SUIT YOURSELF INTERVIEWS THE SIGNATURES
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The Signatures, based in Essex but taking the Northern Soul world by storm, these guys play live, yes LIVE Northern Soul classics and have been lucky enough to welcome and play alongside some of the worlds BIGGEST Northern Soul stars. Suit Yourself caught up with Drummer and Manager Gavin Webb and chat about the bands meteoric rise on the scene, he shares with us the bands vision, the music, the talent and exciting future.
Hi Gavin, can you tell us about The Signatures, the band, band members and how you got together.
The Signatures started in 2009 before I was a member. It emerged from a band called mid life crisis, which was a mod band and they decided to become a Northern Soul covers band. I joined at the end of 2013 and the band was playing a few scooter rallies but not really doing that much. The idea between members then was to get the new line up sorted and to try and press ahead in just doing Northern Soul, however 50% of the set was still made up of more MOD type numbers. Because not much was happening gigging wise I started booking gigs pushing more just in to Northern Soul, as that’s what I wanted to play and why I joined the band. After a while there were then some original members that left as I think they still wanted to play some more MOD type music however other members wanted to focus on just playing the Northern Soul. As I was now booking the gigs, somehow I ended up then managing the band, it wasn’t the original idea as I joined with the intention of just playing drums, however as i was really keen and enjoying it, it just naturally then became my role. With some members leaving I then recruited new members. I recruited musicians that liked and enjoyed Northern Soul rather than musicians that were in to the Northern Soul/ Mod scene. Musicians that wanted to play good music and follow the direction of the band that was being set out, which seems to have worked very well. Two years ago we had vocalist issues mainly through the commitment required so we decided to establish ourselves more as a band of musicians and start to work with various vocalists, so we have guest vocalists with us, which has worked very well. The main vocalists we work with is Stefan Taylor however there are many that now also join us for shows, its added great variety to the performances one which all the musicians enjoy, and has opened up different avenues for the band as a whole.
Are there any band members that were part of the original Northern Soul scene?
No, none of us are old enough to have been part of the Original Northern Soul Scene!
Why Northern Soul? was it a natural progression from a different style of music or was the band formed specifically to recreate the sound?
As mentioned above yes the band changed direction to play just Northern Soul, I guess at the time there were not many bands doing it so there was a market place, although all the members then were into Northern Soul and the Mod scene. For me when I joined, I had been playing in a 10 piece Rhythm & Blues band as well as a function band both of these were great but was more for “Earning a living” as a musician. I had had enough of playing the functions, there’s only so much a man can take playing “Mustang Sally” so I was at the point of wanting to get in a band playing music I enjoyed, which is why I was pleased to get the original opportunity to play Northern Soul as I had always been a fan of the music, not so much the vinyl collecting, DJ’ing and certainly not dancing! For me I like the music, the history of the writers the artists, the studios, the labels and the fact that many of these artists and songs got in most cases a second chance of appreciation from an underground scene otherwise they could have been forgotten numbers. With regards to “specially to recreate the sound” we don’t try and recreate the sound, I think that’s what makes us different to the rest of the Northern Soul cover bands out there, we don’t try and recreate the original sound, we are happy to create our own sound, feel and arrangement and have our own expression to the music, that’s what music is about. The sound created by the originals was their own expression of their music, our covers are our own expression of their music, I like to think we get a good balance between authentic but modern in sound.
Since the birth of The Signatures how has your popularity grown, where did you start playing and where are you playing now?
Before my time and when I first joined the band were mainly playing scooter rallies and some venues around the Essex area, which is where the band is mainly based. Over the last few years it has changed in all directions, Scooter Rallies, Music festivals, Vintage rallies, weddings, 50th Birthday parties, Soul Weekenders it really is varied. This year we have focused on putting our own nights on where we work with some soul clubs and venues doing our “Northern Soul Live” nights. These see a few guest vocalists with us for the evening and really work well, these have been in music venues across the country and have now started being put on in small theater type venues.
