Sidney Barnes at The Dome
March 30th 2001 - by David Flynn
What a great man. Right from my initial greetings via a telephone call, I got the impression that Sidney Barnes was a warm, kind, humble, helpful and very knowledgeable guyand when we finally met, my thoughts were indeed correct! He's still got a great singing voice, by the way!
I had the pleasure of meeting Sidney Alexander Barnes at the Capitol Soul Club's home venue, The Dome in Tufnell Park, North London just last night, Friday 30th March 2001. This date was also to be his premier performance on UK soil, in front of up to 500 soul fans, who gave him the kinda of welcome on stage the Northern Soul scene should be proud of.
Sidney had suddenly found himself in "soul heaven" (his words!) at The Dome! He was amazed to be confronted by so many fans, all eager for an autograph, mostly to be scribed onto prize possession record labels and their sleeves. Earlier on that day, Sidney had spent time at Ian Levine's house amongst a few collectors, and indeed they also paid a visit to Ian's studio to cut a few tracks well it's not everyday Sidney's in town! From his arrival at the club at 10pm until he left near the end of the soul night in the early hours of the morning, he was busy reminiscing about songs, acts, labels and fellow writers, being prompted by the steady flow of fans jogging his memory.
Some of the discs presented to him to sign, Sidney hadn't seen for over 30 years! It brought a smile to my face when I got him to autograph one of my favourite tracks, The Sparkels', "Try Love" on the Old Town label, as he told me that he couldn't actually recall having ever seen a copy before! To our amusement, within a few seconds two more copies of said disc arrived in search of his signature - like a bus really you don't see one for ages and then three come along! Needless to say he was well and truly gob-smacked, as we were too when he started to sing the song!
At 12.15 he took to the stage in order to thank the crowd en masse and to give us all a treat, having agreed to sing along with one of his most famous Northern Soul classics, "You'll always be in style". This was done without any rehearsal, I might add, after telling C.S.C. co-promoter Matt Jahans that he wasn't sure if he could remember all the words, but he'd give it his best shot! A brief intro by C.S.C. co-promoter Irish Greg, Sidney took charge of the microphone. He passed on his heart felt thanks to the crowd, and also took the opportunity to call up on stage a couple of his friends to introduce to the crowd two of The Flirtations, Viola Billups and Ernestine Pearce, for whom he had written and produced discs during the 60's! So, on his cue of "hit it" I started the disc off for him to sing over - and he was with it all the way, which came over superbly. Everyone agreed that with a stage presence and voice like his, it is truly amazing that he had never pursued the singing part of his career further. I believe that due to the fun he had and the enthusiastic reception and reaction he received, he agreed to perform one more time! So, after a few more discs from the night's special guest deejay, Adey Croasdell of the UK's premier vintage soul reissue label Kent Records, Sidney was back on stage! This time he performed his Blue Cat single, "I hurt on the other side", and once again it was a faultless performance that was appreciated by all. Please note his performance was completely unplanned, unrehearsed and unpaid and was done for the love of the music.
Sidney is now back in the States and is planning on returning to the UK, this time with a full stage show..fingers crossed! He also wrote these kind words which I'd like to share with you, "It took me a few days to come down from that cloud you guy's had me on. Never in my wildest dream did I imagine that you guy's were that much into the music. Not only that but you guy's are such nice people and so dedicated to the music. Again I thank you. That night at the Dome was by far the highlight of my trip everybody was so great and so interested in my work. "
I now urge you to visit Sidney's very own web-site, which contains plenty of other essential information, including details of how to obtain his recent CD compilation of his material from across the decades go to www.sidneybarnes.com
Later that evening Sidney kindly agreed to an interview with me. He had many stories to tell, and he amazed me with his many accurate recollections of people and events that took place not far short of forty years ago!
Sidney, the BMI publishers list your full name as Sidney Alexander Barnes is that correct, and where in the States do you hail from?
