Before kicking off this month, I need to say how really thrilled I was to receive such positive comments from some of you about last month’s Motown Spotlight where The Supremes were the name of the game. Alongside these was a letter from Lynda Laurence, which was a total surprise and was received with a blessed heart. I’ve never been one to blow my own trumpet so don’t intend to repeat all her words here, but maybe just a paragraph: “As you know, Sharon has always supported the group ‘The Supremes’. Yes, all of The Supremes. She has always respected the entity that is The Supremes, no matter the variation. It is the artistry of the music that she invariably reports on. For this we are extremely grateful. The piece she shared recently about the Grammy Lifetime Award that was finally presented to The Supremes is a testament to her caring and loyalty to the group.” Erm, thank you. It re-affirms the love and respect I have for all the remaining Supremes who continue keep the name alive on one level or another. Here’s a photo of Brenda Holloway, Chris Clark, Lynda Laurence on stage at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2009 for ‘The Divas Of Motown’ show…
Just recently I was reunited with some old friends. It was thanks to the keen eye of Iain McCartney (with whom I’m writing a Motown-related book) that this reunion was made possible. I think we first met fifty-four years ago but unintentionally parted company through various home moves on my part. Now I’m holding them in my hands! I don’t know what you were expecting me to say, but I’m now the proud owner of seven copies of “TCB” magazine, produced by Motown Ad Astra, the (then) new Tamla Motown Club of Great Britain, opened in 1969 to amalgamate certain individual fan clubs across the UK. The service offered covered all those Motown artists who didn’t have their own fan club, and the headquarters (as we loved to boast!) was actually an apartment in Sherborne Gardens, Ealing. In actual fact, the main room which should (in a normal household) have been the lounge, was used as an office, and needless to say, it was cluttered beyond belief. But, hey, it was home!
Now, the ‘we’ I’m talking about, called ourselves ‘secretaries’, and were Lynne, Jackie, Gerry, Phil, Pete and myself, and it was left to Jackie and myself to type “TCB” on stencils. Yeah, I know. How dated is that! Also, to my shame today, I was responsible for drawing those little quirky pictures (I use the word ‘drawing’ loosely) that cropped up either inside the magazines, or on the covers when pictures/promo photos were unavailable. However, printing those childish drawings kept costs down, because believe me, the Club was running on fumes most of the time.
In this very first “TCB” (the name swiped from the Diana Ross and the Supremes/The Temptations’ 1968 television special) Motown’s UK label manager Brian Hopkins wrote the introduction. Here’s a taster: “I have recently taken over from John Marshall, who is now employed directly by Motown as European Representative. His appointment is important inasmuch as we now have a closer liaison between the Motown Corporation in America via John, and so too with our European neighbours. The reason why this is such an asset is that it will now be easier to bring over Tamla package tours because of the tie-ups in Europe….I’m very pleased that you have now joined together to form Motown Ad Astra. This serves to further the feeling that is within the Motown Corporation itself. Every Tamla artist comments on the ‘family’ feeling within the organisation…..You have no doubt read recently about plans to bring over a Tamla package in January 1970. These plans are by no means certain but you can be assured that at least four acts are virtually certain to arrive. The Temptations, of course, are booked for the Talk of the Town, and as time goes on, I will supply you with detailed information, including itineraries as soon as they become available.” And yes ,Brian did. He proved to be a most valuable contact to us. And he also proved to be right when it came to Motown’s ‘family’ attitude because visiting artists were always given the Club’s details before they left America. This meant they had a point of contact if they needed it, without going through the ‘official channels’ of their record company.
And yes – we had the phone calls which resulted in visiting artists, like The Temptations for instance, in their hotel rooms, or acting as a chauffeuse for sight-seeing trips, being go-betweens for fans and artists, or hosting tea parties in our cluttered Ealing apartment. Mind you, as I recall, we still paid full whack for concert tickets, especially for ‘The Talk of the Town’ performances, where one dressed formally to eat ‘soup in a basket’ and drink over-priced alcohol, while watching some of the best entertainment in the world. Besides The Temptations, other visitors hinted at in Brian’s article, were Jr Walker and the All Stars and Jimmy Ruffin, followed by the Four Tops during their European tour. Plans for them to appear at Talk Of The Town didn’t materialise, but not those for Stevie Wonder, who went on to release a ‘live’ album of his performances there.
