A spotlight on early UK Soul

Beverley Knight’s new album, Soul UK, is a collection of covers that pays homage to a certain period of the 1980s/1990s which was hailed as an emergence for UK soul in its own right.

Most of the tracks on the album were mainstream hits at the time of their release, with the inclusion of certain underground hits. As Beverley put it, “It’s not just about who are the shining stars, but which songs can hit you in the middle of your chest” It’s clear from Beverley’s song choices that she wants to remind people that the UK has a rich history of creating soul music, stretching back for decades.  By focusing on the songwriting, this album serves not only to entertain but to educate a new generation on a highly influential era of British soul that they may only have scant knowledge of.
For those of you not old enough to remember the original songs, here’s a quick guide to the tracks that helped define an era.

Soul II Soul

Soul II Soul
Writers: Jazzie B, Rose Windross, Nellee Hooper
Date of Release: 1988
Chart placing: #63 (UK) #9 (US Dance)

This funky track marked the start of of Soul II Soul’s rise to mainstream chart success in the UK.  With distinctive vocals by Rose Windross, who co-wrote the track with Soul II Soul founder Jazzie B and Nellee Hooper, Fairplay helped build the band’s profile from a London sound system to one of the UK’s most sucessful soul music exports.  Soul II Soul took up a residency at Covent Garden’s Africa Centre, before signing to Virgin subsidiary Ten Records. This popular night is referred to in Fairplay’s lyric “Soul II Soul is the place where you should be/On Sunday night we’ll lecture you on Jazzie B…” Radio 1 DJ Trevor Nelson also cut his teeth here, and it was about more than just the music – a new culture was forming.  Tracks that would become huge Soul II Soul hits around the world such as  Back to Life and Keep On Movin were played for the first time at the Africa Centre.

Freeez - Southern FreeezSouthern Freeez
Artist: Freeez
Writers: Andy Stennett, John Rocca, Peter Maas
Date of Release: 1981
Chart placing: #8 (UK)

This song is widely considered to be  a UK funk classic.  Featuring the understated vocals of Ingrid Mansfield Allman, it was a staple on club dancefloors in the early 80s and is underpinned by a percussive beat and a distinctive bass line. The song was co-written by three members of Freeez, who went on to enjoy more Top 10 UK hits with I.O.U and  Pop Goes My Love in 1983.

If you liked this, check out these British soul artists (biggest hit in brackets):
Light of the World (London Town)
Hi-Tension (British Hustle)
Beggar & Co (Somebody) Help Me Out)

Artist: Junior
Writers: Bob Carter, Junior Giscombe
Date of release: 1982
Chart placing: #7 (UK) #30 (US Hot 100) #2 (US R&B)
Still sounding fresh today, it’s hard to believe that this groundbreaking track was released nearly thirty years ago. It was written by Junior and Bob Carter, keyboardist in British soul/funk group Linx, another successful contemporary.  Junior sang backing vocals with Linx between 1980 and 1982, before he went solo.
Junior was the first black British artist to appear on the US TV show Soul Train, one of the most popular and influential music programmes at the time, and earned the prestigious Best Newcomer Award at the Billboard Awards.

Junior went on to release eight albums and write songs for other artists including the Lighthouse Family, Sheena Easton and Earth Wind and Fire’s Philip Bailey.

If you liked this, check out these British soul artists (biggest hit in brackets):
Linx (Intution)
David Joseph (You Can’t Hide Your Love)
Central Line (Walking Into Sunshine)

Artist: Princess
Writers: Pete Waterman, Mike Stock, Matt Aitken
Date of release: 1985
Chart placing: #7 (UK)
This track was written and produced by the ‘Hit Factory’ trio known as Stock, Aitken and Waterman,  before they went on to supply hits for artists such as Kylie Minogue, Rick Astley and Bananarama. Princess sang with afro funk group Osibisa in the 1970s before she was signed as a solo artist.  She had a string of UK hits between 1985 and 1987, written and produced by Stock, Aitken and Waterman, with the slick synthesizer based rhythms that would become their trademark.

If you liked this, check out these similar British soul artists (biggest hit in brackets)
Jaki Graham (Set Me Free)
Mica Paris (My One Temptation)

Caron Wheeler (Living in the Light)

Soul UK, Beverley KnightSoul UK by Beverley Knight featuring covers of these songs and more, is out now.

Coming soon:  When You Gonna Learn (Jamiroquai), Apparently Nothin’ (Young Disciples), There’s Nothing Like This (Omar) and Don’t Be A Fool (Loose Ends)