Yeah, that's my full name, and I'm originally from Welch, West Virginia in '41, although I now live in Chicago.
I've listed out over 200 published songs from you both solo and with various writing partners including George Kerr and J.J.Jackson, amongst others was writing songs the career you wanted to pursue?
Initially, I was in several Junior High and High School bands, along with other school mates, including a Marvin Gaye, Van McCoy and Herb Feimster (Peaches & Herb), which gave me a taste of show business, but I was singed by Ray Gordy (Raynoma Berry's wife at the time) to Jobete Publishing as a writer (along with George Kerr), as she felt I was stronger at that, rather than singing.
The first release I've found by you was on the Gemini label, "I'm satisfied" / "Wait" from '61, what can you recall about that label, and was this indeed your first published disc?
That's right, it was. I can't recall who owned the label, but it was based in Newark, New Jersey, where we had moved in order to pursue my musical career as it was nearer to New York.
You then had your material released by yourself in the group The Serenaders in '63. Who were in the group and why was there no other release apart form the one on Riverside and Motown (V.I.P.)?
George Kerr, Timothy Wilson and Howard Curry, and quite simply we broke up to become writers, as Riverside folded and Ray thought our strength lay in song writing. I'm still in touch with George, but haven't seen Howard for many years.
So, this is when you joined the Jobete Publishing crew?
Yeah, right at the beginning of them setting up their New York office. We'd often fly back and forth to Detroit as we also produced the material, and were also their talent scouts for the New York office.
I'm lucky enough to own an original Jobete Music Publisher's acetate of one of your songs, "Safety zone", and research shows that it is credited as being written by yourself along with Luke Gross and George Kerr. Can you recall this song?
Wow, where did you get that? (Started to sing it to me after very little prompting!) Luke tended to start off a song and George and I would finish it off. He was a real wild child, haven't seen him for years. In all we gave Motown almost 100 acetates of potential songs for their artists.
Speaking of Jobete acetates, can you recall a track called "Say, say baby" which you wrote which was recorded (unissued) by a group called, The Creations?
Yeah, we wrote that originally for ourselves (The Serenaders), but never got round to doing it. I've never heard The Creations version; can you put that on a tape for me?
Will be my pleasure. There's also another current Northern Soul in-demand 45 by The Sparkels on the Old Town label, "Try love just one more time". Any memories of that song?
I haven't seen a copy for years until you showed me yours! (Starts to sing it!) I noticed that they spelt George's surname wrong on the label, though! (Incorrectly spelt as Cerr and not Kerr). I know Motown cut it on another artist, but I don't know whom.
The mid 60's seemed to be quite a productive time for you, both as an artist and as a writer. You gave us two all-time Northern Soul classics during this time singing "You'll always be in style" on Red Bird in 1965, and "I hurt on the other side" on sister label Blue Cat, one year later in 1966. Any stories behind those two releases?
I was looking to record for them and Jeff Barry, the head of A&R at Red Bird brought the songs to me. I really like "You'll always be in style", and really loved singing along with it on stage tonight. I mixed with all the stars on the label at the time, along with Phil Spector as well.
Another acetate question, Sidney, as there's a music publisher's studio acetate over here in the UK of a female vocal version of "You'll always be in style" have any idea whom it may be, as there are no credits on the label?
Sadly no, as I only heard it for the first time earlier today!
With over 200 published songs to your credit, and having worked and recorded on some of the most important soul labels, you must have met some great soul characters in your time?
Oh yeah, I've worked with so many people Herb Abramson, Juggy Murray, Charlie & Inez Foxx, Billy Prophet, Pat Lewis, The Flirtations so many friends.
Herb Abramson owned the Blues Tone label that you had a release on?
Herb is my musical Godfather. I look up to him as a friend and as a human being. He's my biggest influence.
You worked with him at Old Town records as well with The Gypsies?
