The Golden Time Of My Life: Growing Up in the Soulful Shadow of Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly

 By Jeff  Vasishta

I first heard about Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly when my older brother, Ron, brought home their “Joy & Pain” album around 1982. I was thirteen, with dreams of playing football like Trevor Brooking* and body-popping like Jeffrey Daniel — quite a feat considering I lived in the blustery seaside town of Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. Ron, by then was at University in Nottingham and, along with his close friends from our hometown, was a full-blooded soul boy with a wedge haircut, prodigious mustache, kung fu slippers, and baggie jeans, attending the nearby Caister Soul Weekends with religious regularity.

What struck me most about “Joy & Pain” was the cover. I’d never seen anything like it. Two facing levitating seven-digit palms with a Maze embedded within them. They were above waterfalls, one in a hellish fiery sky and the other amid tranquil blue and verdant surroundings. It was mystical and spiritual with an almost Hindu-like quality about it.

The lyrics were printed on the inner sleeve of the album and, as the famous bass line to the title song began, I read along, losing myself in the jazzy, beatific groove. Where theres a flower, theres the sun and the rain. Oh, but its all alright, theyre both one and the same.” That stuck with me. At thirteen I knew enough about music to know that this was special. Way deeper than the usual soul music I listened to. “The Look In Your Eyes,” had a lilting mellowness that absorbed me, and the riff-laden “Southern Girl” seemed part jazz-fusion, part funk, and soul that stayed in my head long after the song had ended.

Ron and his friends started carrying around ‘Blues & Soul’ magazines and from reading them, I learned that Maze was a pretty big deal in the UK soul scene. By the time their next album, “We Are One” came out they had attracted a cult-like status in Britain. My brother saw them live in Nottingham, and another family friend was so besotted with the band that he followed them around the UK on tour. I had to make do with the album, tracks of which were played incessantly on UK soul radio shows, and on the Caister Weekender radio station which my brother and his friends recorded. I’d since gone out and purchased all Maze’s older albums, and so by the time “Can’t Stop The Love” came out in 1985 I considered myself something of a Frankie Beverly connoisseur. “Golden Time Of Day” became, and still is, one of my all-time favorite songs.

Great Yarmouth, like many British Seaside towns, was a scrappy place to grow up. It relied heavily on tourism and the oil industry, with many locals “working on the rigs” or for offshore cargo companies. A Saturday in town during the holiday or festive season could be a treacherous place. There was a general hierarchy known amongst “Yarmouth boys,” as to who were the toughest characters, “the hardest.” There were always a few nutters out looking for a fight. As a mild-mannered Indian kid from a middle-class family, I was careful not to be the one talking to someone’s girlfriend or accidentally spilling someone’s drink. I was a decent footballer, which carried a modicum of respect but was useless with my fists, as, unfortunately, were most of my closest friends. One of the locals from those days was a market trader and diving champ by the name of Jason Statham.

Fortunately, both my older brothers were into martial arts, particularly Kung-Fu, and sparred at a facility with some of the bouncers* at Yarmouth’s local nightclubs. They developed forearms like tree limbs. They’d been tested in a couple of street fights, in which they acquitted themselves well. When they walked into pubs and clubs, they were met with discreet nods from bouncers and locals. To their generation, I was known only “Ron and Tone’s little brother.” It seems hilarious now as they are both high-flying corporate executives with respectable grown-up kids of their own who have no idea what their dads were once like.

The club scene in 1980’s Great Yarmouth was dominated by London’s soul “Mafia” DJs such as Froggy, Jeff Young, Chris Hill, and of course Robbie Vincent. Many of them were booked by Richard Routledge, a clothier by day and club promoter by night, for his “Richard’s Parties,” which took place at the Aquarius Disco at the Marina Center every few months.

In 1985, I was 16, about to take my O-Levels*, and knew every song on the “Can’t Stop The Love” album. Robbie Vincent was booked at the Aquarius. I’d borrowed some of my brother’s clothes for the night. One of those discreet nods to the bouncer got me and my 16-year old school friends inside. I immediately took to the dance floor when Vincent played “Too Many Games.” Barely into the song, I felt a woman’s hands come up from behind me and rub my chest and stomach. My friend’s open-mouthed expressions reflected my shock. I turned around to see a beautiful brunette cover her face in embarrassment. “Oh my God, I thought you were Ronnie!” she exclaimed, much to the hilarity of my brother and his friends.

As my O-Level’s neared, Maze fever was sweeping the UK. “Too Many Games,” and its flip side “Twilight” had broken the UK top 40 and the band announced eight sold-out shows at the Hammersmith Odeon. The Vasishta family had their tickets and two cars of friends and family made it down from Great Yarmouth to London on a balmy May evening to witness the Maze experience first hand, arriving back home in the early hours of the morning, hoarse after singing along to “Joy & Pain” and “Before I Let Go,” and countless others.

An indication of the impact Maze had in the UK at the time, was when my English teacher, Mr. Murphy, a middle-aged Scouser*, pulled me to one side before class and told me he’d read about Maze in the Guardian and listened to their music, which he loved. He knew I was a music aficionado and asked me what other albums of theirs I could recommend. I made him some tapes the following week.

Four years after that Hammersmith Odeon show, Maze had switched record labels from long-time home Capitol Records to Warner Brothers and at 20, I found myself in the unlikely position of Deputy Editor of Blues & Soul magazine, where I wrote under pseudonym ‘Jeff Lorez.’ I’d struck up a friendship with Warners’ LA-based A&R Executive Benny Medina and the next time Maze was in London for shows behind their “Silky Soul,” album I was invited by Benny to have an after-show dinner with the band upstairs at a restaurant in Soho’s Chinatown. As I chatted with Frankie Beverly, my sixteen-year-old self looked on in disbelief.

Frankie routinely told his British audiences, “Bless your hearts, y’all. We don’t get this back home.” I didn’t know what he was talking about until I moved to New York in 1993 and saw Maze at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. There wasn’t a white face in the crowd. In London, Maze was popular with all races, and given the demographics of the country, most of them were white but in the US, it couldn’t be more different.

As a teen in blustery Great Yarmouth, Maze had filled me with a sense of awe. Their music was like a third eye into another spiritual realm. The maze on the open palms, songs like “Joy And Pain,” “Happy Feelin,” “Love Is The Key,” and “We Are One” had deep, unifying themes. If ever there was a group that truly embraced the message of togetherness and the universality of music, Maze was it. Yet to mainstream America they remain largely unknown. To me, they will forever be associated with the golden time of my life.

For non-British readers:
 *Trevor Brooking: Famous British soccer player
*O-Levels: A school exam British children took at 16 before going on to further education or seeking employment
*Scouser: Someone from Liverpool
*Bouncer: A doorman at a club