E. Mark Windle 11 October 2020
COVID and lockdown has given the soul music community a lot of time to reflect on the state of the scene; not only on how the pandemic is shaping the social landscape, but also on changing musical directions. Regardless of individual sub-genre preference, the constant for many is the need to access rare, newly discovered and unreleased recordings. More than ever then, the independent record label industry is an essential vehicle bringing new music to the people, whether in the form of previously unissued sounds from previous decades or more contemporary recordings. With that in mind, August saw the release of Ike Perry and the Lyrics’ “God Must Have Sent You To Me” / “I’m Just A Man”, representing the inaugural vinyl release of the new Scottish label, North Broad Street Records.
On the basis of that release and insight into the abundance of other material already lined up, there is little doubt that North Broad Street Records will prove to be a serious contender in the independent soul label game. The intention is to present an extensive catalogue of previously unreleased material, sourced from acetates and master-tape, alongside very occasional re-releases of rare 45s from the soul arena. Let’s be clear, there are strictly no pigeonholing or restrictions on sub-genres here, just damn fine soul music. The label has already secured enough recordings to keep busy for years, and is committed to continuing the search for yet more elusive and exclusive product. Project manager Colin Law and director John Buckley are keen to stress that the artists, producers and writers will be recognised, respected and looked after as far as possible.
Colin and John are familiar names on the soul scene. Colin’s prominence as a DJ on the rare soul scene is undeniable. He recalls his love of the genre starting at age fifteen. Later, Clouds, Edinburgh and the Casino’s 6th Anniversary would provide all-nighter initiation; from then on he was well and truly bitten by the bug. DJ spots were soon secured at the Yarmouth weekender, Glenrothes YMCA, then Shotts, Blackburn, Whitchurch and Mexborough. Stateside trips with Jock O’Connor to Miami and numerous others with Guy Hennigan through the 1980s and early 1990s were a continual source of rare soul, new discoveries and opportunities for networking. Pre–internet, things were done the hard way; arm yourself with a copy of Goldmine and search out potential treasure chests from the classifieds and private ads. Great finds often came via a combination of luck, educated guessing and blind buys; but the trips were also an opportunity for networking with artists and old industry players.
John’s introduction to soul came around the late sixties and early seventies, when he was drawn into the developing scene as a young teenager. Musical influences as a teenager included Motown, commercial soul sounds of the day and a chance backstage encounter with First Choice, who were hitting the big time with “Armed And Extremely Dangerous”. By the mid 1970s he was frequenting the Sombrero and the Casino. These venues provided the motivation to organise soul nights and all-dayers with Neil McKillop in and around his East Lothian hometown. In the following decade, family responsibilities and business activities intermittently kept him away from the scene but the love for the music remained. In the 1990s there was a return in force:
“I’d explore around New York and Chicago on record-hunting trips from my other base in Florida” says John. “I was picking up some ‘northern’ sounds but also more deep soul, funk, mid-tempo, modern and crossover. Of the big venues, the Mecca had informed my taste; I felt that at least at one point in time there seemed to be was more musical diversity there than what I had experienced at the Casino. I was never a fan really of 100mph stompers or the pop of Wigan when it was at its worst.”
The idea to create a record label initially cropped up while Colin and John were on a record-hunting trip last April. By the turn of 2020, it had become a serious topic of conversation.
“We were both into the same kind thing, including under the radar or completely obscure mid-tempo and crossover” says Colin. “I already had a few acetates in my collection and we had just picked up the Ike Perry stuff. The label idea was a natural progression from my whole DJ experience and the record hunting; I’m always looking for something new. For me, North Broad Street is another way I can share these recordings with like-minded people. The whole concept just grew arms and legs. The recent lockdown because of COVID actually gave us the chance to push ahead with it – we got the label design and website sorted and started going down the pressing route. John and I are in this together as a 50:50 working partnership. We each have our own ideas and input for the label and the releases but we communicate well. There’s no stifling of ideas.”
Why North Broad Street? Those in the know will be aware 1618 North Broad Street was the home of Frank Virtue’s Virtue Studios, the legendary Philly outlet of so much quality soul through the 1960s and beyond. Indeed, one wall of the studio in Dalkeith where the Underground Grooves show is produced (another brainchild of the guys) presents floor-to-ceiling photographic imagery of Virtue. Whilst they can’t recall exactly why the name stuck, John had originally come up with the idea of using a studio address. Colin had also already visited Virtue with DJ and collector Guy Hennigan on a US trip in the late 1980s.