We are also still doing scooter rallies. This year sees us at Kelso, Isle of Wight and on the Eastboune band stand the weekend of Brighton Mod Weekender. We are doing Retro fest again this year Newbury and Newark, Music Mania Fest Worthing we’ve just played Skamouth at Vauxhall Holiday Park and later in the year we play Butlins Northern Soul Weekender as well has Warner, Thorsby Hall Soul Weekender so it really is varied and all over the UK. Popularity has certainly grown, however I think we must be one of the hardest working bands out there, every weekend we seem to be in our tour bus and travelling to different parts of the Uk, I guess you get out what you put in, and we certainly put in whilst at the same time have great fun together on stage and off the stage.
Can you tell us a little about the band members and guest artists.
Well I”m the drummer, we then have Ben Pegley who is our guitarist who I played in a band with about 16 years ago for a short period, we were connected on facebook we needed a new guitarist we was advertising so we hooked up and Ben joined. It’s strange as Ben grew up listening to Northern Soul his Sister was and still is a massive Northern Soul fan, So although Ben wasn’t into Northern Soul joining the Signatures has kind off made him remember how dam good the music is. He’s a very talented musician and a great guy. On Bass we have Jay Cresswell again who ive known for many years in fact we grew up together as teenagers and started learning music together, great bass player has plenty of groove and deep bottom end! The Brass section is made up of Ian Peat, Trombone, Sean Canning on Trumpet and Elli Warren on Sax. These guys have worked as a unit on many projects in the past. I was playing in a function band with Elli in the early days of me joining The Signatures. The brass section then with The Signatures were professional dep musicians, first class guys but we needed to establish a more permanent section so we could rehearse together and become a tighter unit. Elli introduced me to Ian and Sean who joined and then Elli followed. These guys had never really been in to Northern Soul, however are great musicians and really enjoy the music now. All three of them have purchased the Northern Soul compilations from Asda and I guess that’s about as far as their Northern Soul collection goes, ha ha..! But all of them really appreciate the greatness of the numbers. We then have Sharon Creates on Backing vocals and the Tambourine, Sharon also does a lot behind the scenes with running the band and sorts all our logistics out, I’m also very lucky that within the next few months she will become my wife, so The Signatures has become very much part of her life. When then have the youngest and newest member to the Band, Little Gary Cunningham. Our previous Hammond and Keys player Cam was really in to the Northern Soul scene, doing all the allnighters regularly and really did know his music. He left in March due to other musical commitments and we found Gary who joined and had to learn a whole set very quickly. Gary is only 19 years old and a great musician and now discovering Northern Soul. When he’s on stage the music just takes over him. Being only 4’ high and the youngest in the band he really does get some stick from the band, however does really give it back he’s been a great addition to the band.
With Guest vocalist we mainly work with Stefan Taylor, who is originally from Leicester although now lives in London a very talented young guy with an exceptional vocal range. Stefan’s dad used to DJ Northern Soul around the Leicester area back in the day, so Northern Soul was something that Stefan grew up with. Stefan is currently working on some original music which is fairly Northern Soul based type vibe, he’s also been working on some numbers for Tommy Hunt, some original numbers that Tommy has never released, should be great when these are done and released. We have also done some work with Paul Stuart Davies from Darwen. I first connected with Paul over a year ago and then we got involved in The Northern Soul Survivors project with him. We recorded the backing track for the classic “Do I Love you” which then went up to Skegness last year where Paul managed to get Dean Parish, Pat Lewis, Chris Clarke, Tommy Hunt, Sidney Barns, himself and another Uk singer on the scene Johnny Boy to do the vocals on the track. It worked great and was released a few months ago on vinyl to raise money for The Jon Bates appeal, Paul’s been a regular at the Skegness weekender for a few years and has worked with too many original artists to list. We have also done some shows with Miss Bobbie Shepherd a great female vocalist from Essex she joins us on a few more shows over the next few months, incredible version of Wade in the water. Dani Clay is another female vocalist we worked with for a while however she’s fairly committed with The band The Style Councilors now (well worth seeing). Johnny Boy another regular on Skegness and on the scene we have done only one gig with him but hope to do some more with in the future. We support March of the Mods every year which has events all over the country through March raising funds for Teenage Cancer trust for the last two years we have taken a young girl who was only 13 when we first took her with us, she’s 14 now Harriett Lamourex, loves real soul music and really now loves Northern Soul, its great to see someone so young in to the music although she’s only ever done the Teenage Cancer Trust gigs with us, as she gets a little older I can see her starting to come out with us more.
