When it comes to compiling a Northern Soul compilation, Harmless Records couldn’t have selected a better compiler than Kev Roberts for their latest Backbeats’ compilation Metropolis Stomp Time. After all, Kev Roberts life has been Northern Soul since Northern Soul’s heyday. Kev Roberts started off as a DJ at the legendary Wigan Casino, and in the intervening forty years, has been a promoter, owned record labels, been a radio presenter and a songwriter and producer. Then there’s the small matter of Kev compiling over 300 albums. To that number he can add one more, Metropolis Stomp Time which was one of the latest batch of Backbeats’ compilations released on 25th March 2013. 

Metropolis Stomp Time features thirty-one tracks from a truly eclectic selection of artists. There’s everyone from Little Richard, Paul Anka, Chuck Jackson, Inez and Charlie Foxx, The Just Brothers, Melba Moore, Maxine Brown and The Shirelles. These tracks were released on labels like RCA, Wand, Columbia, Date, Scepter, King, Dynamo, Garrison and Musicor. It seems Kev Roberts who came up with the idea for Metropolis Stomp Time has looked through every corner of his extensive and unrivaled collection of Northern Soul records. The result is a peerless collection of Northern Soul that’ll appeal to Northern Soul veterans and newcomers alike. That’s what you’d expect from a man whose life has revolved around Northern Soul

Indeed, if you’ve never bought a Northern Soul compilation, this is a good place to start. Every one a winner, without any filler describes Kev’s selection. This should give you a flavor of one of Kev’s DJ sets, forty years ago at the Wigan Casino. Back then Northern Soul was a true musical phenomena. In the intervening forty years, Northern Soul’s popularity has never faltered, and its followers appetite for compilations like Metropolis Stomp Time has never waned. However, unlike many compilations, Metropolis Stomp Time has thirty-one quality tracks. Picking just a few of Metropolis Stomp Time’s highlights won’t be easy, but hear goes.

Opening Metropolis Stomp Time is Dean Courtney’s I’ll Always Need You, which was released on RCA Records in 1966. Written by Leon Huff and Len Barry, who had been a member of The Dovells and then enjoyed a solo career. I’ll Always Need You became a Wigan Casino anthem around 1974. It only takes one listen to realize why. It’s one of these tracks that’s truly irresistible and totally anthemic.

Many people might think Paul Anka is a strange choice for a Northern Soul compilation. Not one bit. I Can’t Help Loving You has Northern Soul written all over. Written by Artie Schroeck and Jet Loring and released in 1966 on RCA Records, this track has everything you could want in a Northern Soul track. Lush strings, stabs of horns, stomping beat and a heartfelt, emotive vocal from Paul Anka. In many ways, this track helps define what Northern Soul sounds like.

Way before Gamble and Huff founded Philadelphia International Records, they cowrote and produced The Vibrations’ Cause You’re Mine. It was released in 1968, on Epic. By then, The Vibrations recording career was eight years old. They’d released singles for Checker, Atlantic and Okeh plus two albums for Okeh 1965s Shout and 1966s Misty. Their biggest singles were 1964s My Girl Sloopy and 1968s Love In Them Thar Hills. Although Cause Your Mine didn’t replicate the success of these singles, it lead to The Vibrations releasing singles on Gamble and Huff’s Neptune Records.

Of all the tracks on Metropolis Stomp Time, there was one I just couldn’t overlook. It’s Maxine Brown’s seminal One In A Million, which she recorded during her time at Wand Records. For Maxine, her time at Wand was where she released the best music of her career. The best of all was One In A Million, released in 1966. Truly, it was a career defining track and one that despite Maxine’s best efforts, wouldn’t better. It became a Wigan Casino classic and indeed, is worthy of being referred to as a soul classic.

One of the rarest tracks on Metropolis Stomp Time The Gentlemen Four’s You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down. If you could find a copy, it would set you back around £600 or $900. So considering Metropolis Stomp Time costs only £5, this must be the bargain of 2013. Released in 1966 on Wand, and produced by Dionne Warwick and arranged by George Andrews, this is a case where rarity equates to quality. With its cascading blazing horns, tight harmonies and a vocal laden with emotion, you’ll soon realize why this track is so in-demand.

