Motown Spotlight, May 2021

Soul In Print

 

I don't know about you, but some of my younger years were one of searching and exploring.  Searching for information and exploring every avenue I could to satisfy my growing appetite for American music, often referred to as 'race music' before Billboard music magazine adopted the term 'Rhythm and Blues' abbreviated later to R&B.  I followed those in the know to educate me and this in turn led me to Motown in its earliest form.

Living as I did in East Sussex was, as you can imagine, a huge setback particularly in actually buying records I'd read about.  So that led to travelling every so often to London to head for shops like SoulCity specialising in the music I longed to own. Thankfully I was working and my mum didn't take too high a percentage of my wages for my keep.  I wasn't that fussy about clothes either so saving for train fares and records was my priority to play on my parents' rather posh (for the time) hi-fi system.  So, that was the music more or less sorted.  What about my search for information?  Well, I can answer that in one word – fanzines.

Before explaining why this word is high on my agenda today, a brief backstory of my involvement in this dedicated world of amateur, and later professional, pieces of literature.  Drop into this mix of the printed word a certain young singer called Dusty Springfield who also influenced me and inadvertently pointed me in the right musical direction. Her passion for Motown was inspirational, and being a member of her fan club I was regularly treated to her words of wisdom.  When a secretary for the South of England branch was requested, I was first with my arm held high in the air. The position entailed answering fans' letters on her behalf and more significantly for this shy Sussex girl, I was given preferential treatment in securing tickets to Dusty's shows in London and along the SouthCoast

Like Dusty and hundreds others, I was a proud member of Dave Godin's Tamla Motown Appreciation Society and over the years that followed spent hours sharing my love of black music with Dave via long letters and even longer phone calls.  We drank brandy together on several occasions at his home or when we joined in the fun at some Blues & Soul events in London.  Long story cut short. When TMAS folded, individual fan clubs for Motown acts replaced it. Having left Dusty's fan club, I headed up one for The Four Tops.  Lynne and Jackie looked after The Temptations, Phil and Pete took on Jimmy Ruffin, Gerry represented Marvin Gaye, and I'm ashamed to say, I can't readily remember the others.  It was during this time that I visited Mick and Ray who ran Martha and The Vandellas' club from their London apartment.  Happy times were spent listening to Motown imports and these visits made a lasting impression on me.  As I remember, all the fan club secretaries – as we were called – enjoyed a great relationship, sharing our common love: Motown.

TCB

 

With Lynne, Jackie, Gerry and Phil, I moved to London during 1969, the same year as Motown Ad Astra replaced the individual fan clubs. Part of that operation was the TCB – Takin' Care Of Business magazine which went on to outlive the actual fan club.  Regrettably, that magazine later ran out of ink because Jackie and I simply couldn't afford to bankroll it any longer.  I was gutted – I think Jackie was relieved – yet my guardian angel, wearing glasses and sporting a beard, rescued me.  Dave Godin introduced me to Blues& Soul where I was given a monthly Motown page from the early seventies through two decades or so working for editor Bob Killbourn.

So the stage has been set, as they say, for the subject at hand.  Last year I was contacted by Iain McCartney who was planning a comprehensive book about soul music fanzines in all their configurations.  It was an awesome project and one I would honestly not have undertaken, but Iain was determined to crack the nut.  As his research and sourcing widened every day, he unearthed countless publications long forgotten except by their original editors and readers. After raiding my garage files for long unread publications for inclusion, I was, erm, flattered to be asked to pen the book's foreward.  Several times Iain believed his groundwork was exhausted only to be approached by more editors and contributors from across the world seeking a mention in his book.  When finally he called time due to his publisher's impending deadline, he had produced what he called "an insight into the world of soul music in print and what could possibly be classed as a collectors' guide to fanzines and magazines from what is undoubtedly the longest lasting music genre in the world of popular music."

Last week I received a review copy of his completed book.  Titled Soul In Print – A History Of Soul Music Fanzines And Magazines, printed by Newhaven Publishing, it will be available from 1 June.  The price varies from £17.99 - £22.99, so suggest you shop around online, although you may want to first visit www.123pricecheck.com to compare prices.  Delving into the book's contents I was immediately struck by the enormity of the project, having never realized just how many publications were produced through the embryonic years of soul music in this country.  Some I recognized as still have year-weary copies in my files, while others were new to me. Several fanzines failed after one issue while others grew in momentum. Irrespective of their life span those historical printed footprints that survived need to be protected for future generations  Am I right in thinking that these rookie-type publications were the forerunners to the comprehensive biographies of today written in book form?  Certainly it's a thought not to be dismissed lightly which adds fuel to Soul In Print because it fills the gap between artist biographies and record company histories.

SoulInPrint Back Cover

 

Obviously I can't mention all the fanzines included in Iain's book, but rather concentrate on the Motown-related items.  However, on closer inspection most of them feature Berry Gordy's artists, including but not limited to, Clive Richardson's Shout, Tony Berry's Collectors Soul, Martin Scragg's The Sound Of Soul and Chris Williams' Ladies Of Soul, while the 'big boys' like Motown International Collectors' Club, Black Music, Record Mirror, In The Basement and Chatbusters upped the game for readers. As for Northern Soul, well, there's a plethora of fanzines devoted to this very special scene – Northern Noise, The Wigan Casino Story, Talk Of The North among them.  As much as it pains me, I have reluctantly cut the Motown list to the bone.

One magazine though is conspicuous by its absence which saddens me no end because it was an integral tool in Motown's growth in this country.  When I asked Iain why there were no cover illustrations of Blues & Soul to accompany the column inches, he told me that he contacted the editor who refused to give him permission to reproduce any magazine covers and should he want to, put a £200 price tag on any cover used.  Any deviation from this would result in legal action being taken. So, that explains why visuals of Blues & Soul are absent which, in my opinion, is a travesty.  On the upside though, John Abbey was happy to contribute his Home Of The Blues the forerunner to Blues & Soul, accompanied by his interview which spans a couple of pages, drawing in the history of the magazine and giving mention to noted contributors like Dave Godin, Frank Elson, David Nathan and my 'umble self. However, there's hundreds more publications featured with text and pictures, giving an extremely comprehensive history of soul music through the years.  Y'know, I'm really proud of all the editors and contributors who were so helpful, and who freely gave their time to be interviewed, recognising the importance of being a part of Soul In Print which, to all intents and purposes, represents an encyclopedia of soul history.  "This is certainly not a discography style book as it would be simply impractical to list the contents of every individual publication" explained the author.  "Had I done so it would have stretched into several volumes."  Rather reluctantly, he made the decision to include basic details about individual magazines – "Sometimes (with) an interview with an editor, and a mention of particular issues that contain an article or whatever of interest to the soul scene in general."  The finished item he hoped would make for an interesting and appealing read.  Not bad for a guy who admitted he's more comfortable in the football arena!  He explained the idea for Soul In Print was put to him by a colleague and the acorn gradually grew into an huge oak tree. As his personal collection of soul publications was minimal, he scoured the internet looking for more.  "Slowly the pile began to increase and what I had missed in those bygone years began to appear and rekindle the love affair."

Besides the beforementioned TMAS and Motown Ad Astra, fan clubs for the Jackson 5, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, Smokey Robinson, and The Former Ladies Of The Supremes are afforded worthy column inches and visuals.  All originate from America, like a trio of booklets produced by Motown's promotion/publicity department in Los Angeles. All of which had slipped from my memory to 'wherever'. Yet, once I saw them again, the 'wherever' returned.  By and large, these booklets were distributed with record mailouts to record shops and fans fortunate enough to be on one of Motown's mailing lists.  The London office, like others across Europe, was furnished with copies as a promotional tool even though they bore little relevance to British releases.  What's Going On At Motown was around A4 in size and folded into three, and was probably the last of the three as it offered corporate rather than music news. The other two - Comotion printed in the seventies and Motown Update, the eighties - were totally music based, and were solely used as advertising vehicles for new releases and artists signed. Iain wrote of Comotion (strange title!) - "Issue One appeared on 6 July 1972 and was distributed to three hundred company employees in Detroit and Los Angeles.  By the time Issue Two came along, the circulation had grown to a five thousand-employee distribution."  On the other hand, Motown Update was crammed with far more information in a similar style to Comotion with a publication date around 1984/85.  Unfortunately, in the passing of time, it's unclear how many copies of these pamphlets were printed in total. How I wish I'd held on to mine!

Comotion

 

Reading about these again reminded me of an in-house magazine Noreen Allen and I produced at Motown's London office.  Titled Motown Messenger it was a cute little booklet that we put together for monthly distribution to record shops, DJs, journalists and fans. Compiling this was a totally different scenario from that experienced with the rather amateurish TCB several years' earlier.  As I was working for Motown I had the company's (or should I say, EMI's) in-house facilities at my disposal that included a lady who knew all about printing and its pit falls.  No more running off pages on a stencil printer which, when it had the mind, coughed out ink and paper across the kitchen of our top floor flat,

48 Chepstow Road
in Bayswater.  Very costly and rather mucky!  It really was a miracle that TCB reached the finishing line, particularly the 10th anniversary edition in 1970 which, by the nature of its content, was three times larger than the normal sized magazine.  Within its stapled pages, Jackie and I gushed our enthusiasm as we paid tribute to as many artists as we could.  Helping us out were now familiar names like Clive Richardson, Roger Isted, Adam White, Ronald Liddell and Dave Godin, who wrote a half-page covering his thoughts on the anniversary.  

Motown Update

 

Just check out one of the paragraphs in the Editorial.  "Motown Ad Astra is very proud and honoured to represent in Great Britain the groovy people under the Motown banner. It gives us a tremendous thrill to see our artists' records make the charts, to welcome them to our shores, and watch their acts. As a small contribution to celebrate this spectacular event, this edition of TCB is devoted to artists who have had a record issued through Motown."  Hah…by today's standards that's a real syrupy read but, if anything, it does illustrate how Motown played such a vital role in our lives. On the other hand, it also reminded me of being strapped for cash and having a zero social life.  Thankfully working for EMI Records as a legal secretary at the time, I wasn't a total recluse as I enjoyed invitations to press receptions with copious amounts of drink and food, while theatre tickets ensured the best in the house.  I never complained!

Can you believe it, all these thoughts came rushing back to me as I flicked through the pages in Soul In Print which I readily recommend to like-minded people.  It's a history lesson in itself, where the text is interrupted by visuals which, in turn, make it an easy read and a valued reference book for all. So to wind this up, I can only reiterate a few lines from my foreword which somehow reflect how I feel  – "Thank you Iain for taking on the challenge to protect our heritage.  I know it's been a mammoth task – much bigger than you first anticipated – but I reckon you've cracked it." 

Next month I hope to return to the ground plan I drew up in January.  So far I've not done too well in sticking to it but I'll try harder next time around.  Meantime, please don't take chances; stay safe and enjoy our gradual return to freedom. 

Sharon Davis

 

 

 

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