MEMORIES OF THE KENT SOUL SCENE
Trees are green. The sea is blue. Essex invented soul music? The truth. Kosher. The facts inviolate. Except of course, trees are more of a woody colour, especially in winter and the sea is more see-through and, strangely enough, also often woody coloured. Which leaves us with Essex inventing soul music. Now far be it from me to doubt the qualifications of that fine county and its association with a great black American art form. After all, I was born in bleedin’ Rochford and I am the late, great Sam Cooke (you’ll notice as you go along that some of this will be made up). Nevertheless, I would like to put in a mild shout for the county on the south side of the Medway where I spent many of my formative years. As opposed to my borstal years, my army years, my wonder years and happy new years.
Kent. Yes Kent. So good they named it, well, once but in doing so called it Kent. Yes, that’s what I said - Kent. The garden of England. Hopping country. Keeps the Channel out of London and stopping Bexleyheath becoming Bexleyheath-On-Sea.
Kent - birthplace of Bob (I’ll have a ‘P’ please Bob) Holness, cod and chips twice, and everyone else who was born in Kent.
Kent. Sounds like a rude word when you say it, sometimes. So anyway, Kent. Thing is, in the great scheme of things, Kent (home of Romney Marsh - formerly a stylish number 10 for QPR, Man City and England and now a place where they keep sheep) did have a role to play in getting The Good Groove away over the last 30 years and I was one of the many bit part players who made up the crowd scenes. OK, we didn’t have no Lacy Lady, no Gold Mine, no Bentley¹s but we did have...
King Arthur's Court. In an East Kent village just outside of teeming cultural metropolis Ashford (name now changed to Ashford International by deed poll) and so called because legend has it, it was the actual court where Arthur was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years hard Kinging. It was here amongst the tudor beams and student nurses that I cut my dancing teeth. And anyone who’s seen my teeth dance will know it was time well spent.
King Arthur's Court is famous now for giving Gravesend altar boy and former Blues & Soul roving reporter Pete Tong a weekend residency and a chance to practice his singing over Roy Ayers ‘Love Will Bring Us Back Together’. Word has it Mr. Ayers never fully recovered. It’s why he is bald! It also progressed the career of Nicky Peck (now PC Peck) and many others.
Kempton Manor. Similar village / Ashford / converted barn scenario to the above, only (as one of the flyers discovered and reproduced in The Family Album pays testimony to) this is where Robbie Vincent practiced growing his hair when he was 12. Resident DJ’s were two brothers with brillo pad feather cuts and shiny shirts who played Kool & The Gang’s ‘Open Sesame’ to get the night started then spent the rest of the evening lamenting the absence of the gentle breeze stirred up by 200 pairs of flares flapping. Kempton Manor also played regular host to the likes of Chris Hill, Tom Holland, Froggy, and many others along with some truly amazing nights and queues into the A20.
The Atlantis. Even the crowd from Margate couldn’t believe they could go out for a session in Margate. The Atlantis came into its own at Bank Holidays when everyone had had as much fun as Dreamland could offer (or a quick fag - which ever came first), then turned a dingy basement venue into...a dingy basement venue full of great folks from all over the South dancing to the sharper end of the scene (Earth Wind & Fire’s two-tiered ‘Running’ my signature tune for the gaff). Had my first can of Breakers malt liquor there - a beer so fashionably new, yet so unsure about itself, it was flat and warm within 2.3 seconds of cracking it open. But still looked cool in the fist, by golly.
King's Lodge. A mere careering, out of control, bouncing F1 tyre away from Brands Hatch, this was the son of Hilltop early-in-the-week session where the aforementioned Mr.Tong really showed his worth. This ‘showing of worth’ comment has absolutely nothing (or just about everything. Either way. You know, whatever) to do with the evening when Tongy started his birthday night in his Anthony Price suit and ended the night in his birthday suit. Also where he played Neil Larsen’s brilliant ‘High Gear’ album in its near entirety when it came out, so it wasn’t all spotty arses.
Woodville Halls. This great lump of a municipal building in Gravesend town centre is the only place I’ve been that had a sweetie shop open during a big night out. It’s where a certain (or uncertain - who could tell through that steely countenance) famous promoter learnt how to put on a really big do, and it¹s also where I learned to kiss the feet of Lonnie Liston Smith’s ‘Expansions’, watched Animal Nightlife turn on one of the best moments of music and showbiz I’ve seen and drank from a can of coke with a fag butt in it. The Woodvilles became the ancestral Kent home for Hilly, Tongy, Froggy along with regular guests like Brownie and Frenchie. Ah memories. Really, just a series of small electrical charges in the brain. Anyone for a banana custard?
Flicks. A night club in Dartford. A proper night club in Dartford. They made you wear proper Dartford trousers. Me, I’m buying Ball jeans in South Molton Street for 35 quid (like, a yacht and and two pairs of gold socks today) while every nob end in the long, long queue has bought his fighting strides in Mr Byrite for £4.95. Nevertheless, not just Robbie but the great and good Colin Hudd ensured you still had to suffer those slings and arrows of contagious fault dunes (I don't know - bollocking Shakespeare said it) because the music was so fiiiiine. Poxy sticky keyboard.
Stage 3. First, the caravans. Second, the dodgems. Third, the night club. The Isle Of Sheppey is an island called Sheppey - that much i’ll give you. What may now come as a surprise is that Patrick McGohan found it easier to get away from that bloody great bubble in The Prisoner than you would getting off the Isle of Sheppey late at night. They got a bridge that rises and they’re not afraid to use it. Having said that, sometimes it was worth the linger because one Nicky Peck (not two, but one) proved why he was underestimated then and sorely missed now at some great one offs down there. Nicky, of course, could have been arrested for that moustache he sported for way too long; indeed, chances are he could have banged himself up, being the copper he now is and that. Al Jarreau’s ‘Distracted’ is always on the car stereo to and from in this soldier’s brain.
And so that there it is - Kent (Cathedral town; Canterbury where the Kings assassins said ‘are you Thomas Becket?’ and he said ‘eh?’ so they said, ‘alright, are you Thomas a Becket’). OK, so I may have missed some Kent stuff. Indeed I may have made some Kent stuff up. But its all totally true Kent stuff to the letter. The point is, Kent was the early bastion of Soul.
Mark Webster - Essex-esque to start, Kentish-like then, and all London now.
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