As you may know, I’m from Essex. It’s a big place, a multi-faceted area that is largely rural, but also sits on the right hand of London, making big parts of the county a sort of avalanche into a black hole, if such a thing could exist. Forget all the tired new and tired old signifiers: Ford cars, blond highlights, white stilettos, decorated vaginas, inarticulate cretins with big white teeth. These clichés simply do not reflect the diverse social and cultural landscape of Essex.
That said, the people of this wondrous county have always loved a slice of soul music and, when I was growing up there in the 80s, it seemed to blare from every house, from every pub, from every car, from every transistor radio. This wasn’t rough and ready soul with a growl or a choke in its voice, but the smooth soul stuff, the sort of music that accompanies heavy petting in a darkened room. I never liked it much, but what can you do? If you live in Slovakia, you’d better learn to polka.
As a boy, I used to attend a club called The Embassy Suite which claimed to ‘put the beat in your feet’ with a constant barrage of Benson, Vandross, Pendergrass and British born rubbish like Shakatak and Level 42. The music was formulaic, very professional, and very bland. But there were girls there, and there was Shalamar, a US band who had a period of British superstardom following the release of their superb album Friends in early 1982.
The record is choc-full of hits, but my favourite has always been I Can Make You Feel Good. You just can’t go far wrong with a great song performed by talented people in knee length boots. It’s brilliantly produced and has no rough edges, yet it isn’t bland or anodyne. The lyrics are considered and complex, and don’t reference getting down on the floor or making sweet love. Instead, it’s about someone offering to pick up the pieces, an offer of love and long-term loyalty in a world of wolves. It’s hopeful, and joyful, and sincere. It sounds like they mean it, and that makes it a real soul record, not just a facsimile.
It is a song that reconnects me to a long gone time and place, and temporarily charges me with the energy and optimism of youth. And, yes, that makes me feel good, really good.