Motown Spotlight, October 2021 - Chris Clark At Cleethorpes

Chris Clark solo 2

This really is a very special blog this month for us – and it's all thanks to Chris Clark who has told me about her recent visit to the UK when she was one of the stars performing at Detroit A-Go-Go in Cleethorpes. It's an exclusive insight into the event and you'll read it here first!  However, before we get down to business, let's check out the backstory to this weekender that's still got people talking…

It was back in December 2019 when Phil Dick announced Detroit A-Go-Go was to hit the UK at LeedsUniversity in October the following year.  However, as you know, no-one could have foreseen the devastation of the CoVid pandemic that swept the globe.  The entertainment world, like so many industries, ground to an immediate halt and the planned event was postponed.  Phil then discovered the Leeds venue wasn't available for the rescheduled dates.  So, plans were put into action to merge it with the Cleethorpes Weekender until that too was cancelled by 2020's lockdown. 

Phil Dick didn't roll over and give up.  No: he kept the dream alive, and this month delivered what has been described as 'an unbelievable weekend' by the hundreds of Northern Soul fans who flocked to the North East Lincolnshire seaside town to enjoy the escapism offered by twenty-eight or so artists and musicians who flew into the UK.  Despite the obvious escalating costs for flights and necessary expenses, work permits, and the rules for CoVid testing changing all the time, the mantra was definitely 'the show must go on'.   Some of the artists booked for the original Detroit A-Go-Go decided to bypass the event due to fear of travelling or not being vaccinated, which is fair enough.  So new names were added to the roster like the revamped Fantastic Four; The Debonairs, with original member Joyce Vincent who, as you know, is now a member of the Former Ladies of the Supremes, and Ronnie Savoy, brother of the late Al Kent.  All performed in the UK for the first time.  The Fabulous Peps and The Dynamics rounded off the revised schedule.

I obviously can't recreate the heady hours of entertainment during the weekender, nor bring alive the actual adrenalin rushes and fever-pitch excitement of the live performances but, as a means of having a quick peek of what it was like to join in the Northern Soul fun which kicked off on Friday, 15 October for three euphoric days, Chris Clark reveals what it all meant to her.   So much so, I actually felt I was standing next to her as she rekindled old friendships and forged new ones, as she listened to the myriad of rare music being enjoyed and watched the performing champions of his much-loved weekender.  However, before we get into that, here's a rundown of the itinerary which I hope is in the right order!

Friday:  Ronnie Savoy, Pat Lewis, The Adorables, The Debonairs, Spyder Turner.   Saturday:  Jr Walker's All Star Band, Carolyn Crawford, Chris Clark, The Fantastic Four.  Sunday: The Fabulous Peps, The Dynamics, Willie Kendrick, Ronnie McNeir. All the performers were accompanied by musical director Ronnie Nelson flown in from Detroit especially for this weekender.  In between times there was non-stop music burning up the turntables from a host of loved DJs with Neil Rushton, Ady Croasdell, Dave Rimmer and Phil Dick among them.

"I caught the BA0284 flight out of San Francisco International at 16.30 on Sunday 10 October, arriving at Heathrow the next day at 10.55.  From here jumped the 14.00 flight to Manchester, landing at 15.05.  I hit Manchester airport and hotel on overdrive.  I opted out of Paul Isaacson's (and Lynn's) offer of dinner and decided to meet them in the morning instead. And rather than heading to Cleethorpes, we headed to Leeds to pick up some stragglers.  We were all pretty jetlagged and giddy, hitting Cleethorpes around the same time, and sat chatting and chuffing waiting for Phil Dick to come with our room assignments.

"I hooked up with Pat Lewis for a drink. Carolyn Crawford was giving us a show-and-tell about how to handle social media, how to keep up with fans…she had a whole merchandising thing going, including sweaters with her face on them.  That got me thinking.  My mind turned to the hundred five-by-sevens my good friend Vince A. had printed up for me.  As it was, when I went up to my first ‘Meet & Greet’ there were chairs and a few little circular tables but I couldn't figure out how to lay them out.  And people started walking up with their own stuff for me to sign.  Three nights later I was still carrying those five-by-sevens around, occasionally mumbling would anyone like one of my little pictures?!  I'm sorry Vince.

"I got a hotel room down the way because my good friend Diane Herring was coming in to meet me.  I didn't think doubling up with someone else on the show would cut it.  It turned out to be perfect.  She had a car and enjoyed wielding a camera as much as I did."   Diane proved more than a camera wielder as she waded through the camp chaos of Chris Clark, by arranging hairdressing appointments and sorting camera malfunctions, among other things.  "I'd bought my big camera with me and got some great shots then the card malfunctioned mid-week and I lost them all.  Diane and I went down to a store, got another one and we were up and running again…Then it wasn't long before I realised I couldn't get Facebook on my phone or tablets and was in a media blackout."

So let's TCB and piece together the weekender from a totally unique vantage point.  "The first day of rehearsal we all sat around with Q-tips up our noses trying to figure out how to do the CoVid test, photograph yourself doing it and then sign into a website. Phil Dick had wisely portioned out the test kits a few at a time, and even as the chaos rose, we all remained pretty happy about it. I sure know how important it was to ensure everyone was safe but the tests were something else.  Phil really had his hands full trying to get us all through. But we did it.  Then we all went back to our rooms to prepare for the first night."

Rehearsals and soundchecks in the Starlight Room dominated much of Thursday, with a break for lunch.  On Friday, more rehearsals, interrupted this time by the pre-departure CoVid test and a fish and chip lunch.  Well, they were by the seaside after all!  During the early evening, a VIP ‘Meet & Greet’ was arranged in the Carousel Room for Chris, Carolyn Crawford and others, before they headed to the artist lounge to watch the evening's entertainment.  Saturday's schedule was much the same except the artists taking part were changed because they were due on stage that night.  Chris arrived at the venue around 9pm to strut on stage before midnight.