In the opening paragraphs of this first edition, the secretaries were at pains to say that Motown Ad Astra wasn’t due to officially open until January 1970 but due to pressure from fans, the date was brought forward. This probably explained why all the items look like they were thrown together on a page. However, in hindsight “TCB” was no better or worse than any other fanzine at the time.
Glancing through the contents of this first edition, I was drawn immediately to a section headed “Playboy”, so named, I assume, after The Marvelettes’ album. Yup, two pages were crammed with gossip, the content of which could be considered rather contentious at the time. And I suspect that way of thinking led to the contributor not being named. Fifty-four years later I can reveal it was yours truly! Album and single reviews were crammed in under the heading “Sound Breakthrough”, and where possible American releases were also included. These were posted to us by Motown/US, alongside photos and news items, but when import duties escalated through the roof, we just couldn’t afford them anymore, so that service ended. Instead, we begged imports from Motown/UK although the office never had that many copies to spare.
The star single was Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “The Onion Song”: “Both Marvin and Tammi are still in their lively and bouncy groove, with yet another Ashford & Simpson composition. The song itself is a very clever number… It just has to make it.” Which it did, reaching No, 9 on the UK pop charts in November 1969). Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “The Nitty Gritty” was another: “”Somewhat ‘new’ Isleys’ sound, with Gladys really throwing herself into the song…The backing chugs along nicely and everything is wonderful, but it’s in the same key all the time, and therein lies the charm.” Then there was “Oh How Happy” from Blinky and Edwin Starr on import: “A groovy couple singing of how happy they are to be together. Because of Tammi and Marvin’s phenomenal success record-wise, this duo may be overlooked…I hope this makes it because it’s an attractive disc with a beautiful combination of voices.”
For Marv Johnson’s “I Miss You Baby (How I Miss You)” the comments included, “A nice chug-along single which suits the somewhat unversatile tone of Marv’s voice”. While for Marvin Gaye’s “That’s The Way Love Is” the review stated, “This is the second track to be pulled from the ‘MPG’ album, which..is a mistake….The most outstanding part of this record is the female chorus.” Isn’t it comforting to read that we didn’t gush lyrical about how fabulous every release was, and I believe it was this constructive approach that appealed to the membership. Motown, on the other hand, probably thought otherwise!
Of the UK-released albums , The Originals’ “Green Grow The Lilacs”; “Marvin Gaye And His Girls” – Marvin/Mary Wells/Kim Weston/Tammi Terrell; and “In Loving Memory” were mentioned. The US releases were more interesting with Diana Ross and the Supremes/The Temptations’ “Together”; Marvin/Tammi’s “Easy”; Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ “Sugar ‘N Spice”; Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “The Nitty Gritty”, and The Temptations’ “Puzzle People”. All were issued late-1969 and each one was a classic in its own right. To be honest, we never had it so good!
The promised second magazine early in 1970 was late. Reasons varied, including waiting for a new duplicator (as in today’s terminology, a scanner/printer!), and the arrival of The Temptations, followed by Edwin Starr and Jimmy Ruffin: “Otis Williams took it into his head to visit us and I was some hours later, after he’d heard our albums, that we finally got him back to his hotel in time to prepare for ‘Talk’ that evening. When Motown is in town, life is all go.” I’m so pleased to say that a couple of photos from Otis’ visit to our home have survived. Lynne and Jackie are featured in one of them. Among the articles printed in this second edition was an exclusive interview with Otis Williams which took place in his hotel room on Tuesday, 13 January, the day after the group opened at The Talk of the Town. It’s rather twee by today’s standards, but I’m thinking there might be something of interest here.
