Spotlight: Soul II Soul - Club Classics Vol. One

25 years on, still getting people movin’…
Soul II Soul - Club Classics Vol. One

After a successful slew of dub plates (stand-alone singles), the soon-to-be multiple-Grammy-award-winning ‘Club Classics Vol. One’ was released in April 1989 by Virgin Records, to a public insatiably searching for innovative dance grooves.

Borne from the historical model of the reggae sound systems brought to London from the West Indies, the sprawling party collective of Soul II Soul didn’t just DJ and MC; their vision was simultaneously organic and expansive. Songs created and recorded in basements across North London for their crew to dance to were soon to become a pivotal part of pop culture history.

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‘Keep On Movin’’

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Initially based at a studio on Camden Road, the group consisted of a multitude of creatives, models, musicians and fashion designers who had already established a distinct DIY community vibe. Under the charismatic leadership of frontman and former sound engineer Jazzie B, it amalgamated house music, R&B, dub and funk into a post-rave dance meditation and direct precursor to the trip-hop movement. No surprise, considering Jazzie’s right-hand man and mixing partner was legendary figure Nellee Hooper of Bristol’s Wild Bunch, who would later metamorphose into Massive Attack

Opening track ‘Keep On Movin’’ sets the tone for the whole album, celebrating that ecstatic 5am sunrise when you’re piling out of a club and all you want to do it keep the vibe going forever. Even at the time of release there was a halcyon element inherent to this music: it was the heat and high spirits of summer captured on vinyl. Over a slow groove and smooth production, Caron Wheeler’s vocal is like caramel. The call to revel in uniqueness and self-expression on ‘Fairplay’ propels the listener into a grittier, urgent sound. Carried by Rose Windross’ feral, funky vocal, it’s an unequivocal English recording.

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It’s a peerless summer soundtrack, which provided a blueprint for how things could be done: homogenously and uncompromisingly.

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The collective was always message based. ‘Holdin’ On’, with its rough and ready spoken-word moments, provided a unifying sentiment to the masses in the style of Gil Scott-Heron, but despite bringing a singular UK flavour to the table, elements of what was happening across the Atlantic couldn’t help but creep in. ‘African Dance’ fused the sounds of the African continent with the hedonism of New York clubs by way of Detroit and Chicago house. Its sister track ‘Dance’, a breeze of chilled-out beats and flutes, also feels like a new dawn.

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‘Back To Life’

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Originally featured only as an a cappella track, ‘Back To Life’ is dizzyingly infectious and instantly recognisable from its first few bars alone. It continues to fill dancefloors wherever it’s played. Over fat beats and a portly piano riff comes sweeping strings and a heavily harmonised chorus. Independent of its global iconic status, it was a personal record for many, introducing them to their first taste of British R&B while altering the musical landscape forever.

Soul II Soul were at the vanguard of a revival in urban black music in the UK, questionably unprecedented since reggae’s heyday in the ’70s. It’s a peerless summer soundtrack, which provided a blueprint for how things could be done: homogenously and uncompromisingly. It’s an album about community, co-operation, cross-fertilisation, immense optimism and, ultimately, dancing. Never has a record been so well named.

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Words: Anna Wilson

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