This autumn several of the biggest soul acts are about to descend on the UK for what is set to be three incredible nights of music. Legendary diva Patti LaBelle, iconic R&B group The Whispers, and later era soul singer Meli’sa Morgan are to perform three dates in London, Manchester and Birmingham (Patti LaBelle will not be appearing at this date, The SOS Band will be performing, however) all as part of The Great Voices of Soul UK Tour. We’ve been very excited about this tour since it was announced a few months back, but with just a few months now to wait until the November tour it’s time to get just a little excited about the prospect of this awesome line-up.
The tour begins in Manchester on Friday 13th November at the brilliant O2 Apollo before heading to London’s SSE (Wembley) Arena on Sunday 15th November, and then the tour ends on Monday 16th November at Birmingham’s O2 Academy. Tickets and more information about the tour can be found here. In anticipation of these special shows, we’ve taken a look back at the careers of these great artists, as well revisiting a few of our interviews here on TFSR.
Two-time Grammy Award winner, seven-time NAACP Image Award winner, and BET Lifetime Achievement Award winner Patti LaBelle has spent nearly six decades recording, performing and acting, and at the age of 71 she is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, this year she has been has busy as ever, competing on Dancing With The Stars, launching her own range of cooking sauces and marinades, as well recording a new album of standards that, according to the star, is set to be released by the end of the year. Between all of this, she still continues to perform around America, entertaining fans old and new with her incredible voice.
Born in Philadelphia, Patti LaBelle grew up singing in Beulah Baptist Church quickly developing a love for doo-wop and the emerging R&B genre. She formed The Ordettes with some friends; the group was re-named Patti LaBelle & The Bluebirds, and they had some success with songs such as ‘Over The Rainbow’ and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. When original member Cindy Birdsong left the group to replace Florence Ballard in the Supremes in 1967, the group consisted of LaBelle, Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx. Struggling to find success, the group re-branded themselves, appearing in 1971 as simply LaBelle, mixing their soulful harmonies with elements of rock, as well as adopting glam-rock style outfits (outfits that would inspire George Clinton’s P-Funk outfit). In 1974 the group hit the big time with the global hit ‘Lady Marmalade’, which reached #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 Chart, and reached an impressive #17 on the UK Singles Chart.
The group released some more exciting material, notably 1976’s ‘Isn’t It A Shame’ from the Chameleon album. Before long tensions in the group began to mount, with Dash and Hendryx wanting to continue the experimental soul-rock of LaBelle, but with Patti LaBelle herself wanting to return to the more romantic standards she had recorded with The Bluebells. As a result the group split and in 1977 Patti LaBelle released her solo debut.
Patti LaBelle’s solo career really took off at the turn of the 1980s, with hits such as ‘If Only You Knew’, ‘Love Need And Want You’, and ‘Stir It Up’ taken from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack. In 1986 she released her biggest selling album entitled Winner In You, featuring the duet with Michael McDonald on the Burt Bacharach written tune ‘On My Own’.
Since then Patti LaBelle has continued to record and perform across the world, becoming an icon and inspiration for a whole generation of new female singers. When we started TFSR we never thought that someone of Patti LaBelle’s stature would ever agree to do an interview with us, let alone be so kind gracious in doing so. Thanks to our friends over at Shiloh PR, such an interview became a possibility and you can here it below via Mixcloud. Haff spoke with Miss LaBelle about her new album (she’s recorded songs with “great lyrics”), the importance of Lady Marmalade to her career (“it’s one of those songs whenever you hear it, you never forget it… people have to hear it, and I’m happy about that!”), performing it in front of President Obama (“he was moving in his seat… it was wonderful!”) and whether or not she would be up for recording with the Queen of Soul (“Sure, why not?”). Take a listen below!
Of all the groups that influenced us here at TFSR, The Whispers are among our all-time favourite acts. Formed originally of Walter and Wallace Scott, Nicholas Caldwell, Marcus Hudson and Gordy Harmon in 1964, The Whispers have become firm favourites on the soul scene in both America and the UK, being a favourite of the eighties groove crowd this side of the pond. Earlier this summer we spoke to Walter Scott about the group’s formation and the influences of others had on the group: unusually for African-American artists of the time, Walter and his brother grew up idolising the white-singing group The Four Freshman, as well as Motown acts such as The Temptations and later on The O’Jays.
In 1973 Gordy Harmon was forced to leave the group after damaging his larynx, and was replaced by Leaveil Degree. In 1970 the group singed to Janus Records knocking up some minor hits, but it was their appearances on the Soul Train programme that got the group noticed, and signed to Dick Griffey’s Solar Records in LA. It was at Solar that the group hit commercial success: in the late seventies the group hit big with songs like ‘One For The Money’, ‘(Let’s Go) All The Way’, and ‘(Olivia) Lost and Turned Out‘.
