ALTHOUGH I was slightly disappointed not to get the chance to shake my rump, show off some bling and get ‘papped’ on the red carpet, the return to Liverpool of the MOBO Awards last week was a healthy reminder of the great tradition of black music that runs through our city’s heritage.
As a recent discussion at the Museum of Liverpool highlighted, Merseyside’s love, support and continued nurturing of black music continues to enliven our cultural output, with new faces such as Esco Williams, Kaast and Bang On continuing a rich tradition.
On the face of it, this propensity of urban, grime, hip hop and RnB acts might surprise some people still happy to pigeonhole Liverpool as the spiritual home of four white lads with guitars.
But as massive a shadow as The Beatles cast over the city’s music scene, it’s worth remembering what an incredible debt their early career owed to the countless soul acts whose songs they covered and material they consumed into their incredible musical stew.
A recent news report made great play of how Liverpool has had a large proportion of the UK’s million selling singles. So just why does Liverpool lead the way?
One reason that is often convincingly put forward is Liverpool’s close transatlantic trade link with America. Often referred to as the ‘Cunard Yank’ theory, after the young Merseyside men who traversed the ocean on US merchant ships, this well worn myth supports the notion that Liverpool was chock full of rare RnB records which had been brought back from the States by these keen Scouse music lovers.
Although various writers down the years have sought to disprove this, it’s hard not to agree with legendary Eric’s DJ Roger Eagle when he said Liverpool was “the most American of English cities”.
The Beatles themselves were clear about where their influences had come from. John Lennon: “Liverpool is cosmopolitan. It’s where the sailors would come home on the ships with the blues records from America...We were hearing old funky blues records in Liverpool that people across Britain or Europe had never heard about.”
Even going back to the jazz age, Liverpool has eagerly accepted whatever sounds have come across ‘the pond’. The Merseysippi Jazz Band, still going after 60 years, was the first band to play The Cavern, while Liverpool’s love of Country and Western also manifested itself in the early sound of The Beatles.
Liverpool’s absorption of black music, is not only present in The Beatles’ love of Motown – check out the famous picture of Toxteth’s Derry Wilkie, of the Seniors, the son of a Caribbean sailor, who fronted the first Merseybeat band to play in Hamburg. Part of the same scene were The Chants, a group of Ghanaian descent who supported the Fab Four, were signed by Brian Epstein, and whose vocal harmonies were the envy of nearly all there white peers.
One of The Chants was Eddie Amoo, who later formed The Real Thing, the band who can really lay claim to being Liverpool’s first black pop stars. If you’ve ever been to a wedding you’ve probably danced to their immortal 1976 number one hit You To Me Are Everything, a song so good it even survived a 1991 cover by Sonia.
What is clear is that if the MOBO Awards were looking for an ideal home for their celebration of music of black origin (isn’t that all music?) they couldn’t have picked a better destination than Liverpool.