If you arrive early at a Smoove & Turrell gig you will see a bunch of blokes clad in street fashions piling out of a big white van and into the nearest pub. This is the group, their crew and assorted followers – a throwback to the band as “the last gang in town” era of Dexys and The Specials. You could just as easily assume they are heading for the football. That first impression changes radically when these regular looking lads amble onstage and start making their extraordinary modern soul music.
Smoove & Turrell’s live brilliance is matched by their recorded output. Their latest album “Crown Posada” is named after Newcastle’s finest old pub (or possibly a classic American saloon car – copyright Craig Charles) and features the duo’s stylish grandfathers on the cover. It superbly showcases the sounds assembled by producer Smoove, the band and their extravagantly talented singer and songwriter, John Turrell.
The album is bursting with standout tracks like the forthcoming second single “No Point in Trying” and the hauntingly beautiful “50 Shades of Winter”. But for me the pick of a fantastic bunch is “Fight On”. Its glorious soul tune is lifted even higher by Turrell conjuring up a socialist realist superhero rising from the ashes of the Redcar steel plant to fight for his people. Musically and lyrically it stirs the soul and sends a tingle down the spine like little else I have heard since Curtis Mayfield left us. Listening to “Fight On” leaves you torn between dancing or starting a protest march and setting fire to something substantial.
Whilst firmly putting their own stamp on matters, Smoove & Turrell fit seamlessly into a fine soul and pop tradition. Nothing illustrates this better than their inspired re-working of an obscure track by Brit-soul predecessors Hot Chocolate, “Could’ve Been a Lady”. Turrell took on the song as a bet with a friend, who said he would buy him an Afghan coat like Errol Brown’s in the original video if he could do a better version. Presumably the coat will be arriving in time for winter because the song is now all over the radio and a serious contender for single of the year. Indeed, if there has been a funkier intro in the last 12 months, then I could have been a lady too.
Like a lot of great art, Smoove & Turrell’s music emerges from tough times and is heart-on-the-sleeve socially conscious. But like the great “last gang in town” bands before them it declares defiantly and joyfully that you won’t grind us down and we will keep on dancing.