British soul, Brit soul, or 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 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 non Beatles act of the British Invasion 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.
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 like 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. 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. The 1977 disco soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever, mostly featured songs by British soul act Bee Gees, who also produced the project, and went on to become the best-selling soundtrack album at the time.
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). 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" (1983), The Style Council's "Speak Like a Child" (1983), Eurythmics' "Missionary Man" (1986), and Steve Winwood "Roll With It" (1988).
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 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, Caron Wheeler, Gabrielle, Des'ree, Beverley Knight and Heather Small. Other British artists who gained success during the 1990s include Eternal, Damage, MN8, Mark Morrison, Shola Ama, Honeyz and Another Level. 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 and artists Juggy D, Veronica Mehta, and Jay Sean, who would later cross-over to mainstream R&B.
British soul in the 2000s has been dominated by female singers, most notably Amy Winehouse, Estelle, Joss Stone, Duffy, Paloma Faith, Florence Welch, Adele 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 has 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.
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