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Edwin Starr Band
Interview With Angelo Starr
Angelo, brother of the late Edwin Starr, and the Edwin Starr Band (‘The Team’) have been keeping the faith since 1982. Their reputation for consistently outstanding live performance is the foundation of their success, and their long time love affair with soul music has brought in legendary artists to perform with them.
They were originally put together by Clive 'J.J.' Hare and Kevin Kendall. The band then approached vocalist Clem Curtis with a view to working together. Clem at that time did not need a band but he had a friend who did. Enter the great Motown artist Edwin Starr.
Since then The Team has been on the road, and there are few other bands with such extensive performing experience. They have performed in front of 40,000 at V Festival, and even had centre stage for just twenty-three guests in the dining room of a media and premiership football tycoon. No names mentioned there then! They have sung in a field near Aachen full of scooterists. and in a lavish top London hotel for the Royal Family. It doesn't matter to this band, which I have had the privilege of seeing a few times myself, whether in session for Capital Radio or on ‘The Jonathan Ross Show’. The attitude is always the same - “We came here to party!” For whoever, whenever, wherever!
The Team have over the years been joined onstage by the likes of the Temptations, Ben E. King, Barry White or Boy George to name but a few. While Edwin was still with us they were showered with all kinds of awards by institutions like ‘Blues and Soul Magazine’, whose readership for two consecutive years voted them UK Live Act Of The Year, and, alongside James Brown and Billy Paul, have twice been honoured at the prestigious European Diamond Awards for Live Music.
Edwin passed away in April 2003, which was a sad loss to not just the scooter and Northern Soul Scene but to the whole music industry. Today we find Angelo, incidentally an original member of The Team, keeping the faith and who has taken over on lead vocals to great acclaim. Pennyblackmusic spoke to him about Edwin and an upcoming celebration at the Jazz Café in London on April 2nd.
PB: It is hard to think that it is ten years since the sad time in 2003 when Edwin left us. What made you decide back then to carry on the way you have and with what Edwin was doing?
AS: Well, it is really strange because as you can imagine we had been performing with Edwin for so many years that that could have been a point when we all said, “Okay, I guess that's it,” and decided to leave it.
Fortunately, however, Edwin had a website which was running and continues to run, and through the website, as well as condolences, there were a lot of requests that we would continue based on the fact that people had always enjoyed seeing the live shows that that included. Initially we approached that with a little bit of reservation because with thought that maybe people were just being kind or to a lesser extent didn’t know whether it was our desire to go on, but the most important thing is that we listened to their requests and we decided to give it a go and see what happened.
The one thing that we knew for sure was that if they didn't like what we were doing they would soon let us know, and fortunately ten years later we're still going.
PB: You have also had your own musical career outside The Team, haven’t you? What else have you done alongside play with The Team?
AS : Well, I've always been involved in the music industry in one capacity or another. In fact, it's been a somewhat varied journey for me because different people will know of me with different hats on. I was an electrical engineer once upon a time, and in addition to that I was a recording engineer and was associated with a few successful projects that people might know. I was the recording engineer on Ronny Jordan’s first album, and I have worked as a musician for people like Alexander O'Neal. I played guitar for him for twelve years. I have co-written songs with Chaka Khan and Gwen McCrae, Shola Ama, Another Level, and most recently UK R&B/soul singer Lemar.
So, those are people that I have worked with separately, but even during those times I was always working with Edwin Starr and The Team. That was always home for me, so I was kind of on loan to other people (Laughs), but would always manage to come home and be associated with Edwin and The Team as much as I could.
PB: You are from Detroit originally. Are you and your family settled in England?
AS: Yes, I am. I did the one foot across the Atlantic thing for a while, and I think the younger you are then perhaps the easier it is to straddle those two things, and eventually it made sense to be here as well after Edwin initially requested it. We were doing some writing for an album and other projects at the time, and he asked if I could stay on afterwards. And not on that first occasion but on a subsequent occasion I decided to do so, and that led me to staying in the UK.
PB: How hard a decision was it to make to continue with Edwin's work, bearing in mind you have your own output?
AS: It was twofold. In one respect it was a very difficult decision in that I had never tried to be Edwin when he was alive, and I really didn't want to be perceived as if I was trying to be him in his absence. In that respect it was very difficult. But on the other hand it was also very natural.
We had always discussed the fact even before Edwin’s death that it was about the music more than any of us as individuals, and I think that was the point when it became very obvious that it was very much about that, as people wanted us to continue so that they could continue to hear the music that they love being played in a particular way with authenticity and with soul, if you forgive my pun. They wanted to hear it done as it should be, and not that someone would come along and start to perform it as a tribute act sort of thing. They wanted to hear it as it was.
And so with that in mind we decided to give it a go and see how it faired. We were apprehensive in the beginning, of course, because we knew it would feel strange doing everything that felt familiar, but without the familiarity of Edwin there leading the charge. One of the things that we soon realised, however, is that Edwin was still there with us all on stage every time we set foot on stage. Everything he had ever taught us, and everything he had allowed us to see, by being there along with him were the things we needed to know to be able to continue to do it as it should be done.
PB: What was it like and how difficult was it to get up on stage and do the first gigs after he died?
AS: It was very, very tentative because one of the requests had come from a very, very significant market for him which was one of the scooter clubs. They weren't just casual Edwin Starr friends or fans. They were people who knew his music very well and had been very supportive of the band over the years, so for us to be requested to perform before them was at one level a great accolade, but it was also a great pressure because we knew that we couldn't just skate through it. Not that we would have anyway! We were very aware of the fact though that it would require that we were able to still perform at a level that they were accustomed to even without Edwin there. But we decided to do it, and that turned out to be the first step in a journey that has continued for ten years.
PB: Have you encountered any kind of negativity in you going on?
AS: We have, but I'm glad to say we haven't actually experienced that very much. I hope that the reason is that right from the very beginning, rather than draft in someone to replace Edwin, we decided to carry on from within. In other words, when people came to us they wouldn't see something that was unfamiliar to them. They would come to the show. Obviously Edwin wasn't there, but everything else they would see was familiar. We had the same musicians, and the same team around us from our drivers to our vocalists to our percussionists.
One of things that that did was reassure people that what we were trying to do was not to capitalise on Edwin's departure, but we were actually trying to continue with some respect for it and keep its authenticity. I think they recognised that. Even now people who perhaps haven't seen us in a year or two will ask if a certain musician is still there, and I will gladly say, “Yes they are.”
And that's definitely a great thing to be able to do because people know what they can expect when they come to see The Team. It would be somehow short of that if they came and saw everything different, but still heard the same music. That wouldn't be the same. I think it's something about the legacy and the continuity that actually not only justifies the choices we've made of going on, but it also legitimises it to the people who come to see it as well.
PB: To return to you, Angelo, do you find it hard to do the touring as The Team as well as trying to generate new material and do your own thing?
AS: Well, truthfully, no and I'll tell you the reason why. It's because it's never really been two separate things for me. It's always been about being in the entertainment industry, and I fortunately grew up in a time when you were less selective about what that entailed. If you grew up and what was popular at the time was rock and roll, and you were in a situation where you needed to do rock and roll, then you did some rock and roll. If you were in a situation where you needed to incorporate something classical, then you needed to get some of that in your doctor’s bag as well.
PB: Is it the same as going down the soul route?
AS: Oh, yeah! The soul route was inherent within me because growing up in and around Detroit, Michigan, and having Motown and all the other music that was around at that time, it was very hard not to have that experience without any of that influence.
And I am very grateful from it. People have always asked me what is soul music? What is that kind of Motown sound? And I've always felt that it was the kind of music at the time that made you feel something. And I know that sounds very simplistic ,but sometimes when you think about it you hear some of the old soul songs, and you can tell people where you were when it came out, or when you bought that record, or who you were with at the time. It evokes some kind of emotion, and it is a little less passive than some of the music that we have experienced more recently. That is not to say that it is bad music. It is just that it evokes a different emotion than what was once there.
PB: Northern Soul takes a bit of explaining to people that have never experienced it. What was your reaction to the whole Northern scene with all us English folk still dancing around to old 60’s soul and stuff?
AS: I loved it then and I love it now. And the reason is because it has longevity for one thing, but it has also an authenticity built into it and it comes from somewhere real. It's not manufactured. Some of the Northern Soul musicians didn't know to this day how popular they would become or how popular they were, and I think the reason their material has survived so well is that it was created from a place of sincerity.
People were singing about things that they felt and believed in, that they experienced. and those feelings are universal and will last forever. There will always be someone who falls in love for the first time, and there will always be someone who has their heart broken. There will always be someone who will always want to let themselves go and have a good time.
As long as you're dealing with those common kind of universal themes, people will be able to relate to it, and not only those people that were there when those songs came out, but people that have come across those songs much later on and decided they could relate to it too.
PB: Did Edwin and you know there was such a big demand and such a big interest in the Northern Soul movement before you came here?
AS: No, I didn't but Edwin certainly did. When I was in the States I would speak to him, and he was always very complimentary about the market here and the music scene here, and he was always very mindful that people knew that song, and where it was recorded, and what musicians were on it and the back story to it, and I think when people take the time to develop that kind of interest in something you as an artist feel that more inclined to give everything that you have in order that they can have the truth of what that music, that song, that situation was really about.
Fortunately through Edwin and others that we had the chance to work with - Chuck Jackson, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Mary Wilson from the Supremes, Freda Payne, Percy Sledge, the list kind of goes on.- we got a chance to experience first hand what those artists were doing and what they were trying to say.
It has been a very good journey for me and The Team, and a great education. We do consider ourselves fortunate because some of the people we have worked with such as Levi Stubbs from the Four Tops and Marvin Gaye, who we did a tour with in the UK, have gone now. Unfortunately we have a tendency to lose people quicker than we would like in the music indsutry. But the music fortunately lives on, and that's what allows us to keep our heads up and to keep trying to carry the bad times.
PB: What’s your favourite Edwin track, Angelo?
AS: That is very difficult. I mean how long is a piece of string? I do have lots of favourites for different reasons, I do like 'I Have Faith in You', but particularly because it allowed the sensitivity in Edwin's voice to be heard as well as the brashness that he is more known for with 'War' of course and 'Twenty Five Miles'. It allowed his voice to shine through, and in fact it's one of the songs that we've started to do a little more of in the live shows.
PB: Whose idea was it to set up the gig at the Jazz Cafe?
AS: It was Lillian Kyle, who was my brother's long standing manager and who continues to manage The Team. We knew that it was a point that we should do something, not only to commemorate ten years that Edwin had passed ,but also because we were still enjoying the music and still looking to move it forward as well.
As you go further in time, people’s individual interests can sometimes
change with the other demands on their lives, but while we are at a point where we are still able to commit to the direction that we have it seemed like a great point to be able to say thank you to all the friends and fans that have supported us these past ten years, and indeed all the years before that, and for us to be able to stop and take a little stock of where we've arrived at, and where we would like to still go.
It seemed like a good time to do something. We actually to quite honest considered doing something at another venue, but then we stepped back and put ourselves into the perspective of what Edwin wanted and loved, and he liked the fact that you could see and touch the people at the Jazz Cafe, and that is part of the reason why it was our decision to do it as we have. Some people mistakenly believe that the best gigs are the biggest. The best ones are the ones where everyone in the house gets the chance to feel like it was for them.
PB: Thank you.
The Edwin Starr Band will play the Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, London, NW1. 7PG on the 2nd April.
Commenting On: Interview With Angelo Starr - Edwin Starr Band
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21748 Posted By: Steven Turner (Fareham)
Went to see Edwin when I was 18 at redcar in the north east ! Thought I'd struck gold and could not believe that this soul legend was here in the uk I I got to see him . Sat and talked for a few moments and got a picture with him & still have and treasure it . I travelled a few miles and got to see a true soul hero ,
Remember forever ,
With a gig coming up at the Jazz Cafe in London to commemorate the tenth anniversary of his death, Dave Goodwin speaks to long-term member Angelo Starr about his decision to take over as front man from his late brother in seminal soul outfit, the Edwin Starr Band
Edwin Starr Band:Jazz Cafe, London, 2/4/2013
Dave Goodwin at the Jazz Cafe in London watches the Edwin Starr Band play a fantastic show with an arsenal of special guests to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Edwin's death
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