Paul Stuart Davies

From Darwen to Detroit | Paul Stuart Davies

by Eric Beardsworth

Soul singer Paul Stuart Davies must be the envy of Motown and Northern Soul fans everywhere. Not only has he met some of the music legends in person, he’s sung and recorded with them in Detroit, America’s famed motor City.

The backing singers on his latest tracks include:

  • Kim Weston, veteran soul singer who memorably duetted with marvin Gaye on the motown classic It Takes Two.
  • Annette Beard and Rosalind Ashford, from the original martha and the Vandellas, who sang on hits such as Heatwave and Jimmy mac and sang for marvin Gaye in pre-Vandellas days.
  • Tobi Legend, whose 1968 hit Time Will Pass You By became an all-time Northern Soul favourite.
  • Pat Lewis, former solo artiste and backing vocalist for legends such as Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklyn, Isaac Hayes and Jackie Wilson.

What’s more, they all sang for him for free! So how does a 35-year-old white guy from Darwen, Lancashire, end up rubbing shoulders and sharing a studio with some of the lady pioneers of black music from the 1960s?

It started about two years ago at a major Northern Soul weekend at a Butlins holiday centre, where Kim Weston, who is now well into her 70s, was belting out the old classics. Paul, who was also on the bill, was thrilled to get the chance to sing It Takes Two with her and kept in touch with her afterwards.

Paul Stuart Davies in the studio

Paul Stuart Davies in studio 1: L-R: Pat Lewis, Paul Stuart Davies, Annette Beard of the Vandellas, producer Damon Martin, Kim Weston, Rosalind Ashford of the Vandellas and Tobi Legend at the United Sound Systems recording studio in Detroit

“Since I started doing these events, I’ve met a lot of the legends and been on stage with them, and I’ve kept in touch with them after the events.”

“By the time I was going to Detroit this year, I’d known them as friends and was able to give them a call, and tell them I was going.

“I wasn’t going to ask them to do backing vocals because by the time you’ve paid for the studio and everything else on top, it can bit overbearing financially. I’d feel bad if I couldn’t pay them so I didn’t mention anything to them.

“It was actually one of the singers, Tobi Legend, who asked if I’d like them to come and put some backing vocals on. I said I didn’t think I could afford them. She said: ‘Don’t be silly, you’re a friend of mine’.”

Paul was especially pleased to recruit Tobi Legend, who also recorded as Tobi Lark. He said: “She’d been off the radar for 25-30 years or so, and no-one had been able to track her down or get her to perform or anything. I found her daughter on Facebook and sent her my version of Time Will Pass You By, her biggest song. She played it to her mum then gave me her mum’s telephone number because her mum liked it so much. Her singing on my track is the first thing she’d done for years.”

Paul had also been in contact with Annette and Rosalind, who are still performing without martha Reeves as The Original Vandellas, and last year they recorded backing vocals via the
Internet for his stripped-down version of marvin Gaye’s classic Wherever I Lay My Hat.

“I’d never been to Detroit and never met them,” Paul said. “By the time I went this year, the Vandellas and me had been speaking over the internet for about a year, and we’d done that recording. It was really nice to finally meet them in person and get into the studio with them.”

Paul and his team gathered at United Sound System, the studio that was second only to Motown in Detroit’s heyday, to put vocals to a ‘lost’ backing track that Paul had discovered. It was originally recorded in Chicago in the 1960s for Billy Butler, but the vocal was never added and it had never been released, remaining in the vaults since then.

He said: “Because Northern Soul is really a UK thing, the Americans don’t really care about all these old tracks they had under their noses. They kind of buried them.

“English Northern Soul DJs have gone over to America over the years and dug out old records that have been in basements, in factories – tracks that people over there weren’t really bothered about. They’ve played them and discovered some gold in there. “I’ve taken this track to a number of Northern Soul DJs and nobody I’ve spoken to has heard it or recognised it.”

Paul has written lyrics to the track and named it Tomorrow’s Love, and to keep true to the Northern Soul ethos it will be released on vinyl only, available to order from Paul’s website

On the B-side is Wherever I Lay My Hat with the two Vandellas. Paul said: “It’s not me trying to claim somebody else’s work. What I wanted was authenticity. So rather than putting a band together and recording a track, I’ve used music that was recorded in America in that
time and made it as authentic as I can.

“I’d been digging around trying to find some more recordings like that. I’ve got a couple more on the go at the moment. Since I recorded this track I’ll be heading back to Detroit in October to record some more.”

Paul, whose day job is as a partner in a music school, describes his trip to Detroit with wife Jamie and two-year-old daughter Charly as “an absolutely amazing experience.”

He said: “Detroit isn’t a very touristy place, so when you go there on a holiday, go into a normal shop, people say ‘Where are you from? Your accent’s so cute.’ In Florida they hear English accents all the time, but in Detroit they don’t.

“What I found nice was how we soul fans put these American artists on a pedestal and we think they’re so cool, but for them it’s almost the opposite way round. You know how much they adored the Beatles when they took off in the States, and they’ve still got this thing about English people. So when the Vandellas say how much they love the chance to sing with the English guy, I’m like…’Really?’ They say ‘Yeah we’ve never sung behind an English guy.’

“They warm to the whole family thing and get on with us on a personal level as well as on a musical professional level. There were days over there when we just went out shopping with them… shopping with the Vandellas!

“Charly first met Kim Weston when she was six months old, and last year she met Pat Lewis at the second big Northern Soul event I did. By the time we went over to Detroit she’d met half of them already. She’s got a lot of famous American nanas now.”

Paul Stuart Davies