British soul, Brit soul, or (in a US context) the British soul invasion, is soul music performed by British artists. Soul has been a major influence on British popular music since the 1960s, and American soul was extremely popular among some youth subcultures, such as mods, skinheads, and the northern soul movement. In the 1970s, soul gained more mainstream popularity in the UK during the disco era.
However, a clear genre of British soul did not emerge until the 1980s, when a number of black and white artists who made soul their major focus, influenced by contemporary R&B, began to enjoy some commercial success. British soul artists began gaining popularity in the United States in the late 2000s, leading to talk of another British Invasion, this time a soul invasion (in contrast to the 1960s rock and pop, and 1980s synthpop invasions).
Widespread British interest in soul music developed after the advent of rock and roll from the mid-1950s and the subsequent interest in American music. In the early 1960s, rhythm and blues, including soul, was particularly popular among some members of the beat music boom, including the Beatles, and among bands of who contributed to the British blues boom, including the Spencer Davis Group, the Small Faces, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and the Who. Most of these were popular with members of the Mod subculture, out of which grew the northern soul movement, in which northern English youths avidly collected and played rare soul records.
Britain produced a handful of soul acts in the 1960s, most significantly the blue-eyed soul singers Tom Jones and Dusty Springfield. Dusty in Memphis (1969) is one of the few albums by a British performer considered among the great soul recordings. In 1964 Springfield became the first British Invasion act after the Beatles to chart well in the US. A string of US and British hits followed. In 1965 Springfield hosted a television show The Sound of Motown which has been widely credited with introducing what was called "The Sound of Young America" to British audiences. Arguably the most notable Motown-influenced act from the UK aside from Springfield were the Foundations, a multi-racial soul group described by Billboard as "the best practitioners of the Motown sound to be found on the far side of the Atlantic" in the late 1960s, who scored transatlantic hits with "Baby Now That I've Found You" (the first UK number one for a multi-racial band), "Build Me Up Buttercup" and "In the Bad Bad Old Days (Before You Loved Me)". Also, in 1969, British blue-eyed soul singer Kiki Dee became the first singer from the UK to sign and record with Motown.
It has been suggested that the performance of soul in Britain was so limited because white fans saw it as exclusively a black genre, and because black British performers, while incorporating some sounds into other forms such as reggae, considered soul a distant American genre. At the same time, bands led by black singers, notably Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band, and Jimmy James and the Vagabonds, established strong reputations as live acts in Britain, largely playing cover versions of American soul records; Washington was an American expatriate, and James was from Jamaica.
A handful of British artists continued to perform soul-inspired music in the 1970s. These included David Bowie, whose "Plastic soul" on his Young Americans album (1975), helped keep the sound in the British mainstream. Elton John experimented with the Philadelphia soul/disco sound while working with producer Thom Bell in 1977, sessions which eventually resulted in a UK #1 for John when "Are You Ready for Love" was re-released in 2003. The Equals (with Eddy Grant), who had come to prominence in the late 1960s playing Caribbean-influenced pop-rock, embraced harder funk sounds on their 1970s releases, most notably on their UK top 10 hit "Black Skinned Blue Eyed Boys". Sweet Sensation were the first all-black British soul band to score a UK number one hit with their song "Sad Sweet Dreamer" in 1974. One of the key figures in Britain's soul and disco scenes during the 1970s was Biddu, an Indian-born British composer and producer who gained breakthrough success with chart-topping hits such as "Kung Fu Fighting" (1974) with Carl Douglas and "I Love to Love (But My Baby Loves to Dance)" with Tina Charles, while his own Biddu Orchestra records also appeared in the charts. "Kung Fu Fighting" in particular sold eleven million records worldwide.
Other British soul acts working with Biddu at the time included the Outriders and Jimmy James. Maxine Nightingale had an international smash in late 1975 and early 1976 with "Right Back Where We Started From". The Real Thing, who were the most successful black rock/soul act in England during the 1970s, had major success with "You to Me Are Everything" and "Can't Get By Without You", UK chart number 1 and 2 respectively, produced by writers Ken Gold and Michael Deanne, and later tracks written by band members Chris and Eddie Amoo and produced by them with Dennis Weinreich. Gold also masterminded and produced British soul/funk group Delegation, who scored several moderate hits including "Where Is The Love (We Used To Know)" and the international hit "Oh Honey". The 1977 disco soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever, mostly featured songs by British soul/disco act Bee Gees, who also produced the project, and went on to become the best-selling soundtrack album at the time. Also of note were the Average White Band, one of the few white soul groups to attain both critical respect and commercial success, particularly in the United States, where they simultaneously hit the number one spot on the Billboard pop singles and albums charts with "Pick Up the Pieces" and its album AWB, and scoring a Top 10 follow-up with 1975's "Cut the Cake". After dabbling in reggae, pop-soul, glam rock, hard rock and bubblegum pop, Hot Chocolate enjoyed major success by settling on a pop-disco formula in the mid-1970s, enjoying a stream of hit singles such as "Brother Louie", "Emma", "You Sexy Thing", "So You Win Again" and "Every 1's a Winner", whilst including more experimental material on their albums. Heatwave, a multi-national but British-based disco-funk band, not only scored transatlantic hits with "Boogie Nights", "Always and Forever" and "The Groove Line", but also launched the career of songwriter Rod Temperton, who went on to write some of Michael Jackson's biggest hits, including "Off the Wall", "Rock with You" and "Thriller", as well as working with acts such as George Benson, Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock and Aretha Franklin, among others.
