When I was about 19, a highlight of my week was a club called Creation, organised by a couple of my university friends, where the music policy was an intriguing blend of punk, indie, soul and funk, with a smattering of the house and hip-hop tracks that were still considered pretty left-field at the time. Part of the fun was identifying the unexpected meeting points: the yearning melancholy in so many soul tracks; the fact that it didn’t feel wrong to dance to white-boy jangle.
It was the first time I’d properly encountered the genre known as Northern Soul – essentially obscure American soul records, mostly from Detroit and Chicago, that had been rediscovered in the late 1960s by club DJs in Northern England (and, if we are to believe the so-so Gervais/Merchant flick Cemetery Junction, had made it to Reading by 1973). One of my favourite tracks was ‘Nine Times Out Of Ten’ by Muriel Day, a track that managed to sound like both ‘The Boy From New York City’ by Darts and the theme from Sesame Street, but still maintain a certain cool. I knew nothing about Ms Day, but then I knew nothing about Frank Wilson, Tobi Legend, Judy Street or most of the other performers.
Then, a few weeks ago, I was rooting around a few sites about the music scene in Ireland in the 60s and 70s, and noted that in 1969 a singer named Muriel Day was the first performer from Northern Ireland to represent the Republic at the Eurovision Song Contest. I chuckled at the coincidence, but then realised that this was in fact the same woman. The singer I’d assumed had been plucked from the canteen at the Ford factory in Detroit was in fact a native of Newtownards, County Down. A tiny fragment of my youth crumbled to dust. But it’s still a great tune. I think.
Actually, I only came upon the stuff about Muriel because of a passing reference in a radio programme to the Miami Showband massacre. This took place in 1975, and I have very hazy memories of news reports about the atrocity. Essentially, UVF members disguised as soldiers stopped the band’s minibus, intending to plant a bomb on it and frame them as terrorists. The bomb exploded prematurely, killing two of the UVF men, and their colleagues opened fire, killing three of the musicians.
What I didn’t really know was what the Miami Showband sounded like. I found a few audio clips of them from the 60s and 70s, but all the footage seemed to be from their later, post-tragedy incarnations. Like, er, this...
There’s so much to love: the lyrics; the glasses; the vocoder; the scat singing; the syndrum solos. But above all, it’s the choreography that’s so adorable: the shrugging; the twirls; the moment at about 1:10 when the girls respond to the line about getting down with a decorous squat.
Maybe, somewhere in a parallel musical universe, a pair of DJs are introducing this undiscovered gem to a bunch of innocent 19-year-olds. Or maybe not.