Singer, song-writer with The Real Thing
Singer, song-writer with The Real Thing
Born May 4 1944; died February 23 2018
By rights, Eddie Amoo, who has died suddenly in Australia aged 73, should have had as high a profile as a singer and song-writer of socially conscious soul as his heroes Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes and Marvin Gaye. If Amoo had come from frontline Harlem or Watts, both crucibles of the 1960s civil rights movement, it might have happened. Coming from the rough-house streets of Liverpool 8, or Toxteth as the city’s multi-racial inner-city neighbourhood built on the back of slavery became better known following the summer riots of 1981, things worked out differently.
This was despite Amoo and The Real Thing, the band formed by Amoo’s younger brother Chris, writing Children of the Ghetto, the centre-piece of the twelve-minute Liverpool 8 Medley. This three-part suite formed the climax of the band’s 1977 album, 4 from 8, and attempted to give voice to some of the conflicting tensions that existed on the Amoo brothers’ doorstep. As punk shook up the city’s musical youth elsewhere, Children of the Ghetto was a deceptively sweet-sounding slow-burning anthem that spoke of the local community holding onto their dignity and sense of pride in the face of the sort of adversity that would explode onto the streets four years later.
Up until that point, the Real Thing had been best known for their 1976 dance-floor friendly number 1 smash hit, You to Me Are Everything, and its follow-up, Can’t Get By Without You. Both songs were penned by Ken Gold and Michael Denne, and their authentic fusions of Philly soul and disco went on to become wedding party favourites. Given such user-friendly confections, no-one saw what followed coming.
Despite this, while another track from 4 from 8, Lightning Strikes Again, appeared on the soundtrack to the film Black Joy, Children of the Ghetto would go on to be covered by Courtney Pine, Philip Bailey of Earth Wind and Fire and Mary J Blige. As Amoo himself later made clear, at the time of its release, 4 from 8, packaged in a 3D gatefold sleeve featuring images of desolate-looking Liverpool streets and the city’s Anglican cathedral towering above an apocalyptic-looking wasteland, almost killed the band’s career.
Eddie Amoo was born in Liverpool to a mixed race couple, Moya and her husband Robert, a seaman from Ghana. Amoo’s early musical influences came from a trip with his mother to Liverpool Empire to see Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. With Lymon not much older than himself, he became a black role model for Amoo. After a narrow escape from borstal following some childish tomfoolery with a knife, with Joey Ankrah, he formed doo wop and R n B influenced vocal group, The Chants.
At local dance hall the Rialto, later destroyed during the riots, Amoo and Ankrah saw the Beatles, and were later invited to play with them at the Cavern club. An evocative photograph of the time shows the Beatles and the Chants posing together with local Labour MP Bessie Braddock. Brian Epstein took a brief interest in Amoo and Ankrah’s band before being distracted by his mop-topped charges.
While the Beatles and Merseybeat conquered the world, the Chants signed to Pye Records, and were produced by Tony Hatch, although as with all of the black groups in Liverpool, crossover success eluded them. After thirteen years and several releases, the band split up. With his younger brother’s band having already won TV talent show Opportunity Knocks, Amoo joined the Real Thing during what turned out to be the band’s most commercially successful era. They toured with David Essex, later appearing with him as backing vocalists.
Beyond 4 from 8, a further hit came with the Star Wars inspired Can You Feel the Force?, and the Real Thing went on to release updated remixes of their best-known numbers. Amoo and the Real Thing caused controversy in the 1980s, when, with Essex, they played in South Africa, breaching the cultural boycott in protest at apartheid. Having initially relished the prospect of singing Children of the Ghetto there, they were instructed by promoters to remove it from their set. In an interview, Amoo regretted the experience, describing the trip as “the ugliest two weeks of my life.”
Amoo, his childhood sweetheart Sylvia, who he married in 1964, and the couple’s four daughters lived close to where he was brought up. Amoo invested in property, and, while this provided security, music remained his passion. With a live album and DVD of the Real Thing released in 2013, and a documentary film almost finished, Amoo looks set for belated recognition as a key influence on black British music of the last fifty years.
Eddie Amoo is survived by his wife Sylvia and his daughters Dionne, Sara, Michaela and Marlene. Amoo’s brother Chris will continue with the Real Thing.
The Herald, February 28th 2018