There I was last week minding my own business when I stumbled upon a link to a feature via Facebook about UK soul. As this particular genre is often overlooked, I was delighted and couldn’t wait to read about the music I knew intimately and have loved since I was a child. So imagine my dismay when the article heralded the likes of Duffy, Pixie Lott, Girls Aloud and Kate Nash as artists leading the charge for UK soul in its twenty first century guise without offering any context as to who laid the foundations . To me it seemed criminal that an article supposedly celebrating the genre didn’t feature any black artists or reference any of the originators of the music (the writer of the piece has since stated that the article wasn’t intended to be about soul despite it saying so in the title). I made a mental note to write this post and inform anyone who cares to read it about an exciting new collaboration called The British Collective, which is a super group made up of some of the most successful British R&B artists from the eighties, including:
When I think of UK soul one of the first names I think of his Junior Giscombe. He showed the world that Black Brits had their own unique interpretation of soul when he scored an international hit with the classic anthem Mama Used to Say in 1982. The track earned him a Billboard Award for Best Newcomer and he became the first Black British artist to appear on Soul Train. Junior also contributed a song to the soundtrack to Beverly Hills Cop II.
Flamboyant, theatrical and born to perform - Leee John found fame as the lead singer to the group Imagination. During the ’80s the group seemed to be a mainstay on Top of the Pops scoring a string of hits such as Body Talk, Illusion and Flashback. Imagination’s trademark look was sparkly headbands, glittery form fitting leggings and bare chests. This was the eighties after all – the era of opulence and total theatre, and Leee seemed more than happy to indulge.
In a word: legendary. Singer/songwriter/instrumentalist/master innovator: Omar is in my opinion one of the best soul artists to emerge out of the UK. In fact, I’d go as far to say if he was from the US where the scene is more respected and supported, Omar would be considered one of the greats. His debut single There’s Nothing Like This peaked at No.14 in the UK charts, is still played on the radio and you’re likely to hear it played at any social function populated by Black Brits over 30. He has collaborated with some of the heavyweights from across the pond including Stevie Wonder (no less), Erykah Badu, Angie Stone and the late Guru.
Don-E made his debut as an artist in 1992 with his single Love Makes The World Go Round which peaked at No. 18 in the national charts. But it’s his underground hit Unbreakable that he is no known and loved for on the underground scene. We can actually thank Don-E for the awesome British Collective concept as he came up with the idea while working on his last album Little Star, and rounded up the crew to perform a song called Spiritual, which also featured Carl McIntosh (Loose Ends) and Rick Clarke.
Noel McKoy first found acclaim as part of a group with his siblings called McKoy. They landed a hit with the single Family in 1989. Noel subsequently went solo and has released three solo albums.
The first single from the collective is a track called Romantic which stays faithful to the sounds of the UK soul: a heavy bassline, funky synth grooves and tight soulful harmonies. All the artists get a their chance to shine which shows off the group’s versatility and the distinctive style of each singer. It’s a really nice a track; I particularly love when it segues into the old school classic Should’ve Known Better three quarters of the way in – yesss!
In view of the article previously mentioned the timing of the British Collective couldn’t be more crucial. With the MOBOs no longer being a vehicle that highlights unsung black British artists, and with the lack of print publications dedicated to black music, it’s easy to see why omissions like this can occur. So please go out and show your support to ensure that the contributions of this group to the canon of UK soul will not be be ignored in future. I’ll keep you updated on any further news, releases and concert dates.