UNLIKE many people who turned up on Berry Gordy’s doorstep when he established the Motown label, Martha Reeves was invited.
Working as a cleaner through the week and performing in clubs at the weekend, Reeves was spotted by Motown A&R man Mickey Stevenson one night in the Twenty Grand in Detroit.
“He gave me a card and said, you have talent, come to Hitsville,” says the formidable Miss Reeves over the phone from her home in Detroit. “He went all over the city, gathering up singers and musicians.”
One of 12 children, Reeves was raised in a god-fearing Alabama family and first sang publicly in her grandfather’s Methodist church after the family moved to Detroit.
It was in Detroit where Reeves fell under the benign influence of her godmother Beatrice.
“She was a woman who took me under her wing and took me to a lot of plays and concerts at the theatre – with my mom’s permission, of course – and I saw Lena Horne when I was about three years old,” remembers Reeves.
“She was so pretty and she was singing the blues. As a child, I couldn’t imagine anyone like her being unhappy, as pretty as she was. And later I was influenced by Della Reese. I saw her in church and she was singing Amazing Grace. The next day I saw her singing one of her songs on TV. I identified with her and she became my role model.”
Attending Northeastern High School alongside Supremes Flo Ballard and Mary Wilson – practicing singing while she washed up in the family kitchen (“the acoustics were good,” she explains) – Reeves was part of the generation whose parents escaped poverty in the South to reap the benefits of contributing to the war effort in the North.
But not everyone was content to work for minimum wage on the Ford Motor Co production line.
THERE are some records that I’ve been mooning over for years and years with the intensity of some hopelessly lovelorn teenager who’s just had their heart broken into little pieces for the very first time. Records that soundtracked beautiful times and wonderful places, important, vital, essential records that I’ve loved and lost but never found again, that tug insistently at the edges of my memory, just beyond my reach, forever naggingly untouchable, unattainable, unforgettable.
And there are some records that I didn’t know even know I’d lost, that I didn’t even know I had in the first place, to be perfectly honest with you.
The uncharitable might suggest this is indicative of a man who has too many records, or that all those years of burning the candle at both ends – and in the middle, all at the same time – are finally catching up with me. Or that I’m finally succumbing to early onset Alzheimer’s.
To which I would respond: Who are you? And where are my records?
IF YOU live in the UK, you’re of a certain age and you haven’t ever totally lost it to one of Mark Archer’s tunes, you’ve no business owning feet. Hand them in at the door on your way out.
In 1989, the same year the Stafford-raised Archer and a mate called Dean Meredith started Bizarre Inc, Archer also started making Detroit-influenced electronic music with Chris Peat as Nexus 21. Archer and Peat later started a side project by the name of Altern 8, with the sound of raw 808s replaced by sampled breakbeats. After the pair went their separate ways in the mid-Nineties, Archer proceeded to explore a more house-orientated direction with Danny Taurus as Slo Moshun.
One way or another, we’ve all been dancing to Mark Archer’s tune – even if we didn’t realise it.
TWENTY years ago, Britain was beset by riots, right-wing extremism, simmering racial tension, mass redundancies and a crumbling social infrastructure. Its Tory government, buttressed by a seemingly unassailable parliamentary majority, appeared to be hell bent on cementing the ‘special relationship’ with the United States, no matter what the cost.
Meanwhile, a largely indifferent population shrugged its collective shoulders and got on with checking its bingo numbers.
Britain then was, of course, a very different place to the land of milk and honey we live in today. Times have changed. We’ve all moved on. Haven’t we?
HOW about we agree to not talk about the last year of inactivity? Let’s just say that some stuff cropped up. What’s a year between friends?
The good news is I’m interested in hearing new music once again. There is no bad news.
Here are some things I’ve seen and heard recently.
FORGET Glastonbury, forget Leeds Poly student union, forget the Radio 1 Christmas party – John Peel’s favourite gig was Scunthorpe Baths. Fact.
He used to play at the celebrated municipal venue at least once a year in the mid Eighties and generally spent the next couple of nights on his Radio 1 show going through enormous lists of shouts and requests he picked up from trollied patrons. And he always said that it was his favourite gig of the year. We loved him for that.
We loved him for other reasons too – the sheer variety and quality of music he came up with, night after night. We loved the avuncular, slightly dotty professional persona, which often found him playing records at the wrong speed or playing the wrong side. And we loved him for the fact that he bothered turning up in Scunthorpe at all.
His gigs were the highlight of the year as far as many punters were concerned, no question about it. And I think he liked the fact that he wasn’t playing to a bunch of student wall-flowers waiting for the new single from the latest NME-approved indie muppets on a full discretionary grant.
When he played at Scunthorpe Baths Hall, Peel was playing to a bunch of hard-drinking northerners who lived in an absolute shit-hole and needed to pack in as much fun as possible before they returned to the grim realities of the early shift at the steel works – if they had a job at all.
Everybody danced, all night.
I interviewed Peel after a gig at the Baths in 1986. He got the beers in and bought us a curry and was every bit as brilliant and hilarious and knowledgeable and impressive as you would imagine.
As of today, we can all listen to Peelie’s record collection.
Close your eyes and you could almost be at Scunthorpe Baths.
* * *
I HAVEN’T really got anything to add to the blizzard of uninformed opinion that has followed the death of Amy Winehouse.
Who knows what really went on? We’d all like to think that we make our own choices but what happens when choice is taken away from you? When the thing you think you need is really the very last thing you need?
The girl I met in late 2003 and again about a year later was very cool and while she definitely had an edge, she clearly wasn’t anywhere near as tough as she tried to make out. I liked her. She was funny and outspoken and real and honest – all you could want from someone you’re interviewing. And of course, it helps that the music she wrote and the words she sang were just incredible.
It’s a crying shame she isn’t around anymore.
* * *
AMY WINEHOUSE might look like she’s been dragged though a hedge backwards but she walks into the hotel bar like she owns the place.
We’re introduced and she informs the photographer that, nah, he won’t be taking any pictures while we do the interview. She’s just this minute off the tour bus.
”Look at the state of me,” she says, unnecessarily. Everyone is looking at her already.
“Trust me,” soothes the snapper. “I can do something artistic with the computer
“Yeah? Well, I’m doing something artistic with these zits now. We’ll do the pictures later.”