Have you been able to play with any Northern soul legends?
Yes we have, we have recently done some shows with Mr Tommy Hunt with a few more booked for this year and then when we arrive to play The Northern Soul Survivors weekend at Butlins Skegness in September. We will be the backing band for Dean Parrish, Tommy Hunt, Brenda Holloway and for her first ever UK live appearance Tobi Legend, so that’s all very exciting. We have also been working with Tommy in the studios recently on some new recordings for him and we start recording a new track for Dean Parrish fairly soon as well. As well as being blessed with all the above there’s a few other Northern Soul legends that we are currently discussing regarding live shows with us for 2018, so all very exciting and for us exactly what as a band we wanted to achieve.
Have you had the pleasure of meeting any of the original DJ's that played in the original clubs (Wigan, Stafford etc)?
I’m going to have to be very careful answering this question. We have yes, some of which we’ve been snubbed by, they don’t seem to appreciate the “Live” aspect or our approach to our Northern Soul nights which is fine. (I won’t mention their names!) although this was maybe in our earlier days. Two DJ’s we’ve always enjoyed working with at Retro Fest is Derek Mead and Martin Fuggles from the original Ricky Tick Club, and we are just about to do some events with Russ Winstanley from Wigan Casino. When we do our “Northern Soul Live” nights we tend to try and use DJ’s from local soul or scooter clubs. There are enough Northern Soul events out there where the night is focused on the DJ, I think with our events it’s nice to bring others in that are not big names but like us have a passion for playing their Northern Soul, we don’t have requirements that they have to play from original vinyl only, play from whatever vinyl you like as long as you play good tunes and give the crowd a good vibe.
Can you give us 10 of your current playlist?
From the bands set list:
In Love- Tony Galla
It really hurts me girl- The Carstairs
Moving on a groove- Barbara Lyn
Turning my heart beat up- MPV’s
Don’t Pretend- The Belles
Wade in the water- Marlena Shaw
The Night- Franki Valli
Right Track- Billy Butler
Work Song- Tommy Hunt
I need you- Uknown Accetate
Do I love you (indeed I do)- Frank Wilson----Has to be done!!!
Can you tell us two favourite stories of the band playing.
Our trip to Hamburg. We got asked by a venue in Hamburg if we would go and play there, they were doing a Northern Soul weekend. Great stuff we thought it was a split deal of not very much, and a percentage of the door and our accommodation paid for. Sounds good, so we hired a tour bus full leather the lot. To fund the weekend (as all our travel and tour bus had to be paid in advance) we did a gig in Southend on the Saturday night and after the gig headed straight off to Dover to travel through the night to get to Hamburg for the morning to get some sleep do the gig on the Sunday night (its was a bank holiday in Germany) So we finished the gig in Southend and headed off. We got to Hamburg early afternoon all totally knackered, checked in the hotel which was basic but okay. Headed of for the venue, which was smaller than we thought but nice. The owners then did a massive BBQ with a full table of other food the spread was amazing. We set up and sound checked, the DJ arrived all good. The doors opened……and all 17 people arrived. We played our set to all 17, finished the set went back to the green room to be greeted to more lovely food and a bottle of tequila, we drank that went back to the hotel got up early in the morning to drive all the way home. We basically went all the way to Hamburg for a great BBQ which with the door split deal, cost us a fortune! However we as a band did have a great laugh and spending that much time in a tour bus together you really get to know your band mates, which considering now we spend most weekends in a tour bus, despite it costing us a fortune for that gig it was probably good footings for us being able to spend so much time together now travelling.
