Friday, 16 October 2009

The Escofferys - Look Who's Loving Me 1991

East West Records America A5928T

The Escoffery Sisters have long been doyens of Britain's gospel scene. In 1991, Dance Energy on BBC2 one Monday evening added a little variety to their usual menu of hip-hop, rave and rap. In between a guide to New York clubs and gurning ravers was a short clip of The Escofferys' debut, "Look Who's Loving Me".

The track landed in British clubs as an Atlantic import, before being released here by East West Records. State-side the sisters' gospel-funk had already made an impact on the black charts and been play listed by radio and cable TV stations. In reality the family hail from Brixton, South London, and have long been at the forefront of British black gospel; they scooped the Black Gospel Association award for Best British Gospel Group four years running.

"We signed to Atlantic simply because we met our manager (Robert Butler) through a family friend. He was based in the States and he was interested in seeing if there were any artists to sign here. Our number was given to him and we got talking and eventually a rough tape got passed to Atlantic. They liked it so then we did a demo and they signed us around September of 1990," explains Marcia.
"With Atlantic, they loved what they heard on our original demos and they just let us go in the direction we were going in," says Sharon. "They haven't tried to influence us, that's what we like about them. It hasn't affected us that they're a mainstream rather than a gospel label. They want to see us do other projects like acapella, jazz and even traditional gospel."
The album 'Opinions' was cut in London using all British musicians. It was produced by The Ethnic Boyz, otherwise known as Marcus Johnson and Steve Campell, two veterans of Britain's black gospel scene.

Sharon, Sandra, Marcia, and youngster Michelle, had been singing since childhood with their father George Escoffery, (a gospel singer with The Golden Chords) as their guiding force.
"We listened to a wide variety of music and have been influenced by many different styles because our father was a great lover of music. We listened to everything from gospel to The Jones Girls, The Emotions, Ella Fitzgerald and Bob Marley," says Sharon. When a general discussion gets under way of influences, names from the world of pop, jazz, and black and white gospel rub shoulders. Shirley Caesar, The Dixie Hummingbirds, Karen Lafferty, Stevie Wonder, The Wings of Light, Frankie Beverly and Maze... "
Under the expert tuition of their father the girls developed their vocal skills performing at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Brixton, often acapella, learning harmony and swapping parts mid-song to increase their range and leave listeners baffled as to exactly who was singing what. After their appearance at the debut concert of The London Community Gospel Choir at Wands-worth Civic Suite in 1983 the word was out that the Escoffery Sisters (as they were then known) were hot.

"We were more expressive vocally and musically than most groups like us from an Adventist background," explains Marcia. "They wouldn't normally have a full band and we don't use drums in our church like the Pentecostals, so to Adventists we were probably quite radical. Yet in the eyes of the Pentecostals we were conservative! Gradually, as we mixed more with people from other backgrounds we got less restrained."
When Paul Johnson, London Community Gospel Choir soloist, went on to gain a solo pop deal he hired Sandra and the girls to come and provide backing vocals on his albums. This led to further work from an unexpected quarter.
"Paul 'phoned one day and asked if we would like to do a session the next day and when we said yes he told us it was with Stevie Wonder!", says Sandra. "We definitely weren't going to turn that down even though it was at short notice. It was an eye-opening and enjoyable experience. We had a lot of contact with Stevie during the sessions (for his 'Characters' LP); He was a very humble man, humorous as well and very down to earth. When he came over to do his concerts at Wembley and Birmingham we were in the choir and we worked on the video as well."

When it came to making their own video The Escofferys not only stayed in Britain but made sure they used a British director as well, as they are convinced that there is a lot of talent in the UK that deserves exposure. They themselves believe that their music reflects the British black experience both culturally and spiritually, as distinct from the American experience that informs US R&B and gospel.
"People tend to stereotype gospel as an American thing, because all the greatest artists have been American," says Sharon. "What we 're trying to pioneer is a British perspective. Our experience is different from the Americans. West Indians came over from Jamaica or Barbados or whatever island and had children and their background has influenced our lives - our music reflects that."
Several American artists working within gospel have set their music within a broader perspective as part of the Afro-American cultural experience - Sweet Honey In The Rock in the 70s and 80s and the hugely successful Sounds Of Blackness in the 90s spring to mind.

The Escofferys too, are proud to identify themselves with black consciousness. While they point out how different their experience is to that of the American black, whose grandparents were already in America, whereas "we know exactly where our family is from in the West Indies," they also hark back to their African roots by singing in Chanian dialect on a track on their CD. They belong to a new breed of gospel artists -standing up for their cultural identity, not afraid to pick up on what is positive in popular culture and to work alongside those whose beliefs may differ but who share the love of music instilled in the sisters since childhood. Sandra is in no doubt as to the future aims of the group.

"We see ourselves developing and becoming a household name. We want to open the door for a lot of other people who haven't had the opportunity because people haven't realised that there's a lot of talent in Britain. We don't want gospel to be cornered, restricted to one type of music and one type of message. There are other issues that can be covered - there is a positive message that can be put across about emotional issues, relationships between boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives. Social issues, without getting political - there are things that need to be spoken about and I think we can do it with the kind of music we make. We want to be positive; rappers do the same kind of thing with what they do except they're more aggressive. They're still talking about 'be a father to your child', things that are everyday issues. We can deal with the same things within songs."
There are plans afoot for the group both to go out and make pa's in the clubs to promote the 12-inch and to play live with a full band. For the live shows they plan to include some more traditional material to appease their hardcore gospel following who might be phased by the dance rhythms and somewhat inexplicit lyrics. Their inspiration for their approach to live work comes from contemporary gospel acts like The Winans and beyond.
"I think the Winans are absolutely excellent," enthuses Marcia. "I think their whole stage presentation is so spiritual and they have it from start to finish."

