About Soul Britannia from BBC:
Soul Britannia is a major new music series that examines the dynamic impact of black American and Caribbean sounds on British music – and on the very fabric of our society. From the 1950s to the present day, Soul Britannia investigates vinyl obsessions, Soul dancing, imitation, innovation – and much more. Series Producer/Director: Jeremy Marre
Episode 1: I Feel Good
With soul as its guiding light, the first film tracks the extraordinary musical changes that post-war Britain experienced. After the staid, uptight 1950s, the UK blossomed into an all-night, neon-lit soul-athon. From groovy Soho basements to “Ready Steady Go” TV specials, the music rocked the nation through the 1960s…
The first film in the series examines how these sounds seeped into our culture via imported US vinyl, the music West Indian immigrants brought with them and the electric performances of touring American soul bands. Our traditional reserve was soon broken down. In fact, the impact on the British – from London night spots to Welsh valleys, Newcastle music halls to the Belfast docks – was quite devastating. And it made bright young things like Georgie Fame, Eric Burdon and Van Morrison feel extremely good, permeating their own musical output.
The growing mass of Sixties Mods also embraced black music and helped popularize transatlantic sounds in the UK. They championed former American GI, Geno Washington, and Jamaican expatriate, Jimmy James, who became our very own soul stars. Dusty Springfield, too, dominated the charts and disseminated her love of Motown across the UK via TV specials.
As the Sixties progressed, soul moved from the British underground into mainstream society, becoming a meeting point for black and white, a catalyst for cultural and sexual exchanges. This passion for Afro-American and Caribbean music – and our interpretation of them – created a fertile bed out of which an original British soul sound would grow in the 1970s and beyond.
Key Artists featured in this episode include Elton John, Van Morrison, Tom Jones, Solomon Burke, Mick Hucknall, Eric Burdon, Sam Moore, Georgie Fame, Jimmy James, Geno Washington, and Julie Driscoll.
Episode 2: Soul Rebels
The second film in the Soul Britannia series moves from the heady go-go nights of the Sixties to the more complex racial and musical times of the Seventies and Eighties…
Although black American and Caribbean sounds and style became increasingly evident in our society, the British desire for the rare, the obscure and the downright soulful continued with the same intensity.
Amidst the dreariness of north England, white working class youth reinvented their lives at Northern Soul all-nighters, dancing to forgotten black American soul singles from the 1960s. Down South, as Mods metamorphosed into skinheads, this cult focused more on Caribbean sounds – ska, rocksteady and reggae. They jerked to these itchy Jamaican rhythms in youth clubs from Catford to Croydon, Dagenham to Deptford.
But it wasn’t just the fans who sought out the new, the fresh and the vital. UK musicians were now breaking away from the imitative British soul sounds of the 1960s to create startling music of their own. Cymande, an 8-piece band of West Indian immigrants, mixed reggae and funk with breathtaking originality – but the British soul public couldn’t handle it coming from the UK. Like them, the Scottish Average White Band also achieved their greatest triumphs in the States. It was the Real Thing whose huge number one classic, “You To Me Are Everything,” over the summer of ’76, showed the British public that indigenous soul was now a major contender.
But the apolitical strains of that hit were soon drowned out by the rioting at 1976’s Notting Hill Carnival. As race relations intensified in the second half of the 1970s, British Jamaican music reflected this. UK sound systems criticized Babylon the oppressor. Even the Clash got a reggae fix and threw a rude boy pose. Although the sweet soulful sounds of Lovers Rock emerged as an antidote to the racial politics, up in Coventry the Specials decided to go back to go forward – mixing Sixties ska with a punk attitude to create the multi-racial 2-Tone phenomenon.
In the early ’80s, soulfulness also surfaced with increasing regularity in great British pop bands – Dexys, Culture Club, Simply Red – whose lead singers had thrived on black music during their teens. Simultaneously, UK soul acts like Eddy Grant, Imagination and Loose Ends grew in originality and popularity as they capitalized on the struggles of their predecessors.
But into Britain’s growing mid-1980s racial melting pot, a new technology and fresh musical culture – hip-hop – was about to burst. It would change the sound of British soul forever, allowing us to attain unprecedented, innovative heights and achieve a global reputation.
Key Artists featured in this episode include Pete Townshend, Paul Weller, Boy George, Kevin Rowland, Mick Hucknall, Lee John and Beverley Knight.
Episode 3: Keep on Movin’
Soul was in a state of flux in the mid-1980’s. British pop-soul was certainly growing into a global force: Sade conquered the world’s coffee tables and solo George Michael demonstrated a far deeper understanding of R & B than was ever expected from a man last seen in tight shorts…
But the majority of ’80s soul was too slick and all rather “Miami Vice.” What happened to the passion, the sugar-sweet rawness? In a classic British move, we looked back to move forwards. At Jazzie B’s “Africa Centre,” Barrie K Sharpe’s “Cat In The Hat” and illegal London warehouse parties, a multi-racial crowd shook to black American funk & soul sounds from the late ’60s and early ’70s. Similar to Northern Soul a decade earlier, “rare groove” was all about fetishizing vinyl and grooving to undiscovered classics.
Out of this subterranean scene climbed a host of fresh UK talent. Principally, it was Soul II Soul who mixed sound system culture with hip-hop, soul and British pride. The world was theirs, although, the Brit Awards refused to acknowledge their global success.
Other funky multi-racial acts followed in Soul II Soul’s wake – the Brand New Heavies and Young Disciples. Like these bands, Jamiroquai’s Jay Kay was also part of the rare groove scene. Drawing on the Seventies music of Stevie Wonder and Roy Ayers he created a creamy soul-funk sound that captivated millions. M-People also brought soulfulness to the masses with tracks like “Moving On Up.” New Labour grabbed it as a campaign anthem. British soul was now good for you – it helped win elections.
But not all was rosy in the UK soul garden. Solo artists working in the classic tradition, like Mica Paris, Beverley Knight and Omar, still struggled to get their dues despite their prodigious talents. The British audience still hadn’t learnt to cultivate its own.
Those embracing sampling, sound system culture and hip-hop were more fortunate than these traditionalists. Bristol’s Massive Attack used these very ingredients as the bedrock to their cinematic soul. So too did the Junglists and Drum N’ Bass brigade, utilizing the same tools to fashion a frenetic new urban soundscape.
Nonetheless, British hip-hop suffered until it learnt to stop imitating American gangsta-rappers and focus on UK issues and our Jamaican connection. Crucially, it was dropping a little reggae in the mix that helped give British hip-hop – from Roots Manuva to Skinnyman – its identity and originality.
At the dawn of the millennium, UK soul-inspired sounds exploded into a thousand different shapes – from Ms Dynamite to Corinne Bailey Rae, Joss Stone to Amy Winehouse, Lemar to Lethal Bizzle. Currently in a rude state of health, British 21st Century soul is a result of our unique multicultural society. Over 40 years, we’re moved from a nation of fans and imitators to one of black and white musicians creating original, cutting edge music. We’ve travelled from segregation to integration, as black American and Jamaican cultures have been embraced and become entwined with English life, changing our society forever. You get me?
Key Artists featured in this episode include Amy Winehouse, Mica Paris, Lemar, Beverley Knight, Joss Stone, Jazzie B, Omar, and Roots Manuva.