The boys go to great pains to emphasise that quality must always prevail in the recordings selected for the label, the re-mixing, vinyl pressing and aesthetic presentation of the final product. They are also keen to ensure catalogue diversity and one that reflects their own tastes. Northern, sweet soul, crossover, modern, soulful disco, funk, deep and ballads – as long as it’s soulful, nothing genre wise is off-limits. Pressing runs will be limited to 350 copies per release.
Regarding the featured artists: Isaac “Ike” Perry first started out with the Five Lyrics, a doo-wop group who first recorded for the Berkeley, California label Music City. They then appeared on Mama (Isaac’s own Cleveland-based imprint). As Ike Perry and The Lyrics, they played the circuit well into the next decade, appearing on various New York and Dallas labels while performing on the road. For the first release on North Broad Street Records, Ike’s return to the studio in Cleveland in the early 1970s was represented, when he recorded some tracks which had originally been conceived in the previous decade. “God Must Have Sent You To Me” is a crossover dance floor winner, and is backed with the sweet soul sound of “I Am Just A Man”, demonstrating the close harmonies of The Lyrics.
So, what’s next? As a taster, the follow-up scheduled for release before Christmas features a Brill Building song-writing pair:
Rose Marie McCoy found her niche in the mid-1950s as a songwriter, producer and publishing company owner. One of the few entrepreneurial, independent and highly respected women of the time in her industry, Rose spent the 1960s largely based in the offices of New York’s Brill Building. At one point she would commute fortnightly from her Brill Building office to Detroit as lyricist for Golden World, Revilot and other local labels, with credits appearing on the iconic “Our Love is in the Pocket”, “I’m Spellbound” and many others. In typical Brill Building style, Rose also partnered with the musicianship and composing talents of Helen Miller, who was also notable for song-writing collaborations with soul artists including Freddie Scott, Tommy Hunt and Chuck Jackson at Scepter-Wand, and Timi Yuro. Rose and Helen would work together through the rest of the decade and into the mid seventies; providing songs for Barbara Lewis, Lenny Welch, Maxine Brown, Jerry Butler, Sarah Vaughan and others. For the next North Broad Street project then, the lush, early ballad “Teardrops and Heartaches” is presented from this dynamic duo. Sourced from a McCoy–Miller songwriter acetate, this recording was likely intended for another artist. The demo is a soulful interpretation of a song originally written by Rosalie Long, and may well have been the precursor for the 1970 New Directions LP track on Neptune, featuring Terri Bryant, or for another artist.
“For the flip of the next North Broad Street release, we’ll be featuring a track with tragic surroundings that touched our hearts” says Colin. “Bruce Cloud had a few top northern soul sounds, including some recordings on Era and the popcorn / R&B / mod winner “Soul Mambo”. The song in question here is “Where Did We Go Wrong”, from one of his last visits to the recording studio. Around this time Bruce had become disillusioned with the music industry, and had run into financial and personal difficulties. He suffered severe mental health issues, which ultimately led to suicide. His story has a personal resonance for me. I lost my best friend through mental health issues; someone who first introduced me in to this wonderful music scene. North Broad Street Records will be supporting the UK charity MIND financially through this next release.”
Other future projects for North Broad Street Records include rare and unreleased recordings from Tony Hestor, Mack Rice, Cynthia and the Imaginations, Johnny Gilliam, The Passions and Billy Kennedy to name but a few.
Rather neatly, North Broad Street adds a further dimension to the unleashing of rare and unissued soul through their fortnightly soul show. The label’s activities come under the banner of John’s media company A State of Mind. Underground Grooves is broadcast from the State of Mind podcast and recording studio based in Dalkeith, featuring Colin, John and invited guests. As well as vehicle for promoting their own new releases, it intends to cover soul music in all its forms, including releases from other contemporary / retrospective independent labels.
With these exciting projects, North Broad Street is a welcome addition to the eclectic, soulful family of long standing and more recently established indies making their mark such as Cannonball, Hit and Run, Hayley, Soul Junction, Diggin’ Deep, MD Records, Hayley, Big Man Records and others. Given the current global crisis and concerns regarding the future of our soul music scene venues, rest assured that all these entrepreneurs are helping to shape and drive the new phase. Recently there appears to be a genuine upward shift among the wider soul music community for appreciation of independent label output, with customers valuing not only quality but also the collectability of releases. On occasion, even encouraging us to think musically outside the box. A cliché hard to avoid these days, but our new normal perhaps?
Underground Grooves can currently be accessed on Mixcloud via https://www.mixcloud.com/Underground_Grooves/ or via links on the True Soul Facebook page. Visit www.northbroadst.co.uk for more information on North Broad Street releases, ordering and newsletters.
Copyright 2020 E. Mark Windle (This article has also appeared in Soul Up North magazine, October 2020).
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