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Time Capsule – March 1976

 

Tracklisting:

Parliament – P Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up) (Casablanca*)
The Chi-Lites – The Devil Is Doing His Work (Brunswick)
Johnnie Taylor – Disco Lady (Columbia*)
Brass Construction – Changin’ (United Artists*)
Silver Convention – Get Up And Boogie (Magnet)
Eddie Drennon & B.B.S Unlimited – Let’s Do The Latin Hustle (Pye)
Barry White – You See The Trouble With Me (20th Century)
Earth Wind & Fire – Sing A Song (CBS)
Atlanta Disco Band – Bad Luck (Ariola America)
The Notations – Think Before You Stop (Curtom)
Isaac Hayes Movement – Disco Connection (ABC)
Diana Ross – Theme From ‘Mahogany’ (Do You Know Where You’re Going To) (Tamla Motown)

* denotes US Import

Other tracks considered: Hamilton Bohannon – Bohannon’s Beat (Brunswick) / Rhythm Heritage – Theme From S.W.A.T (Abc) / The Softones – That Old Black Magic (Avco) / The Sunshine Band – Rock Your Baby (Jayboy) / War – Why Can’t We Be Friends (Island)

Following my purchase of Brass Construction’s debut LP the previous month, the first US import I’d bought, I splashed out on a couple of 7” singles, which, at that point, were unavailable in the UK – Parliament’s ‘P Funk’ and Johnnie Taylor’s ‘Disco Lady’. Because of the cost, buying imports at this stage wasn’t really a habit I could afford to get into, so it would only be something I’d do every now and then (during 1982 and 83, my final years as a DJ, I’d rarely play anything but imports). Rox only stocked the odd import anyhow, so my choice was limited. It wasn’t as though I was appearing at upfront nights, where being at the cutting-edge of things was essential; it was purely a personal indulgence, due to my love of black music.

The ‘P Funk’ 7” was my introduction to George Clinton and co. I was instantly hooked and couldn’t leave the shop without a copy. It would eventually be issued in the UK some of months later back-to-back with a track that would go absolutely huge on the dancefloor (without ever crossing over to the charts), ‘Tear The Roof Off The Sucker (Give Up The Funk)’.

Johnnie Taylor’s ‘Disco Lady’ would go all the way to number one on the US pop chart. It never managed to reach the same heights here, peaking at number 25 following its April release on CBS. Although ‘Disco Lady’ was his only UK hit, Taylor, who died in 2000, was best-known for the Stax classic, ‘Who’s Making Love’, from 1968 – a track I’d often play during an oldies spot.

Following on from the success of ‘Movin’’, which was rush released in the UK at the end of March (eventually climbing to number 23 in the charts), a second huge dancefloor tune emerged from the Brass Construction LP – ‘Changin’’. The album would also be issued in Britain during March; it’s popularity in the clubs reflected by an eventual top 10 placing (peaking at number 9) – a remarkable achievement for what was very much regarded as a specialist black music release, providing a impressive demonstration of the collective muscle UK club DJ’s now possessed when it came to breaking a new artist on a mainstream level.

The Chi-Lites, led by Eugene Record, were one of the most popular Soul acts of the era and had notched up a run of British hits since 1971’s ‘(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People’ (including their best-known release, ‘Have You Seen Her’ in 1972, plus further top 10 entries, ‘Homely Girl’, ‘Too Good To Be Forgotten’ and ‘It’s Time For Love’). However, ‘The Devil Is Doing His Work’, one of their funkier singles, would fail to make any impact on the chart whatsoever.

Fresh from the success of ‘Fly Robin Fly’, which not only soared to the top of the US chart, but won a Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues Instrumental, Silver Convention’s German producers Silvester ‘Silver’ Levay and Michael Kunze recruited vocalists Linda Thompson, Ramona Wulf and Penny McLean for the follow-up, ‘Get Up And Boogie’ (they’d used session vocalists on their previous releases). This would become their biggest UK single, reaching number 7.

Two different versions of ‘Let’s Do The Latin Hustle’ would battle it out during March, both on the dancefloor and in the charts. The original version, by US act Eddie Drennon & B.B.S Unlimited would unfortunately lose out to an inferior UK cover by the M & O Band (on Creole Records), despite reaching number 20 on the chart (the M & 0 Band going 4 places higher). Had sales not been split between the two versions, a much bigger hit would have resulted.

