After a week spent playing ‘silly games’ with the borough’s politicians, for a deserved break, KEN TOWL got serious about Lovers’ Rock
Croydon’s musical heritage is immense. It is so rich and varied that the council is putting together some kind of guided walk. It seems a low-budget option, but it is at least one of the few elements of their Borough of Culture plan that has so far been released.
Among the likely music venues (too many of which have long-since closed) and homes and other locations that our council wants to “put on the map”, in their inimitably clichéd way, they’ve probably lined up a visit to South Norwood and the school and the childhood home of Stormzy, the current king of the local – and global – musical scenes.
But Croydon’s musical magical mystery tour probably ought to include a stroll in the direction of The Damned, the first punk band to have a single released, and their guitarist Captain Sensible, as well as Johnny Moped… they might locate the chip shop where Kirsty MacColl encountered the Elvis wannabe she immortalised in song, while the BRIT School provides links to a parade of music royalty, from The Kooks to Katie Melua, and one half of Krept and Konan, through to Adele.
The council’s route-setters can hopefully add to their list 15-16-17, a group made up of Sonia Williams (who was 15 when they formed the group), Christine McNabb (she was 16) and Wraydette McNabb (17).
In the mid-1970s, after performing at the Georgian Club in Dingwall Road, the trio released singles on Denis Brown’s DEB label. Here’s a link to the group’s Emotion, which might be nostalgically familiar to some of a certain age.
Emotion is the quite beautiful and unmistakable sound of Lovers’ Rock, a mostly homegrown, London-based offshoot of Rocksteady that leaned into a softer, romantic sound, where some singers reached for seemingly impossibly high notes. As Wikipedia defines it, Lovers’ Rock was “Rooted in the sound systems of South London…” and “… had particular appeal amongst women and produced many female stars”.
It is perhaps most famously remembered through the Janet Kay hit Silly Games, which, as David “Kid” Jenson points out in this 1979 Top Of The Pops Christmas special, reached No2 in that year’s charts.
Fast forward to 2023, and earlier this month, the McNabb sisters turned up at the Windrush Generation Legacy Association pop-up exhibition space in the Whitgift Centre for a meet and greet with a room full of music fans who fondly remember the late 1970s and early ’80s.
The WGLA is hosting a series of Saturday events presided over by CeeBee Multimedia, a veteran DJ and Selector and historian and curator of reggae music.
I met him last Saturday and was bowled over by his passion for the music and for the musicians who provided it. One thing they had in common, he told me, was that many of these people made very little money out of their hard work and talent, and he wanted to see them get at least some of the recognition they deserved.
As if to prove this, Colin (his name is actually Colin Brown) went on to interview a member of the band Tradition, and we heard the story of a band that felt they had made it when they had a successful tour, were flown here and there, staying in good hotels, only to be called in by their record company for a “recomping” meeting.
Here, all the costs were listed: lawyers, hotels, road management, catering, the list seemd endless, until, after a summer on the road promoting their LP, the band realised they had cleared the grand total of £45 each.
It is a testament to CeeBee’s technical craft and affable but knowledgeable interview technique, that the remote interview entertained the audience for well over an hour and no one seemed too disappointed that, due to illness, the meet and greet scheduled to appear had not materialised.
More sessions are planned over the coming Saturdays through March and April, culminating on April 29 with the Reggae Choir leading a “Lovers’ Rock singalong”.
For more details, see CeeBee’s website here.
And visit the Windrush Generation Legacy Assocation website for all their events and exhibitions here.
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