He said he hadn’t seen anything of the city so far – only the Mayfair Hotel where the group were staying and The Talk of the Town! “I haven’t been out too much really, but I did go over to the [London night clubs] Revolution and Blaises. I went shopping today, over to Mr Fish to buy some clothes. Got this coat which cost me £200. It’s a sheepskin maxi with a leather top and sheepskin collar. The leather top can be zipped off to make it into a jacket. Man. You wait ’til I get back to the States and show ’em. They’ll be so jealous.”
We asked how Diana Ross leaving The Supremes would affect the group’s future. “Diana will make it, that’s for certain. When we recorded ‘GIT On Broadway’ Jean Terrell was there but, unfortunately, I didn’t get to see her. There were so many girls there, I didn’t know which one was her. However, I’ve heard a tape of her with the new Supremes. She’s very good and has a good voice. She was singing lead. I feel sorry for her though, having to replace Diana as lead (because) that’s one helluva job. I only hope their fans give her a break and let her show what she’s worth. When Dennis took over from David, he was given hell by our fans for three to six months. Our audiences were very hard on him, he was very nearly ill. I just hope Jean won’t suffer the same fate.”
The conversation then switched to the opening night at The Talk of the Town, where only four Temptations performed. Although it wasn’t public knowledge at the time, Eddie Kendricks had decided to leave the group but was persuaded to fly to London to fulfil the performing commitment. Otis took up the story: “At first we didn’t really know what to do without Eddie as nobody else can sing that high. We covered up as best we could but had to cut out a lot of numbers that we usually do. Normally, our act lasts for an hour or so. However, now that Eddie has joined us, the show will be much better. We can include songs like ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’ and ‘You’re My Everything’.
“We weren’t at out best that night – far from it. We were all very nervous and also missing Eddie badly. However, we were pleased about the reviews, they seemed very fair….. We didn’t know what kind of audience would be at The Talk. Our act was very pop-slanted for a club like that, which in hindsight seemed to be as well, as there were all age groups there, and an awful lot of young people….I saw Doris Troy. I didn’t know Pat Arnold or Madeline Bell were there. Pat used to be one of The Ikettes y’know. I met Madeline the last time we were over here when we [also] met Dusty Springfield. It’s a shame that The Beatles weren’t there, but I hear George is attending on Tuesday, the 14th. That should be fantastic.”
He explained that doing one performance a night was a luxury: “At home, we try to only do one show but on the college circuit we usually have to do two a night. I don’t like [doing this] even though it means more money. One show doesn’t always cover our expenses. But with doing The Talk we don’t have any expenses to meet. The whole trip was paid for by Motown and EMI.” And, he added, it was constantly working in their home country that prevented them from crossing the Atlantic to our shores, “We’re nearly always booked up in the States. Also, (he said sarcastically) we didn’t need to come over with the ‘Fabulous Temptations’ promoting us already! When we’ve had any time to come over, we’ve always had second thoughts. Not because we didn’t want to come back, because we did. But because we thought we just weren’t ready before. Now I feel we are – but we’ve only got two weeks. If we were here longer, I’d like to visit France and other European countries to see what’s happening over there.”
Finally, at the press reception held in their honour, only three Temptations actually made it, as Otis explained: “Eddie’s just flown in and was very tired, and Paul ain’t got used to your time difference yet. But I enjoyed it very much. I remember the last press reception we had over at EMI when we were here in sixty-five. At that time it was very different. Now, you just stand there and talk, eat and drink. But back then we performed. That stage at the EMI reception hall is small, and it’s got a very low roof. Can you imagine five guys, over six feet tall, trying to move around on that stage! Man, we all kept banging our heads on the ceiling!”
I’m so glad these occasions were immortalised in print because otherwise they could easily have been erased from our history. Not a great deal survived from ‘Motown Ad Astra’ but thankfully, I continued to write. Joining Blues & Soul allowed me to continue promoting the company and later still, I was offered a platform within this wonderful site, SoulMusic.com. I tell you, if you had told me back in 1969 that I’d still be writing about Motown today, I’d have laughed in your face. But here I am, and here you are, and together we’re still celebrating the music and artists we love.
And for that I thank you.
CLICK THE LINK FOR DIGITAL ALBUM, ‘THE TEMPTATIONS LIVE AT LONDON’S TALK OF THE TOWN, 1970’