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It's Better To Cry - E. Mark Windle

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Over the last couple few weeks I've asked the likes of Dave Rimmer and John Lias to give us some insight into what the drive was for them to undertake their respective writing projects. This week I thought I'd give other authors a break and provide some background to why I started writing about the music I love.

Admittedly I already have some previous publication experience, albeit in a genre quite separate to music, through clinical research as a dietitian working in critical care. Certainly a different style of writing, but also a job which suits my underlying inquisitive nature and has allowed me to develop research skills and mentality which in a totally unexpected way are transferable to a musical context. Regarding the foray into the soul world then, it is conveniently and best explained by a cut and paste job of the introductory chapter from my first book "It's Better to Cry", focusing on 1960s black vocal groups and beach music bands of the southern states, of particular interest to the UK and European rare soul scenes...

"Needless to say, my attachment to soul music has been a life long lesson. Aged fourteen, I was initially attracted to the northern soul scene as a clandestine alternative to the mainstream pop of the day which attracted my school peers. Through the years as a soul fan, then rare soul collector and occasional DJ, I developed an interest in the breadth of musical sub genres within the rare soul scene itself, including sixties soul, rare Motown, latin boogaloo, R&B, seventies and modern soul, deep soul and ballads.

So, where did beach music fit in on my musical journey? My first memory of the term - though I probably didn’t even know the terms at the time - was likely at the my introduction to northern soul. Well known and even chart breaking sounds, such as those by The Tams or The Prophets were established classics on the northern scene, at least once upon a time, and were easily accessible, cheap collection builders. In this embryonic phase I was also aware of blue-eyed soul oldies with a particular sound which appealed to me, usually involving big rhythm and horn sections and often an uptempo infectious beat, using The Embers as a benchmark. Through time though, I mentally abandoned these records to some degree. My collection would focus for the next few decades on what I perceived at the time as ‘proper’ rare BLACK American soul on tiny labels from Detroit and the other major cities of the north.

Fast forward thirty odd years. Now in my late forties, I am finding once again that more of my personal collection is being built from 1960s output from the Carolinas and thereabouts. Not necessarily classic beach hits, but obscure releases, sometimes black artists but predominantly white garage bands with a soul edge from the Carolinas and the neighbouring states of Georgia, Virginia and Tennessee.  I am also being pulled toward more recently discovered 1960s sounds played on the northern scene today which after a bit of detective work, turn out to be these white 1960s garage bands form the south east. Hopefully this is an indication of another subgenre to contribute toward sustaining the future northern soul scene for more years to come. Some of these bands ‘sounded black’, or were integrated groups with a black lead vocal, or were all black vocal groups. Others may have been more obviously white, with that characteristic breezy production, but always with soul and an absence of the ‘pop’ factor that ultimately made some of the more established beach classics less attractive to a now matured UK soul scene.

This project ("It's Better To Cry") then: it would be superfluous to cover ground already comprehensively provided by well respected resources on the subject of the beach music, such as the Greg Haynes Hey Baby Days tome and his ongoing online work, or Jason Perlmutter‘s Carolina Soul website; or to present the more well known sounds which became local hits, already competently described in Rick Simmon’s book Carolina Beach Music: the Classic Years. It must be acknowledged from the outset that the value of these resources as base reference sources has been priceless. However I also wanted to personalise this writing experience - the primary inspiration for the artists and records of choice are favourites from my own collection, although these are also records which I hope the northern soul collector or fan will find particularly relevant to the scene. I make no apologies for being self indulgent!

The first objective of the book was to provide the setting. To explore the history of how black music settled and developed in the Carolinas and neighbouring states. To research the drive for young white and black artists and audiences to appreciate soul in this neck of the woods. I also wanted to track down and interview some of the artists to get their personal take on what was going on. Finally I wanted to place these records in the context of the rare northern soul scene in the UK and Europe, through interviewing some of the collectors and DJs in order to assess how these rarities were located and introduced to the UK (and now European) scene. 

One of the most helpful aspects of obtaining a historical account of life and music in the Carolinas and surrounding states is that many of the musicians are still very active around the south east, either on the beach scene or elsewhere. So, the resources are there if you can access them. Some bands and individuals are still playing live or recording, others moved onto producing or were successful in other related ventures. What seemed clear previously from both Greg Haynes and Jason Perlmutter’s work is that the surviving artists, whether successful or less so, were all keen to collaborate and tell their story. I found this too. The hardest part of this assignment by far has been the detective work tracking these guys down, a mammoth task indeed. Yet without a doubt, also one of the most enjoyable rewards of the journey. I thank the artists, their relatives, researchers who have gone before me, and of course the northern soul scene collectors, DJs and fans for all their support and assistance in this venture."

"It's Better To Cry" by E. Mark Windle is available at the time of writing in new book section, priced £12.99

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