In the 1980s, the situation began to change radically, with a wave of nostalgia for 1960s soul music. There were flourishing soul scenes in major cities like London and Manchester, often with many black artists, supported by local and pirate radio stations, but most acts were unable to break out into the national consciousness. Britain's post-disco sound contributed some new black artists to the emerging contemporary R&B sound (originating in the U.S.) by artists such as Imagination. Also of note were Junior, whose major hit "Mama Used to Say" made him the first black British act to appear on Soul Train, followed by Princess "Say I'm your No.1", Jacki Graham "Could it be I'm Falling in Love", Linx, Freeez and Central Line. Increased interest in soul was reflected and fuelled by a series of covers and songs inspired by soul for a number of major acts, including Phil Collins's "You Can't Hurry Love" (1982), Culture Club's "Church of the Poison Mind", Paul Young's "Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home)" (1983), the Style Council's "Shout to the Top" (1984), Eurythmics' "Here Comes the Rain Again", "Missionary Man" (1986), ABC's "When Smokey Sings" (1987), and Steve Winwood's "Higher Love", "Roll with It" (1988). English band Dexys Midnight Runners also achieved two UK #1s in "Come On Eileen" and "Geno" with their distinctive blend of Celtic folk, new wave and, most importantly, soul music.
For the first time since the 1960s, there were also notable acts who specialised in soul. These included George Michael, who reinvented himself a white soul singer with the multi-platinum album Faith (1987). Also significant were Sade, Simply Red, Loose Ends, and toward the end of the decade, Lisa Stansfield and Soul II Soul. The latter's breakthrough hits "Keep on Movin'" and "Back to Life" in 1989 have been seen as opening the door to the mainstream for black British soul and R&B performers.
In the 1990s, the British soul-influenced acts included Omar and acid jazz bands Incognito, Jamiroquai and Brand New Heavies. Particularly noticeable was the proliferation of British female black singers, many, like American artists of the 1950s and 1960s, coming out of a gospel tradition. These included Mica Paris"I Wanna Hold on to You"(1993), Caron Wheeler, Gabrielle, Des'ree, Beverley Knight and The Chimes. Other British artists who gained success during the 1990s include Eternal" Stay", Mark Morrison"Return of the Mack", Shola Ama. In the early 2000s, a number of British Asian Underground artists began creating fusion music that combines contemporary R&B with Indian music, particularly Punjabi bhangra and Bollywood filmi music. One of the most well known groups from this movement was the Rishi Rich Project, consisting of producer Rishi Rich.
British soul in the 2000s has been dominated by female singers, most notably Amy Winehouse, Estelle, Joss Stone, Duffy, Paloma Faith, Florence Welch, Adele, Floetry, Jessie J and Leona Lewis. They have enjoyed success on the American charts, leading to talk of another "British Invasion", a "Female Invasion" or a "British soul invasion". In 2008, Amy Winehouse won 5 Grammy Awards, then more than any British female artist had won in one night. In 2009, Jay Sean's single "Down" reached the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold millions in the United States, making him "the most successful male UK urban artist in US chart history" at the time.
In 2010, Jay Sean's success was followed by Taio Cruz also topping the US Billboard Hot 100 in March 2010. The success of Sean and Cruz, as well as the upcoming US release of Tinchy Stryder, has led to talk of how "U.K. stars seize American R&B". British R&B has also been increasingly incorporating electropop sounds in recent years, exemplified by the music of Jay Sean and Taio Cruz.
Since then, Adele has gained considerable popularity in the United States, where she had several number one hits in 2011 and 2012. In 2015, 25 by Adele also saw much success across the Billboard Hot 200, as it became the fastest selling album in music history.
Northern Soul has also seen a huge resurgence in the UK and British artists such as Paul Stuart Davies, Johnny Boy and Stefan Taylor have contributed to its popularity in the present day.
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