Chuck Jackson’s career started in the early sixties, with his first hit I Don’t Wanna Cry released in 1961. Since then, he’s enjoyed a long and successful career. By 1966, when he released one of his best known tracks These Chains of Love (Are Breaking Me Down) on Pye, he’d released five albums on Wand and Pye. He’d also released an album with Maxine Brown, Saying Something in 1965. These Chains of Love (Are Breaking Me Down) is one of Chuck’s most compelling, potent and powerful performances. He unleashes an impassioned vocal that’s accompanied by a stomping backbeat that drives the arrangement along. The result is a classic slice of Northern Soul.

Marie Knight was originally a gospel singer before she crossed-over. Her career started back in 1946, with Marie duetting with Sister Rosetta Sharpe on Old Landmark in 1952. Five years later, in 1957, she released debut album Songs Of The Gospel. Ten years later, in 1967, Marie had established a career as a soul singer and released That’s No Way To Treat A Girl on Musicor Records. From the opening bars, the song is bristling with raw emotion. Marie’s is the focus of your attention, while soaring harmonies, vibes and stabs of rasping horns compliment her impassioned and soulful pleas. Sadly, Marie Knight never enjoyed the commercial success her talent deserved. However, this track is a poignant reminder of her talent and ability to breath meaning into lyrics.

Way before Melba Moore found fame and fortune, with singles like Pick Me Up, I’ll Dance, You Stepped Into My Life and Standing Right Here, she recorded a demo for Musicor Records. This was The Magic Touch, written by Ted Daryll and produced by Stan Kahan. During three magical minutes, you get a tantalizing glimpse of  Melba Moore’s nascent talent. It’s obvious even then that Melba would enjoy a critically acclaimed and commercially successful career in music. It seems that even then, she had The Magic Touch.

The Shirelles were something of a pioneering group. They were the first female group to have a number one single in the US Billboard 100. Although they released I Met Him On A Sunday on Decca, most of their success came when they signed to Scepter Records, where they released six albums. Their final album for Scepter was Spontaneous Combustion, which featured Last Minute Miracle. Again, this is a quintessentially Northern Soul track. From the opening bars, The Shirelles roll back the years. They combine a wistful, but heartfelt lead vocal with urgent and sometimes melancholy harmonies. This would later become a Wigan Casino classic, one that evokes fond memories of veterans of the legendary all-nighters.

My final choice is Freddie Williams’ I’ve Got To Live While I Can, which closes Metropolis Stomp Time. This track was released in 1967 on Hollywood Records. Although just two minutes long, you’re swept along atop soaring harmonies, thunderous drums and a grizzled vocal which proffers the words of wisdom “I’ve Got To Live While I Can.” The result is a memorable, stomping and anthemic slice of Northern Soul.

Having constantly listened to Metropolis Stomp Time since I received it, I can honestly say that if you’re going to buy one Northern Soul compilation, make it this one. Metropolis Stomp Time features thirty-one delicious slices of Northern Soul compiled by Kev Roberts, a man whose life has revolved around Northern Soul. He’s a forty-year veteran of Northern Soul, who was a DJ at the legendary Wigan Casino. SInce then, he’s been immersed in Northern Soul and has compiled more compilations that most people will have in their collection. Kev is a man who knows his floaters from his stompers. For Metropolis Stomp Time he’s surpassed himself, compiling thirty-one tracks that are a perfect introduction to Northern Soul. If you weren’t around when the Wigan Casino was in its heyday, Metropolis Stomp Time will give you a musical flavor of what it was like. In its day, the Wigan Casino held the title of the most famous nightclub in the world. People came from far and wide to hear DJs like Kev Roberts spin Northern Soul. Now thanks to the good people at Harmless Records, you don’t even have to leave your home to experience the Wigan Casino experience. All you need to do, is buy a copy of Metropolis Stomp Time, which is one of the latest batch of Backbeats compilations released on 25th March 2013. Regardless of whether you’re a veteran of Northern Soul compilations, or a relative newcomer, Metropolis Stomp Time belongs in your record collection. In fact, I’m sure you won’t come across a better Northern Soul compilation than Metropolis Stomp Time this year. That’s how good Metropolis Stomp Time is. Standout Tracks: Dean Courtney I’ll Always Need You, The Vibrations Cause You’re Mine, Maxine Brown One In A Million and Freddie Williams’I’ve Got To Live While I Can.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: