From Club Classics to Olympia Magic: Soul II Soul’s Timeless Grooves Make Liverpool Spring to Life

We don’t do well by our black British artists, do we?

Liverpool’s The Real Thing were the first black British group to hit number one, and I’m sure most people think You To Me Are Everything came out of Philadephia. We dropped Craig David like a hot potato. It wasn’t uncommon for Sade or Estelle to sell more overseas.

Soul II Soul are another example. A collective that gave us one of the great British debut albums – Club Classics Vol. One – a glorious mesh of soul, funk, acid jazz and sound system culture. Do they really get their dues?

Their power was on full display tonight. The crowd may have felt a little tepid to begin with, but it didn’t take long for us to fall under their spell. It’s autumn right now, blowing a gale outside under a constant threat of rain. But inside the Olympia, it feels like spring.

Early highlights included Move Me No Mountain and covers of The Family Stand’s Ghetto Heaven and, surprisingly, a very Soul II Soul take on Nothing Compares 2 U (which shook this Prince fanatic to his core). Being more of a collective than a traditional band, it can be hard to keep track of band members. Halfway through, they switched singers. Though neither appeared to be Caron Wheeler – the iconic voice on their early hits – both brought their own flava to the material. Jazzie B was there, of course. The MC and DJ remains the backbone of Soul II Soul. The architect of all that is funky in British music. They wisely split up the biggest hitters – Keep On Movin’ and the iconic transatlantic smash Back To Life. The latter led to a mass dance-off, a classic every artist wishes they had in their arsenal.

With that particular song ringing out, it struck us that if Soul II Soul were an American act, we would hold them with the kind of reverence we hold figures like Sly Stone or George Clinton. That this doesn’t appear to be the case says something deep about how we have historically viewed our homegrown black artists. We may be celebrating Stormzy today, but the likes of Soul II Soul built that foundation. Don’t take them for granted.

Openers Amba appear to be early in their performing career. Indeed, when they initially took to the stage there was an awkward silence that could have been broken with a bit of banter. But they soon won us over with a mixture of originals and covers (Brandy’s The Boy Is Mine, Tyla’s Water). The three vocalists were in fine voice and they give off a vibe of classic R&B girl groups. I’m not going to go overboard and say “I have seen the future of Liverpool music”, but, honestly, who doesn’t love a girl group? I’d keep an eye on them.

Reviewed by the wonderful Shaun Ponsonby.

Photos by Brian Sayle

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