"We want to have concerts where you come away feeling uplifted, not just saying that was a good bass-line, I enjoyed the music and h ad a good sweat and then you leave and there's nothing left," says Sandra. "Like Anita Baker's concerts, she's very spiritual in her own way and it comes across in her music and you've got a buzz for at least the next two weeks like you've been on something. Frankie Beverly and Maze have the same effect and it's because of their positive message."
This is not to say that the gospel roots of their music will be drowned in a sea of commercialised platitudes. As Sandra told a British journalist:

"The message we want to project is not our message. It's Christ's message and that message is to love thy neighbour as God loves us."
As you would expect from The Ethnic Boyz, all the tracks sound great. The Radio Edit is five minutes worth, the R&B Remix does 'exactly what it says on the can' and the House Remix is a slow and steady, loping, 4x4 affair that is very soulful and 'Knuckles' sounding. The Instrumental is the House Remix backing track.

  • Radio Mix
  • R&B Remix
  • House Remix
  • Instrumental
The Download Link is here: Download
Filename: The Escofferys.rar Filesize: 35.07 MB

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Jomanda - I Like It (Remixes) 1993

Atlantic Records A8377TX

I have written of New Jersey's Jomanda previously and touched on the career of Joanne Thomas, Cheri Williams and Renee Washington. Their 1989 song, Make My Body Rock, appeared on the soundtrack to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. They had several hits on the U.S. Hot Dance Club Play chart during the first half of the 1990s, including Got a Love for You, which hit number one in 1991. It also crossed over to the mainstream, peaking at number 40, on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. They are best remembered for that song, now considered a house music classic.

I Like It is a Hit Factory recording, penned by Randy & El DeBarge, licenced from Big Beat Records and produced and mixed by Buff Love at The Fat House.

Kenny 'Rah-Rah Smoove' Kornegay
mixes up the Nubia Soul Remix (which you can find in CD quality on the previous post along with the Original Mix) and a nice Jazzy Version alongside Darin 'Piano Man' Whittington, for Untouchables Productions.

This 12" features remixes by The Beatnuts who were an underground Latino production crew that first hooked up in the '80s. The Beatnuts entered the recording industry in 1990 producing two tracks for the electronica group Stereo MC's.

Junkyard Ju-Ju (Jerry Tineo) and Psycho Les (Lester Fernandez) were DJ-ing parties under the alias Beat Kings. The Jungle Brothers claimed that they were not kings, but rather 'two nuts' for their comical nature. Thus, they changed their name and "it stuck". The two members met up with rapper Kool Fashion (born Berntony Smalls now known as Al' Tariq) and made their name as a production trio before Kool Fashion left the group to start a solo career.

Over the next two years, they produced songs for many rappers. As of 1992, Ju-Ju had not appeared on a record but Fashion and Psycho Les appeared on tracks that he produced. The Beatnuts made their name as remix specialists by remixing songs for Monie Love, Cypress Hill, MC Lyte, Da Lench Mob, Naughty by Nature and, of course, Jomanda, as well as many others. Here, they serve up the fine Vibes Mix and it's Instrumental counterpart. My personal favourite is their Lounge Mix which has a nice smooth feel to it. Enjoy!

  • Original Mix
  • Nubia Soul Remix
  • Lounge Mix
  • Vibes Mix
  • Vibes Instrumental
  • Jazzy Version
The Download Link is here: Download
Filename: Jomanda.rar Filesize: 42 MB

Friday, 9 October 2009

Serenade - Friend Not A Lover 1993

Mission Records 12 MISH 4

What can I say, I have no info on Serenade but they were produced and mixed by The Ethnic Boyz. The song is written by Marcus Johnson, Mark Beswick and Steve Campbell. The music is published through Passion Music Ltd. which is associated with good independent soul releases.

Sweet Mercy and Bush Beat are House mixes by Eric Powell and Joti Sidhu. They didn't impress then and they leave me cold now. Just my opinion of course?
  • R&B Mix
  • Hip Hop Mix
  • Dub Vocal Mix
  • Sweet Mercy Mix
  • Bush Beat Mix
The Download Link is here: Download
Filename: Serenade.rar Filesize: 45.19 MB

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Blue Zone - Thinking Of His Baby 1987

Rockin' Horse Records RHT 115

Devaney & Morris were indeed a Big Thing. Ian Devaney (Trombone and Guitar) and Andy Morris (Trumpet and Flugelhorn) made a fair impact on the UK dancefloors. Two very competent producers, both contributing keyboards, backing vocals and writing skills.

Blue Zone (simply called Blue Zone in the UK and Europe, Blue Zone UK in the United States) was something extra special. This project introduced the planet to the vocal stylings of 'The Rochdale Lass', Lisa Stansfield, who also contributed lyrics to the songwriting.

After the the singles 'On Fire', 'Thinking About His Baby' and 'Jackie', all released in 1987, the 'Big Thing' album was released in 1988 (all but one of the songs written by Stansfield/Devaney/Morris) and then the trio and label Arista decided to focus on Lisa's solo career. Morris would co-write and co-produce the first three Stansfield albums before departing the trio.

Thinking About His Baby is stark bilge, in my humble opinion of course, it's all about Big Thing on the flip which is an absolute gem of a track. Funny enough, side 1 is engraved RHTX (X scratched out) 115 (A1 scratched out) A2, which might indicate that they intended to change Big Thing to the lead track. Unfortunately, it's marked RHT 115 B1 which doesn't support that argument?

Devaney and Stansfield would eventually marry and now own a music publishing business and continue to write and record together.

  • Thinking About His Baby (Extended)
  • Big Thing (Extended)
The The Download Link is here: Download
Filename: Blue Zone.rar Size: 32.61 MB