Chris Clark solo

"I was pretty nervous and I knew Jr Walker's All Stars were good.  The eye opener was I'd never really seen them perform as an act.  I was standing backstage waiting to go on when I got my first taste.  I was knocked out!  And the three singers were stellar!  I was behind the curtain shooting like a crazy person, and then when their bass player suddenly jumped up on something and just started wailing, I was awe struck.  One of the ladies, Dulah (she of the bling – she'd done the glitter on Pat Lewis' glasses) gave me a wink and out I came with 'Love's Gone Bad'.  I swear I don't really remember much until I got to the end of 'Do I Love You', where I stop and count off one, two, three, four, and go into a gospel beat. Now, usually I hang around on the edges of it, repeating 'Do I Love You' – I'd never had Dean Parrish's skill at getting call-and-response going with the audience – when Dulah suddenly stepped over and broke out with serious gospel.  I was suddenly one-half of a call-and-response kick ass duo.  We lit the fire!   With my little 'Do I, Do I…doo doo doo' she was all over it.  Holy shit, I was Tina Turner, Tina and her girls, and we had such a rage going, I actually started to do a little kick up or two.  Zowie!  I was one-half of the cool girls.  Then suddenly in the back of my mind I heard this little voice say 'Big ol' white girl, get your damn foot back on the floor before you knock us all off this stage'.  So I reluctantly backed out of the flames towards the exit, knowing I probably wouldn't ever feel like this again.  It was hard getting to sleep that night.  I was pretty full of myself.

"And I was still pretty full of myself when I went back the next afternoon to watch the other kids rehearse.  While there was a break, Ronnie McNeir sat down at the keyboards and started to sing, and a couple other folks came over and joined in.   I remembered how much I loved these breaks, the hours after and between shows we'd all hang out and just jammed.  They were some of the highlights of my time on the road, and I thought to myself, I have to find a way to incorporate this into the next time we come over.

"The thing that really hit home this time was what a rare and incredible thing Northern Soul is.  We really are a family and the songs remember when.  We don't come over to perform, we come over to share that space…together.  And when we come over, we don't see what we see in a mirror, we see ourselves reflected in the love they have, and the love we all have for this music.  It also made me realise the group of originals is getting smaller.  There are fewer and fewer of us left.  And this makes each visit more poignant.  We've lost so many.  Like we said goodbye to Dean this year and that was truly a loss.

Ronnie McNeir-Fantastic Four

                                                                        (Photos: Ronnie McNeir; Fantastic Four)

"Suddenly it was the last show of the last night.  I was up in the balcony videoing – Ronnie McNeir was on.  He called out Phil Dick and thanked him for putting this together and thanked the audience for their love. Then he began his last tune.  Suddenly he eased himself down off the stage and into the audience as he continued his song.  I gasped.  Now that's some Old School Serious Stylin'.  I'd only worked with one other guy that could do that – Bobby "Blue" Bland.  To step down into the middle of an adoring audience and keep control of the situation, keep singing, twirling a lady or two, having the room captured, well, he kicked the rest of us to the curb with that move (OK..sort of).  That kind of stuff, they don't teach it.

Phil Dick-Cleethorpes

                                    (Photos: Detroit A-Go-Go producer Phil Dick; Cleethorpes audience)

"Then, from seemingly out of nowhere other artists began flowing onto the stage into a finale number of 'Someday We'll Be Together'.  'Chris!  Get down there, it's the finale!!'  But I just couldn't move.  I was capturing something so real and so moving, and didn't want to stop.  Tears started running down my cheeks.  I looked over to others surrounding me on the balcony, we were all moved.  I wouldn't have missed it and being right there sharing 'it' with them.  As the song came to a close we were all singing along as we hugged and wiped tears from our faces.  Until next time my family.

"I think what was a real eye-opener on this trip was the chance to spend so much time with the Northern Soul folks. Because the venue was smaller and the shows split up, we got to kick around with the audience a lot.  I'd never really got to spend much time out in the crowd.  But I'm so much richer for having that experience. I came home knowing that I want to put more shows together and come back over.  I, we all, want to revel in that wild and wonderful, and rare thing we share.  It's primal, strong, giddy and fun, and so loving.  There's no way to capture it with words.  Some of the pictures I took start to do it justice, but you just got to be there to know what the magic is. The Motown Family has kind of scattered to the winds – and I've missed them for years – but Northern Soul has given me a family back. A tribe.  My tribe. And I love them and belong to them.  And am so rich for having been welcomed into their midst." 

Chris Clark left ManchesterAirport at 9.45 on Monday 18 October, landing in Heathrow at 10.55. "I'm about twenty-eight hours straight into it right now.  So I'm just praying I can hold off collapsing until I'm seated on something flying to San Francisco!"  Happily, she caught BA0287 at 14.15 to San Francisco International, arriving at 17.20. "I woke up in my bed for the first time this morning!" her text dated 19 October advised.

When I spoke to the lady again yesterday to clear up some pointers she's pretty upbeat after resting for a few days.  There are plans afoot for another visit next year but far too early for details, and I believe a new Facebook page is due to be opened for fans to interact with her. I'm now going to sift through the rack of visuals she has sent me to accompany this, which will doubtless take me a good few hours but will be worth every minute.  Thank you so much Chris for getting your 'diary' together in time for my deadline.  You promised you would, and you delivered.  I owe you!

So that's it for now.  Next month we'll return to part two of the Barbara Randolph project. 

Sharon Davis

(Chris Clark owns the copyright in all visuals)

 

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