Nicole Willis & The Soul Investigators – Keep Reachin’ Up (2006)

Nicole Willis & The Soul Investigators - Keep Reachin' Up (2006)

Nicole Willis & The Soul Investigators – Keep Reachin’ Up (2006)

Northern Soul from a different kind of North..

I have written about Oldham Street in Manchester before, the street with the highest density of record shops in Britain. Not only does it have the most, it also has the best record shop on the island – so say the votes. It’s called Picadilly Records. One of the things they do is putting a little note with information about the artist and album on every record. Another is releasing a Top 100 Album of the Year chart every January (click here for the 2009 one). When I went to live in Manchester in January 2007, I picked up the Piccadilly Records End of Year Review 2006. In this booklet, Keep Reachin’ Up is praised as the no. 1 soul/funk record of the year, and also scores no. 4. on the all-over top 100 list – a list which comprises mainly of indie album. I still have the booklet here, it reads:

“With a sound reminiscent of a 1960s Motown floor stomper, Brooklyn-born soulstress Nicole Willis and the New Orlean-ized Helsinki funk outfit The Soul Investigators first came to everyone’s attention back in mid-2005 with the release of their debut single “If This Ain’t Love (Don’t Know What Is)” (one of Gilles Peterson’s tracks of that year). 2006 brought us a whole long-player of bona fide retro-sounding, floor-shakin’ soul and down-to-the-bone funk goodness which really hits the spot. …”

that really did not answer all my question, but rather added quite a few:

– a Finnish soul band?

– with a Brooklyn singer?

– doing retro soul?

– today?

If you’re coming to North England from abroad, curious to learn about the history of music, there is a phenomenon you cannot miss. It’s called Northern Soul. It’s a music scene that developed around highly danceable rare Motown music. If you wanna get an idea of what that might have looked like, try this video:

When I was living in Manchester, I was listening to a lot of the old Northern Soul tunes. And for me, Keep Reachin’ Up just fitted perfectly into that mood. Back then I downloaded it and it became my favourite warming up record before going out, or for partying on after coming back home. The music always pulled me up and got me going. And it’s a home party record, too. If you want no hassle with a DJ, just put this record on and let it spin. It’s all killer no filler.

When I went on a holiday trip to Manchester pretty much exactly a year ago, I decided to buy Keep Reachin’ up nowhere else but at Picadilly Records.

The Northern Soul scene in England was dominantely a white male culture. Some may wonder how the northern English working class mates could dance so funkily. Similarly, I must admit, I wondered how the finnish musicians could be so funky. But if you are into Jazz, you may know that there are really good Jazz musicians come from all around the globe, and that various styles of Jazz exist on different continents. I guess it’s similar with Funk.

And The Soul Investigators really now how to play their stuff. When I saw the band perform at the Mint Lounge in Manchester a couple of months later, they played their smashing The Soul Investigators Theme as their first song, and got virtually everybody in the audience cheering immediately. It is a particular pleasure for me to remember my finnish friend, whom I dragged along to the gig just because he was from finland as well. He was more of a Metal type of guy, but still couldn’t stand still that night. And just like him (and me) everybody else seemed to be dancing.

So yes, this is a Finnish Band with a Brooklyn singer, and I do not think I need namedropping and tell you to which Finnish master musician she is married to impress you. I’d rather you get the record and start loving it.

Here’s a teaser:

The not-so-good news is that, although this is retro soul sound that happens “now” (as in 2006), I guess it is probably a one off thing. I imagine those guys hanging around together thinking “let’s do a perfekt northern soul record!” They did, and that’s it. Their myspace page seems to be updated regularly, but no gigs or news of a new record appear whatsoever. So we’ll have to stick with this one. It’s worth it.

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