A cover that didn’t conflict with the original was ‘Bad Luck’ by the Atlanta Disco Band, an instrumental of Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes’ single from the previous year. In total contrast to ‘Let’s Do The Latin Hustle’, neither of these versions made the UK chart at all. This is particularly remarkable when you consider that ‘Bad Luck’ is placed right up there at the very summit of Billboard’s all-time list of Dance / Disco hits. Not to say that ‘Bad Luck’ wasn’t popular in the British clubs, but to a far lesser degree than in its country of origin, emphasising the fact that some of the classic US club tracks were nothing like as big in the UK (and vice-versa). The perfect example of this would perhaps be another Philly Sound recording, ‘Love Is The Message’ by M.F.S.B, which is regarded as a Disco standard from a US perspective, but wasn’t even a contender here.

Barry White continued to add to his impressive run of hits, and would just miss out on the top spot with ‘You See The Trouble With Me’, a UK number 2. However, this would be the final time that the man they dubbed ‘the Walrus of Love’ would make it into the top 10 of the British singles chart.

Earth Wind & Fire followed ‘Shining Star’ with a further club favourite, ‘Sing A Song’, whilst another black music great, Isaac Hayes (as the Isaac Hayes Movement) would go on to score his second British hit with ‘Disco Connection’, reaching number 10 following a lengthy absence from the chart. His previous success being 1971’s seminal ‘Theme From ‘Shaft’. He wouldn’t return to the UK singles chart for more than two decades, when he went all the way to number 1 as Chef, with a novelty hit released in 1998 – ‘Chocolate Salty Balls’ from the TV show ‘South Park’.

The programme closes with yet another legendary artist, Diana Ross, whose ‘Theme From ‘Mahogany’ (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)’ would become her biggest solo hit since 1973’s ‘Touch Me In The Morning’, reaching number 5 in the UK and number 1 in the US (‘Mahogany’ being a movie that Ross stared in). The majority of Diana Ross’s solo releases, like ‘Theme From ‘Mahogany’’, were ballads (or ‘slowies’, as we called them), but things were about to change, with another single rushed into the shops just a matter of weeks later, which would provide one of the Disco highlights of year (see next months Time Capsule).

Having now established myself at the Penny Farthing, I found myself deejaying there no less than 19 nights this month (in addition to my 4 nights at the Chelsea Reach). This set the tone for what lay ahead, with me spending more nights in the clubs than out of them. Needless to say that at this point my schooling began to go seriously downhill (at a time when I was supposed to be gearing up for my O Levels).

One of the nights I took over at the Penny was the Monday. Whereas most clubs on Merseyside would be empty, for some reason Monday nights at the Chelsea Reach were always packed, with some people travelling across from Liverpool to attend. The fact it closed before midnight probably helped, allowing people who were working the next day to get home at a reasonable time, but this still doesn’t explain why Monday was particularly popular. Anyhow, there were a percentage of people who’d stay out for the extra couple of hours, heading along the promenade to the Guinea or the Penny. Most of these were just looking for somewhere to continue drinking, but there were others who were into dancing, some of whom had come over from Liverpool.

These included a couple of guys, Tappa and Coffee, from Liverpool 8 (Toxteth), where most of the city’s black community lived. There were very few black people who lived in or near New Brighton, so it was a buzz to meet Tappa and Coffee and listen to their tales of The Timepiece, where they went at the weekend. I’d obviously seized the opportunity to play as much Funk as possible when they were in and, given that their crew (which also included some girls, a fair bit older than I was, who used to live down the road from me) would stay on the dancefloor if the tunes were to their taste, an idea formed in my head to focus purely on Soul and Funk on the Monday, giving the Penny a separate musical identity from what was being played next door at the Guinea (which was across the board chart type stuff), so we could hopefully attract some more of the younger crowd who were going to the Chelsea for the last couple of hours.

I went to the management with the idea and they gave me the go-ahead for what would be my first specialist night, which was advertised as ‘Funky Monday’ (featuring your host DJ, Greg Wilson, spinning the latest Disco dance sounds around – Solid Soul & Funk from 9.00pm – 2.00am). The night would be launched in April, with complimentary tickets (we didn’t really do flyers back then) given out to advertise it.

Tappa, with his distinctive afro, reminded me of the guy from The Stylistics with the falsetto voice (Russell Thompkins Jnr), whilst Coffee, who was shaven headed with a moustache, had a definite look of Errol Brown from Hot Chocolate. It was always great to see them walk into the Penny as I knew we’d be in for a good night.

Records from March 1976.
Revisited March 2006.