Stax comes to Town - The Upper Cut club in March 1967

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

We resume our monthly recall of events at Woodgrange Road's Upper Cut, 47 years ago - this time focusing on March 1967

Upper Cut banner,
rescued from demolition squad
The undoubted highlight of the month was the appearance of the Stax tour, mid month. Although we have covered Otis Redding's appearance at the club before (see here), this blog offers a little more flavour to the show, thanks to some contemporary reflections of it


Just for once - no exaggeration in the
claim of the Stratford Express Advert


A rare collectors' piece - the poster of the show!
One contemporary Soul Music website gives a little of the background  to the tour:

Stax Records began as a small regional record label in Memphis in 1957 by brother and sister team, Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton (hence Stax) , with the simple intent of selling records by taking advantage of the immense talent of the African American singers the Southern US States had to offer.
The 1967 European tour was to open these markets to the Stax sound and take advantage of the growing interest in Black American music, especially in the UK. By the time the tour was finished music would not be the same.

Sweet Soul Music - with Arthur Conley
Stax management knew they had to tear it up every night if they were going to realise the commercial gains they wanted for themselves and their artists. So they stacked the tour with an all star team– Sam and Dave, Eddie Floyd, and Arthur Conley were backed by the legendary Stax house band Booker T. and the MG’s and there equally epic horn section The Mar-keys. This epic line up along with a good spirited competition to top each other made the show a raging success.

Black and white play Green Onions,
Booker T and the MG's
Yet no one launched their star into orbit more the legendary big man from Macon, Georgia– Otis Redding. With vocals that combined the delicate phrasing of a balladeer with the shouts of a deacon in church, Redding destroyed it in the UK. People still talk about Otis and his legendary performance in London–taking the Stones’ “Satisfaction” and giving it the Stax treatment along with his classics like “Try a Little Tenderness” and “These Arms of Mine”. This along with his now legendary performance at The Monterrey Pop Festival that same year made him an enormous international star.

Otis, promoting the Upper Cut gig
The tour ended and soul music and Stax Records was ascendant. A few short months later Otis Redding would pass away in a plane crash. Stax would continue to produce timeless hits and would last into the mid seventies before bad business decisions and changing musical tastes would cause it to go under.
When you look back Stax cast a long shadow. For a musician to have his or her music called “soulful” was the highest compliment. The singing, the dancing– literally performances that left it all on the stage– formed a connection between these artists and the audience that would set the gold standard.
For a beautiful and brief moment time back in 1967– Soul ruled the world.
The Tour bowled music lovers in Europe over, and fortunately the Oslo gig, two weeks after the Upper Cut one, was captured on film and has been preserved for posterity. It must have mirrored the Forest Gate show.
Here is a review of that video(available from the Stax Museum in Memphis):
The Norwegian audience, which gets generous camera time throughout, looks earnestly appreciative as Booker T. and the M.G.’s steam into “Green Onions,” with Steve Cropper flicking out vicious jabs of blues guitar.

When the singers take over, they don’t settle for head-bobbing and hand-clapping as a response. One after another, they knock themselves out. Just about every song ratchets itself up, drops back down and then pushes toward a double-time gospelly surge over the top.

Knock on Wood - Eddie Floyd
Mr. Conley praises fellow soul singers in “Sweet Soul Music,” twitching and hopping across the stage, insisting that the audience call out names like James Brown. Mr. Floyd, moving with a backwards, gliding step that looks oddly balletic, revs up the crowd during “Raise a Hand” until it swarms toward the stage, to be restrained by uniformed security guards. Mr. Floyd calls the men in uniform “soldiers on the front line” before inviting them to join in.
But they are only warm-ups for Sam and Dave and for Redding. Sam and Dave, flaunting the contrast and blend between Sam Moore’s pearly tenor and Dave Prater’s rugged baritone, volley vocal lines while they shimmy, twirl and strut all over the place. One well-chosen camera shot, amid the otherwise workmanlike direction of the old TV footage, shows the duo’s dancing feet alongside the synchronised steps of the Mar-Keys. During “Soothe Me,” even the TV crew succumbs to the frenzy; the camera starts swooping in and out, as if Sam & Dave were singing “Zoom Me.”

Soul Men - Sam and Dave
Redding would “slosh through puddles of Sam and Dave’s sweat to get out to the stage,” says the trumpeter Wayne Jackson in an on-screen interview, “and then he would add a gallon of his own sweat to the lake.” Redding arrives with a huge smile to sing about sorrow in “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song).” He sounds plaintive and then exultant in “My Girl,” accelerates into overdrive for “Shake,” matches Al Jackson’s rat-a-tat drumming with stamping footwork in “Satisfaction” and carries “Try a Little Tenderness” from bluesy concern to soul catharsis.
To the bewilderment of the M.C., Redding struts offstage and returns again and again and again, barking out the chorus while the band slams away and the crowd seizes the chance to rush the stage. Moments later the show is over, and the Norwegian audience decorously files out — wondering, perhaps, what had just hit it.