Yeah, we had a hit with them, "Jerk it". They became The Flirtations, and two of them are here tonight to see me. I really like "Stronger than her love" which they did on Festival records. That's another Northern Soul classic, right?
Sure is! You just mentioned Billy Prophet, who was on Juggy's Sue label. Were they good times at Sue?
For sure, Juggy was a real character, and the first black man to own a large and successful record label. He had an attic room which we used to go and use for writing in. (Starts singing Billy Prophet's "What can I do" after being presented with a copy to autograph).
Can you recall other acts you wrote for there?
Sure, Sandra Phillips, The Soul Sisters and Charlie and Inez Foxx. We'd always be in the studios there with the artists. I really like "You succeeded". (Sandra Philips on Broadway, subsidiary label of Sue)
I mentioned earlier that you have had over 200 songs published, included in which are many bonafide Northern Soul classics I'd like to mention but a few of these can you recall one called "Don't laugh if I cry at your party" by Timiko on Atco?
Timiko Jones, right? Love that song, really pretty track.
Jerry Cook's version of "I hurt on the other side" on Capitol?
I was unaware of that version until today!
"Heart trouble" by The Parliaments on Golden World?
Oh yeah! I loved working with George Clinton. We were roommates and had a real ball! "Heart trouble" is very similar to "I'll bet you" by Theresa Lindsey. Ed Wingate owned Golden World records and would lock us away in a room until we came up with songs! He's a real big guy, and one time I awoke to find him in our room standing over us. He said, "I'm into something I can't shake loose". That was it. He would come up with lines like that and expect us to turn 'em into songs! Pat Lewis sang the finished song. She was very talented I loved her voice.
The flip to the 45 you also wrote, "Let's go together"?
Yeah. (starts to sing it!) When we went into the Golden World studio we didn't have an intro for it, so I hummed one to Mike (Mike Terry), who said, "Yeah, let's do it!" It's based around the only three piano chords I can play!
You've just mentioned Mike Terry can you recall other Golden World personal you worked with? I'm in touch with Dennis Coffey, can you recall him?
Sure, we formed a production company together called, "Geo-Si-Mik" (George Clinton, Sidney Barnes, Mike Terry). Yeah, I can remember Dennis guitar player, right?
That's right. He's been writing his autobiography, which I've helped out with.
Make sure you pass on my regards to Dennis.
No worries. You mentioned Theresa Lindsey's "I'll bet you" earlier?
I must admit I don't really like the song. Do you know a song called "Love hangover" by Jean Carter?
Yes, on Sunflower records?
That's it. I was married to her briefly! What about a girl named Norma Jenkins?
Yes, with her group, The Dolls on Maltese Records.
A very talented girl in my opinion. We first recorded her at the age of 17. She now lives in California, but I haven't been in touch for ages.
Are you still in touch with George Kerr and J.J.Jackson?
I'm gonna call George when I get back home and tell him all about the Northern Soul scene now I've actually experienced it for myself. I don't know where J.J. is as we've lost touch. I hope he's well, though.
So, is this your first visit to the UK, then?
Yes. I've always wanted to come ever since I found out that some of my discs were heralded as classics over here!
How come you're here?
I'm over to promote a CD compilation of my material from across the decades. I'm gonna be on Richard Searling's radio show, and will be in Manchester tomorrow at another Northern Soul gig. (The Howard)
Is your CD available in this country?
You can buy it direct from my web-site. It's got "you'll always be in style" and "I hurt on the other side" on it.
What about this track by The Shalimars, "Stop and get a hold of yourself" on Verve records? (Handing Sidney a page of label scans to sign, featuring said disc)
No, never seen that one! (but starts to sing along though, after a little prompting!)
Final question, what was the average working week in your life like back in the mid 60's?
We'd write songs on Tuesday through to Thursday, and go out and try and get deals on them, Fridays and Saturdays. Sundays and Mondays were our days to chill.