Just a few weeks ago we had the pleasure of spending the week with Tommy Hunt. When I say spent the week I personally did spend the week as he stayed at my house. He was down at the studios recording his vocals for one of his numbers we have recently recorded to release with him, as well as filming a documentary with him. Now remember Tommy is nearly 84 years old, so it was like looking after your grandad for the week and dragging him to work, I say dragging him actually he was dragging me. Tommy may be nearly 84 but his passion for his music is incredible and boy did he work that week, we couldn’t get him out of the studio. On the Thursday evening myself and the producer, Mark Topham were totally shattered it was 2am in the morning and we were both totally done, not Tommy he was still full of energy and wanting to do the take again, he’s a night owl for sure! The stories Tommy can tell you about the music industry, the people he’s work with and his life stories is incredible. The way he did his vocal arrangements was real old school, you don’t get artists working like this anymore it was a total pleasure to see and have the opportunity to work with him, everyone at the studio was blown away by Tommy Hunt, what a character and what a lovely man. His autobiography is well worth the read. It will be a week I will personally never forget, very inspirational, we had a great laugh together and I can certainly say my friend is Tommy Hunt.
Are you currently signed to a label? Where would a Signatures fan buy your music and merchandise?
For my day job I’m part of a Music & Entertainments company, Catman Boogie Music & Entertainments and we have our own recording studio complex, which is a commercial studio and does a lot of work for the big labels such as Warner, Universal etc with many artists that currently chart. So although The Signatures is not as such signed to a label it has quite a bit of resources available to it and many of the musicians in The Signatures also do other sessions within the studio, so The Signatures have become a bit of a studio house band in a strange way. Despite having the studio available, The Signatures hasn’t really recorded that much to date, as The Signatures it’s really been just establishing itself as a live unit. We are just about to start recording more and as mentioned have recorded some tracks with Tommy Hunt recently, discussing some recordings with other artists and we have been recording for Stefan Taylor. The plan is to start releasing a lot more material very soon on vinyl as well as digital formats which will be released through the Catman Boogie label. All current and future recordings/merchandise will always be available through The Signatures website
As your popularity has grown have you found yourselves playing in places that you never expected?
I don’t think never expected, we have all worked really hard to achieve what we have achieved, we have never and still take nothing for granted. For me when I first started with the band I wanted to play Skegness backing the orginal artists that’s the gig I looked at that I wanted to play, and this year sees us playing it. When we got the call from Russ Winstanley asking us for sure I wasn’t expecting it, however was delighted that our hard work and vision had paid off. I never know what to expect next with The Signatures but just keep enjoying doing what we do and playing to the people we play to.
Do you personally have a few Northern soul favourites.
Personally yes I have a couple of favorites, probably not the most exciting numbers or ones that are that rare but my few personal ones are 1) Turning My Heart Beat up, MPV’s- I just love playing drums to this number, when that chorus comes in I just let rip and loose myself! 2) It really Hurts me girl- The Carstairs just a great written song, just makes me turn up the volume. And then I guess 3) Don’t Pretend- The Belles, actually thinking about it there’s to many favorites….!!
Do you end your sets with one of the big three from the old days?, Long after tonight is all over, I'm on my way, Time will pass you by?
We have never even learnt these numbers, so no we have never ended the set with them, we tend to end the set with “Turning My Heart Beat up” by the MPV’s as it’s a great number to just let loose and finish the set on. However we are looking forward to being able to say we have played I’m on my way with Dean Parrish and Time will pass you by with Tobi Legend which we will achieve when we back them at Skegness this year. It’s a shame we will never get the opportunity to do Long after the night is over with Jimmy Ruffin, we could have then said we’ve played the original big three with the original artists, however two out of three isn’t bad going, so we better now getting learning them.
Do you have warm up DJ's before you play and after?
As I said before we tend to use local DJ’s from soul clubs or scooter clubs when we do our Northern Soul Live nights, I don’t like to look at them as warm up DJ’s they play an important part of the whole evening. They tend to start the night off, play whilst we have a break and then finish off. It’s all team work to make the night a great enjoyable evening out.
What exciting plans do you have for the band in the future?
Its really a case of just carrying on doing what we are doing and see where we go. Playing with many of the original artists we are now playing with and some we are discussing future work with as well as the recording side of things we are starting, I don’t think we could think of anything more exciting for the future it’s pretty much all happening for us now, although we still have a lot of hard work to do. Who knows what the future brings? I would like to start playing across Europe and if Jools Holland is reading I’m up for a slot on the show….!
And lastly, where can we hear The Signatures play over the forthcoming months?
All dates are on our website www.thesignatures.co.uk