In the Midnight Hour - Wilson Pickett at
another gig, backed by Jimi Hendrix

A bit of assiduous on-line research has unearthed an attendee of the Forest Gate show. He is Brian Lovejoy and he writes:
I was at The Upper Cut Club on March 19th. 1967 to see the Stax tour, I still have complementary entrance tickets. The highlights for me were Carla (Thomas) squeezed into a blue dress singing 'B A B Y' and Rufus (her dad), 'Walking The Dog' as well as Otis (Redding), Sam and Dave, Eddie (Floyd), Arthur (Conley) etc. I also saw Otis at The Ramjam Club 390-398 Brixton Road SW9 on the Sunday afternoon after he had been on Ready Steady Go live on the Friday but can't remember the date.
Brian has promised to send over scans of the Upper Cut tickets that he still possesses (which we will post on this site, when received). He is a huge Soul Music fan who drove up from his home in Reading in his Morris Minor, with three mates for the gig - struggling to find Forest Gate - as it was nowhere near the central London venues he used to visit for musical treats!

The music never dies, Brian continues to DJ in the Reading area, mainly Soul and Tamala music. Although he is in his sixties, he says he can't get his contemporaries out to his sets, but has a thriving audience of folk in their 50's!

Crass mismanagement and not a little corruption led to the financial collapse of Stax in the 1970's, but fortunately the studio has recently been revived in Memphis, partially as a tour attraction, but also as a working studio and music academy. We were fortunate enough to visit it, while in town last autumn.  The European Tour features prominently in its splendid museum display cases - though search as we could, we could not find a specific Upper Cut Club mention!

As far as the rest of March's offerings were concerned, it was very much a case of after the Lord Mayor's show, I'm afraid. The month hosted "Top Radio London DJ" Ed "Stewpot" Stewart, twice. He later went on to become a Radio 1 and Radio 2 DJ, before being discarded in 2006. His main claim to fame today must be that he is one of the few "personalities" of that era not currently attracting considerable police and court attention over child abuse offences.

Ed "Stewpot" Stewart - not currently
helping the police with their enquiries
If March at the Upper Cut featured one of the great shows of the era, it finished with one of the worst;  an appearance of what the publicity laughingly described as : "Top British comedian", Dick Emery. Inexplicably Emery was indeed a "popular" light entertainer, who managed to get an inordinate amount of TV airtime, in an era when the only effective option to watching him was to turn the TV off.

For the benefit of younger readers, his act was based around a number of "characters"; and from the perspective of the present writer these consisted of two main types: incredibly unfunny people with false teeth and incredibly unfunny characters without false teeth. He was cow dung to Paul Whitehouse's Einstein in the ranking of "character" comedians. With good reason, Emery suffered from low self esteem.



Two characters, Dick Emery - left: 
unfunny one with false teeth,
right: unfunny one, without false teeth
Regrettably, we do not know how many people were unfortunate enough to turn up and be unamused by the man whose act was marginally less entertaining than watching paint dry. Having learnt their lesson, however, the Upper Cut promoters didn't wander down this dead end of dross again, in their future show presentations.

The also rans - 
other Upper
Cut gigs for 
March 1967

Back catalogue

This site has published a number of articles on the history of the Upper Cut club: the first detailing the time when Otis visited it, in March 1967. This post was followed by two, recording the first six months and the final six months of the club's existence.

These posts were followed by almost monthy updates on who played at the club, that month, 47 years previously. The final blog is a record of a recent meeting with former boxer, Billy Walker, the name under whom the club exisited, on his memories of it and Forest Gate almost half a century ago.

Below is a list of those blogs: the hyper links are the titles of the articles, and when hit upon should give access to them. The dates (in italics) are the time covered by the blog and the date in bold are the months the blogs were posted.

Although the content, and some of the comments on the individual posts, is pretty definitive, we'd love to hear any memories readers may have of the gigs, or corrections they could make to the copy. Just post in the Comments box, below.

When Otis played Forest Gate (March 1967) May 2013

Upper Cut (1) - a summary of the emergence of the first six months of the club (December 1966 - July 1967) July 2013

Upper Cut (2) - a brief survey of the second, and final half year of the club's existence (August 1967 - December 1967) July 2013
Georgie Fame, The Tremeloes and Unit 4 + 2 - (September 1967 at the Upper Cut) October 2013

When Stevie Wonder played Forest Gate - (October 1967) November 2013

Mouthwatering musical fayre on Woodgrange Road - (November 1967) December 2013

Club bills for the Upper Cut's two Decembers - (Decembers 1966 and 1967) January 2014

The Upper Cut beds down - (January 1967) February 2014

Essex comes to Forest Gate - (February 1967) March 2014
Stax comes to town - (March 1967) April 2014

A mixed bunch at the Upper Cut in April (April 1967) May 2014

Upper Cut - May 1967 (June 1967) June 2014

Summer of Love in Forest Gate (Summer 1967) August 2014

Golden Boy, Billy Walker's Forest Gate memories September 2014

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