Northern Soul 2005 Inlay

Inlay: Information by Paul Lester, Deputy Editor, Uncut:'With 20 Top 40 hits to their credit, M People are without question this country's most successful exponents of pop-dance-soul. But they don't just produce sublimely crafted four-or-five-minute singles. As 'Northern Soul', their 1993 debut album proves, they are eminently capable of sustaining what they do so well over the distance.As befits its title, 'Northern Soul' (no relation to the similarly titled long-player by Wigan band The Verve) is a new take on the old northern soul scene. M People themselves were born out of the modern version of that scene - the northern house movement. They came together in the early -'90s when veteran of the Manchester music scene Mike Pickering decided to form a band.Pickering had already been in two groups: early -'80s leftfield dance outfit from the legendary Factory label Quando Quango, and late -'80s UK proto-house trio T-Coy. In addition, he had signed the likes of James and Happy Mondays to Factory, been a DJ at troubled but influential Manc nightspot the Hacienda and generally been what they call a mover and shaker in Britain's most consistently inventive rock city.By the early -'90s, however, Mike had become disillusioned with the club scene, with life on the underground circuit, doing remixes and DJ-ing. And so he started looking around for likeminds who would welcome his new soul vision and help him to realise, musically, the songs he'd been writing - proper dance songs, only with verses, choruses and actual pop hooks.The first person he recruited was Londoner Paul Heard, who'd grown up immersed in gospel music - he'd played the organ in the Pentecostal church where his father was the pastor - and spent much of the '80s with New Jazz acolytes Working Week. The idea, initially at least, was for Mike and Paul to head a band with a revolving door policy with regard to lead singers, a la Soul II Soul. Then they met Heather Small.By all accounts a shy girl from a West London council estate who'd fronted an act called Hot!House, Heather had a powerful soul voice that revealed a childhood exposed to the likes of Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Nina Simone and Mavis Staples. It wasn't long before she realised she had a future with the Manc stalwart - Heather, like Paul was going to be one of Mike's People. As soon as final member, percussionist (and former plumber) Andrew Lovell aka Shovell, was on board, M People were ready to take flight.And Northern Soul was their first port of call. As debuts by Manchester bands go, it's in spitting distance of Simply Red's Picture Book, Magazine's 'Real Life' and 10cc's '10cc', if not more routinely revered first outings by Joy Division, The Stone Roses and Oasis. 'Excited' is northern soul with a house beat and an uplifting chorus. As the strings, pure Philadelphia International, sweep through the middle of the song, you wonder why it peaked no higher than Number 29 on its release as a single in October 1992. 'How Can I Love You More?', M People's first chart entry (Number 29 in October 1991), is anthemic yet intimate, no mean feat.'Colour My Life', third of four hits from 'Northern Soul' (it got to Number 35 in March 1992) has a plaintive melody, while 'Someday' (Number 38 in April 1992) took Marshall Jefferson's original into previously uncharted soulful dimensions.From the urban hubbub of 'Inner City Cruise' and bright techno-pop clatter of 'It's Your World' to the self-explanatory 'Sexual Freedom' and latterday 'R.E.S.P.E.C.T' that is 'Man Smart', 'Northern Soul' delivers. And although it only reached Number 53 on its release in March 1993 (and Number 26 on its re-release in September 1995, on the back of the success of second album 'Elegant Slumming'), it was an assured debut hinting at even greater things to come.'