Sidney, it's been a real honour to have you visit our club tonight, and a real privilege to see and hear you perform for us all.
It's been a real pleasure, Dave, and I'd like to come back again and maybe put on a complete show with a few of my friends.
We'll see what we can do!
Sidney does The 100 Club! - June 7th 2001
But a few months ago, March to be precise, Sidney Barnes took to the stage for the first time ever on UK soilat The Dome, in London, home of the infamous Capitol Soul Club! I can still recall Sid stating, "I'll be back!" on that very occasion, and who would have doubted him, as his two numbers he sang that night were delivered in a thoroughly professional and crowd pleasing fashion! What we didn't realise, Sid included, was that his return would be so quick, but I for one am glad, as were the faithful fans who flocked to The 100 Club last night to see both him and the also legendary Hoagy Lands. The two old friends were the headline acts at this year's Cleethorpes' Soul Weekender, which was where they were bound for the very next day after their London show.
Hoagy took to the stage first, stating that the last time he was here was in the very early 60's. It's quite ironic that Hoagy went first, as in the 60's Sid told me recently that he has always been in awe of Hoagy's voice and was always scared to follow him on stage as Hoagy was so good! The five-piece band and two female chorus struck up the notes (and were more than capable at their tasks), and we're off! Hoagy was overwhelmed with the response he received, and treated us to his Spectrum and Laurie recordings. Mid way through his set he started to tell the story of why he gave up singing. It was obviously a very emotional moment for him as he told of a close family bereavement, and how it had changed his life. An amazing hush fell over the whole place during this, and yes, you could have heard a pin dropnot even one clink of a glass was heard as he recited the sorry tale. The following couple of tunes, culminating in his Northern Soul classic, "The next in line" brought the house down, and indeed Hoagy to his knees in a fine tortured soul style! I hope his Cleethorpes performance is as electric and the silence as deafening, if he tells the same story.
Within a handful of minutes of hearing the fading notes of Hoagy's encore of "The next in line", a certain Mr.Barnes sprang onto the stage - I hope I can move like he does when I reach advanced years! Now, right from the start Sid was in total control, strutting up and down in his straw cowboy hat, silk scarf and revealing see through black T-shirt under his dinner suit! His stage presence was mighty, his banter with the crowd perfect and BANG he was straight in with "Talking 'bout a shindig", originally released on Blues Tone way back in '65! He'd won us over that quickly and the crowd responded loudly and enthusiastically throughout his entire set. Next up, one of his Northern anthems from the mighty Red Bird label in '65, "You'll always be in style", after which he quickly thanked the Capitol Soul Club for letting him perform at The Dome the phrase "we're not worthy!" springs to mind! Onwards, and first time out for his own rendition of Billy Prophet's, "What can I do", which Sid co-wrote with J.J.Jackson for Sue records in '66, and by now the little hairs on the back of one's neck are stood to attention! Sid then lays down a couple of Detroit recordings he co-wrote with folk such as George Clinton, delivering his takes on the Golden World label classic's, "I can't shake loose", (Pat Lewis) and, "I'll bet you" (Theresa Lindsey), both featuring some excellent guitar and sax work from the band. Taking in down slightly, Sid then slips into "New York City" (Blues Tone '65), with it's jazzy breaks, which he dwells on superbly, mingling and dancing down on the floor with the crowd, and culminating in some spot on close vocal harmonies with the girls, acapellaclass! It doesn't stop there of course, as next up is his other main Northern biggie, "I hurt on the other side" (Blue Cat '66), which had the crowd dancing and singing along with him, big style! The showman leaves it there and dances away through the crowd, milking the applause en route to the dressing roomonly to be demanded back by the crowd, naturally! His encore is another track he penned with J.J.Jackson way back in '65, yet had never performed himself, The Soul Sisters' Sue classic, "Think about the good times".
The songs he's written are timeless, the guy's a star performer, the man's a living soul legend!