following year.
The Penny was viewed as the club that people who couldn’t get into the Guinea went to. Like the Guinea, it had 2 floors – a disco downstairs and a cabaret room upstairs, where the DJ played in-between a group on some of the nights. During my time at the Penny, I generally worked during the week, when only the upstairs part was open. Sometimes a group would be on, but, more often than not, I’d be on my own (apart from when the club management brought in topless go-go dancers in an attempt to boost midweek attendances).
Whilst the Chelsea was a pleasure to DJ at, the Penny felt more like a job, where I played to a mixed age group of people (as was the way in a members club) and often wished that 2 o’clock would hurry up and come so I could get my money and go home. I did have some good times there, but it could also be a hard slog.
On the 22nd February I went to the Chelsea, not to DJ, but to celebrate my 16th birthday with a drunken night out. This turned out to be an extremely unwise decision, resulting in the manager finding out my age. For the next few days I thought I’d lost my beloved Saturday night just a few months after I’d taken it over. I remember feeling absolutely sick about it, so it was a huge relief when I was informed that I could continue to DJ there after all, although I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I wasn’t to drink while I was on the premises.
Thankfully, now that it was all out in the open, I no longer had to worry about who I’d bump into when I was in my school uniform. The Penny would also find out, but they weren’t at all bothered and I carried on drinking in there as usual (I remember being so pissed on a couple of occasions that I got up and sang (in a rubbish old skool karaoke sort of way) with the group, my chosen numbers being Ben E King’s ‘Stand By Me’, which was especially popular on the cabaret circuit at the time, following John Lennon’s cover version the previous year, plus a more contemporary offering, ‘Why Did You Do It’ by Stretch (complete with the obligatory ‘one-two’!). You have no shame when you’re 16 (at least I seemingly didn’t), especially when you’ve downed a skinful of rum and black. Later on, having realised that alcohol and deejaying didn’t go together, as far as I was concerned, I’d be (generally) strictly Coca-Cola when behind the decks.
Records from February 1976.
Revisited February 2006.