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Martha Reeves

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.

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Overpaid, oversexed and over here

THE first time Charles Gettis came to the UK was as a private in the 91st Airborne Division of the US Army. His first sight of the country came through the early morning November mists covering the vast open spaces of the Greenham Common airbase near Newbury, Berkshire as he stepped out of the belly of a huge USAAF cargo plane onto the tarmac below.

Now long discharged from the army, the 26-year-old Gettis has returned to the UK in an altogether different role, in the guise of his turntablist alter-ego, Deejay Punk-Roc. He’s one of a small group of American DJs who have set up home here to take advantage of the burgeoning club scene which grew up in the wake of the acid house explosion of 1988.

Gettis, working in a series of dead-end jobs after he left the military, found his options severely limited in his home town of Brooklyn. The story goes that Andrew Erskine, the head of Merseyside independent label Airdog, somehow heard Punk-Roc’s self-produced My Beatbox, visited him in Brooklyn and persuaded him that he could make a splash in the UK by promoting his music on the back of his not-inconsiderable DJing skills. He didn’t have to ask twice.

Based in Toxteth, Liverpool since January, Gettis’s gamble has paid off in a big way. He’s been pleasantly surprised by the speed and scale of his success. His debut album Chickeneye was released to almost unanimously positive reviews last month, while he returned to the States to support the Prodigy on a two-week tour.

On his return to the UK, he played a couple of gigs, including one at NY Sushi in Sheffield, before jetting off the a festival in Holland. Next week he releases Far Out, another single from the album. A trip to Japan is scheduled for the autumn. It’s non-stop.

“For some people, what’s happening to me now might be a dream come true, but not for me – cause I never even dreamed it in the first place,” says Gettis as he relaxes in his hotel room after the Sheffield date. “I’ve been making music for as long time, but it was never made to be pressed up and sold to the public. I thought that music was something that other people made and I bought.”

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Amp Fiddler

JOSEPH ‘Amp’ Fiddler has a theory that conversations are the dynamic for change in our lives and I’m with him all the way.

How true this is when you’re speaking over the phone, I’m not so sure. Surely you need to be close enough to be able to see the whites of their eyes to really have a chance to know what’s going on in someone’s head?

It’s a shame not to meet the guy in person. Fiddler cuts a striking figure. Tall - well over six feet when you take into account his hair, which fluctuates between dreads and an impressive afro – distinguished, and a snappy dresser to boot, Amp resembles nothing so much as a latterday funky Malcolm X, stepping out to an afterhours jazz den in his wraparound shades, polo neck and leather raincoat.

But he’s in France, midway through a lengthy European tour, relaxing before tonight’s gig and I’m in the UK, midway through production day, not relaxing before the magazine goes to press. We’ll have to try our best.

Thinking about it, it’s unlikely I’d be able to see the whites of Fiddler’s eyes anyway  one, he’s on tour so they’re probably a little red around the edges (“we’ve been having a lot of fun,” he drawls) and two, he’s rarely seen without sunglasses, even indoors.

Fiddler, however, has been in this game a lot longer than I have and he fields my questions like the seasoned pro he is, his rich, melifluous  if, occasionally, a little croaky  voice booming over the line from Lyon.

The tour is going well. A native of Detroit, Michigan, he “most definitely enjoys the European way of life” and only wishes the weather was a little better, “but it’s okay. I been having a great time.”

Roughly half of the people in his audiences have already heard his astonishingly assured debut solo album, Waltz Of A Ghetto Fly he estimates (well, he actually recorded his debut for a major label at the start of the Nineties, but it wasn’t a happy or rewarding experience); the other half haven’t but, “our show is very dynamic, so if people don’t get it by the middle of the show, they definitely get it by the end. But,” he adds with a chuckle, “most of them get it in the beginning.”

Old enough to say “record” when he means “CD”, young enough to know who Dizzee Rascal is (he recently bought Rascal’s album for his son Dorian), Fiddler is also polite enough not to mention it when I get the titles of his songs wrong or interrupt him, mid sentence. He doesn’t let things bother him. He’s playing a long game. He turned 46 last week but isn’t unduly perturbed: “The older the fiddle, the better the tune.”

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