By Jim Stewart
Back in the summer of 1970, the first two releases on the new imprint Invictus Records sped in tandem to the top of the charts, holding the first two places for weeks.
This was obviously in the pre-internet days when information about new acts was only available via the label press releases. It was a long while before we discovered both had been around for years.
The Chairmen Of The Board had previously recorded as The Showmen mid-60s and Freda Payne had made her first recordings 13 years before ‘Band Of Gold’ became a radio favourite.
Freda is due back in the UK this month for an Arena Tour with fellow Detroiters, The Temptations, Four Tops and The Platters. The tour begins in Liverpool on March 21, ending at London’s O2 on April 3.
I spoke to Freda as she was preparing for the tour and I began by asking what we might expect.
“It’s going to be a great show, all four of us doing all of our hits. I’ve worked with The Temptations and Four Tops many times since the early days. I’m proud to be working with two such iconic groups. I’ve been friends with Duke (Fakir) and Otis (Williams) since then and like to think there is a lot of love between us all. I’ve not worked with The Platters before but I know and love their music, and I love coming back to the UK.”
When ‘Band Of Gold’ became a hit all around the world, was she asked a lot of questions about the writers?
‘No, why do you ask?’
She was on Holland-Dozier-Holland’s own label that began releasing a huge number of hits, written by writers nobody had heard of, and they had stopped writing since leaving Motown.
“I know there was something going on, to do with publishing, but it was nothing to me, I just sang the songs.”
When I interviewed Lamont Dozier ahead of his London tribute concert, I asked him about the songs and his response was: ‘If you hear it tonight, it’s my song’.
“There you are, you got it from the man himself, I can’t add to that,” Freda said.
Because of being from Detroit and recording for Holland-Dozier-Holland, her name is always linked to Motown, yet it’s a little known fact that she did actually record for the label.
“I didn’t actually sign for Motown but I recorded twice for Berry Gordy. The first time was in the late fifties, before he started his own label, when he was writing for Jackie Wilson. We did some songs and he arranged for them to be released on Roulette Records but, because I was under-age, a minor, my mother had to sign the contract. She took one look at it and refused. A very wise Mum, based on the facts that have since arisen about the label paying its artists royalties.“Then in the Spring of 1965, I was singing solo in a nightclub in Manchester when I read in the paper that the whole Motown Revue was coming to town. I went along and there was Smokey &The Miracles, Supremes, Martha & The Vandellas, Stevie Wonder and The Temptations and, while I was talking to them, Berry came and asked me if I wanted to record for Motown. I said ‘yes’ and agreed to contact him when I got back home to Detroit. We did a couple of sides, but when it came to signing the contract, I showed it to my mother, even though I was old enough to sign it myself, and once again she advised against it.
“That was a great show. The Temptations were only in Manchester for the TV show with Dusty Springfield.”
I told Freda I had met her on a number of occasions during the 2002 ‘Dancing In The Streets’ tour, with Martha Reeves and Edwin Starr.
“Martha is a good friend and she always wanted me to say hello whenever I go to see her,” I said.
“I loved that tour, such a lot of fun being with two old friends. The British fans were great, so faithful – never looking for the next best thing – but I really do miss Edwin, such a lovely man.”
I said: “I wouldn’t expect you to remember me, apart from one occasion when we were walking from the dressing rooms after the show at the London Palladium to the Royal Circle bar for the end of tour party: you made a comment about the endless flights of stairs to which I replied: ‘Just consider it training for Sunset Boulevard’ to which you snapped back, jokingly ‘I’m not quite ready for that yet!’.
“I can’t believe I said that, but you must have known something because, two years later in 2004, I auditioned for that show. They gave the Norma Desmond part to Diahann Carroll. I was due to take over the role but she decided to stay with the show. However I did get to sing one of the show’s songs at a TV tribute they did for her.”
Freda’s been over here quite frequently with the David Gest tours.
“My most recent visit was two years ago with Cliff Richard on his ‘Soulicious’ tour, but I love the tours with David; he brings together the very best of the artists British fans want to see. He only deals in the authentic thing,and we have so much fun, I’ve done a few of those.”
I asked Freda if she had a new album in the pipeline.
“Yes, I have one completed, ready to release, and I’m hoping it will be available soon, maybe in time for the tour. I’m also working on my autobiography, and my sister, Scherrie, who was a Supreme in the 70s, is helping me. She has remembered so many things I’d forgotten, but that’s going to be awhile.”
In the meantime we have a great tour to look forward to.
Full ticket info: www.ticketline.co.uk
Jim Stewart 2014