1980 was the group’s breakthrough year. The release of their self-entitled album launched the group to stardom, largely thanks the monster of a hit that was ‘And The Beat Goes On’, as well as a tribute to the recently departed Donny Hathaway. The album and hit single remain the group’s biggest to this day. Hits followed, such as ‘Imagination’, ‘Up on Soul Train’, ‘Rock Steady’, ‘In The Raw’, ‘Say Yes’, and the immensely brilliant ‘It’s A Love Thing’. The group carried on recording during the nineties, hooking up with Babyface amongst others; in 2006 they released the eagerly anticipated For Your Ears Only, and in 2011 released Thankful, an album mixing gospel with their classic groove-oriented sound.
Amazingly, especially in comparison to other soul and R&B groups, The Whispers have remained incredibly loyal to one another: after Marcus Hudson’s death the group vowed never to replace him, covering his medical bills and assisting the family. Moreover, in recent years as Nicholas Caldwell’s health deteriorated the group continued to support him when he was unable to perform, although as Walter revealed to us, Nicholas appears, thankfully, to be on the mend.
Haff spoke to Walter Scott at length about the career of The Whispers, and is available both on Mixcloud, as well as on YouTube below.
As Patti LaBelle’s solo career really took off in the early 1980s, Meli’sa Morgan’s was just about to begin. Like LaBelle, Morgan began singing in church, but it was her involvement in a group called Shades of Love that would yield her first taste of success, particularly dance mixes of the song ‘Body to Body (Keep In Touch)’. She was also a member of the short-lived High Fashion, who had one hit with ‘Feelin’ Lucky Later’. She would go on to sing background for Melba Moore, Whitney Houston and her idol Chaka Khan.
In 1986 she released her debut album Do Me Baby, the title-track being a cover of the Prince song; her version spent three weeks on the US R&B Charts. She would release three more well received albums before Morgan took an extended break until 2005, when she released the anticipated I Remember album, featuring a remake of the Donny Hathaway-Roberta Flack duet ‘Back Together Again’ with eighties soul man Freddie Jackson. Morgan continues to perform and excite crowds today, and her inclusion in the Great Voices of Soul UK Tour is a real treat for her many fans this side of the Atlantic.
Bonus London Treats!
For those attending the London show, prepare for even more soul greatness! Not only will Patti LaBelle, The Whispers, and Meli’sa Morgan be appearing, but The SOS Band, Gwen Dickey, Soul II Soul, and Loose Ends featuring Carl McIntosh will also join them! This is sure to be an incredible night of sweet soul music.
The SOS Band
After a triumphant three-date UK tour last year, The SOS Band is back to spread their funky goodness to the people of London. The group includes original lead vocalist Mary Davis who we spoke to at length last year before she and the group appeared in the UK. The SOS Band produced some of the greatest groove tracks of the seventies and eighties, with hits like ‘Take Your Time (Do It Right)’, ‘Just Be Good To Me’, and ‘Groovin’ (That’s What We’re Doing)’.
The SOS Band will also be performing at the Birmingham date of the tour.
Gwen Dickey of Rose Royce
Everyone knows the song ‘Car Wash‘; whether they can name the group or singer of the track is a different matter. Nonetheless, Gwen Dickey is a true soul survivor: being just a teenager when she began singing lead with Rose Royce, she became one of the most renowned singers of her generation, possessing a beautiful yet powerful voice, performing on hits such as ‘Wishing On A Star’ and ‘Love Don’t Live Here Any More’. Today she performs solo, and based on her success over in the UK relocated her, preforming exclusively in Europe. Last November we had a chat with Gwen Dickey about her career, her influences, and why it’s unlikely we’ll never see her reunite with Rose Royce.
Soul II Soul
In 1988 Jazzie B launched Soul II Soul, one of the great British soul exports to the rest of the world. A year later the group had the smash hit ‘Back To Life (However Do You Want Me)’, winning a Grammy Award for doing so, featuring the brilliant vocals of Caron Wheeler. Since then the group have notched up hits such as ‘Keep On Moving’, ‘Get A Life’, and ‘Joy’. In addition, they’ve recently completed a nationwide tour and are a firm favourite on the festival circuit. They’re sure to excite at the SSE Arena in Wembley this November.
Loose Ends feat. Carl McIntosh
Another British export to the rest of the world was Loose Ends, famous for their 1985 hit ‘Hanging On A String’. Formed in 1980 by Carl McIntosh, Jane Eugene, and Steve Nichol, the group went on to have songs such as ‘Tell Me What You Want’ and ‘Watching You (Watching Me)’. Eugene and Nichol are currently based in America performing as Loose Ends, while McIntosh is based here performing either with a DJ sound-system, or with a live-band. Either way, London will sure be grooving to ‘Hanging On A String’ come November!
Click on the images below for full line-up information!