I am well aware that music taste is something that cannot be forced, and rarely changes. Fans of Metal do not, as a rule, suddenly stop liking it, and the same goes for lifelong soul boys like me. I was brought up with records, and recording artists, as my father became a salesman for Pye Records in 1960, when I was only 8 years old. For the next ten years, he either sold records, promoted artists, or worked in the retail of records. My own second job was selling records, admittedly very cheap ones, for the company called Saga Records. For those not old enough to remember, they were copies of the current chart hits, or old classics and out of royalty stuff, performed by unknown artists (mostly), and sold for less than £1. They were available in all sorts of outlets, from petrol stations to clothes shops, and even record shops! Although very popular at the time, the concept seems laughable now.
I later progressed to working in retail record shops for a while. One was in Piccadilly Circus, the other across London, in Leyton. The customers in these two shops could not have been more different. In the West End, we had queues outside the door for the latest Led Zeppelin album (Led Zeppelin 3, 1970), and later that year, in East London, we sold out of Clive Dunn’s ‘Grandad’ in less than an hour. I learned very quickly that different tastes have to be taken into consideration.
My taste in music is nothing if not varied. There are the soul, Tamla-Motown, and ska roots of course, as well as some classical music, and the better-known operas. American music of the 1970’s, typified by Steely Dan, Frank Zappa, The James Gang, and many others; alongside The Beach Boys, CSNY, and Bob Dylan. Van Morrison also has an enduring place in my CD collection, not to mention Jazz in many forms, though particularly the work of Miles Davis. Latin beats, Sambas, Mambo, even Cajun, it is all in there somewhere. Later on, there was The Jam, The Style Council, The Blow Monkeys, Swing out Sister, the great revival of British music, in so many styles and forms. Drum and Bass, Dance, House and Garage, they all caught my attention too. Baby D’s anthem ‘Let me be your fantasy’, was the highlight of 1992 for me, as two years earlier, ‘Groove is in the heart’ by Deee-Lite had been.
Pop did not pass me by either. Madonna, Janet Jackson, Hue and Cry, ABC, Heaven 17, Inner City, all these lurk in my CD boxes. And Bowie of course; almost everything the great man has ever recorded. The crossover from DJ’s attracted me too. Artful Dodger, Fatboy Slim, despite my age at the time, (47) I was really excited by them. Then there were the balladeers, old and new; Corrinne Bailey Rae, Sarah Vaughan, Jimmy Scott, Edith Piaf, Adele, all had their place. And the diminutive youngster from North London, Amy Winehouse, who stole my ears, and my heart, with her amazing voice. But did I have a perfect CD, one where every track was worth a listen, that would be timeless, and that I would never tire of? Listening to so many over the years, I found myself skipping tracks, almost subconsciously. Past favourites faded with time, and I fell into the familiar habit of buying ‘Greatest Hits’ compilations, to avoid those songs that did not grab me. I have given this idea a lot of thought, and I think that I have found it. The CD I always listen to, and never tire of; the one that I would save in a fire, if there could only be one. It may surprise you…
In 1988, I heard a record on the car radio. I liked it so much, I stopped the car to listen to the rest of it, and to discover who had recorded it. It was called ‘Talking with myself’, and was by a group that I had never heard of, Electribe 101. I went to a record shop that weekend, and bought it as a single CD. I read that the vocals were credited to Billy Ray Martin, but I had never heard of her. I had no Internet in those days, so it was not very easy to find out more. Two years later, I heard that distinctive voice once again, on a song called ‘Tell me when the fever ended’. Later that year, I saw that Electribe 101 had finally released an album, ‘Electribal memories’, and I bought it immediately. It had both the previous tracks, as well as the haunting ‘You’re Walking’, and all the vocals were by the amazing Billy Ray Martin. I later realised that she was also singing on the hits of the chart-topping group S-Express, something I had been unaware of. The band split in 1992, without a second album release, and I presumed that would be that. Billy Ray Martin had apparently returned to her native Germany, and life went on, with new sounds appearing daily to capture my interest.
In 1995, I was 43 years old. I was settling into a house in Docklands, and enjoying music from the likes of Seal, Montel Jordan, and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. One day, again in the car, I heard the unmistakable, precise tones that could only be Billy Ray Martin, once again. The driving beat, a strange contrast to the perfect diction, reeled me in immediately, and I waited in a car park, to hear the name of the song. It was ‘Your Loving Arms’, and I was excited to hear that it was the first single released from the forthcoming album. The next day, I was in a record shop, disappointed to hear that it was to be a vinyl release only. I did still have a record player, but it was a nuisance to get it out, set it up, and put it away again. I had to wait more than three months, until 1996, before I could get the CD release of ‘Deadline For My Memories’, the most complete and compelling album I would ever own.
I am not trying to convert anyone. I don’t expect you to suddenly like this music, if you never did before; no more than I will ever become a die-hard fan of Country and Western. If this style of music, and the haunting vocal range is not to your liking, no amount of words written on this post will make you think otherwise. This is a personal journey, with an equally individual conclusion. However, if this is new to you, and you have never heard any of her music, or your mind is open to new experiences, I would love it if you looked further, tried it out, and made up your own mind. I will not follow the format of listing tracks, describing them, and writing about why I like them, though I will add some links. Almost 1200 words about one CD is enough, I reckon. Feel free to let me know what you think. It is too late to change my mind anyway.