Average White Band

TrackAlbum
You Got ItAWB
Nothing You Can DoAWB
Keepin'’ It To MyselfAWB
It’'s A MysteryCut The Cake
Queen Of My SoulSoul Searching
CloudyPerson To Person
Daddy'’s All GoneWarmer Communications
Please Don’'t Fall In LoveFeel No Fret
Ace Of HeartsFeel No Fret
Let’'s Go Round AgainShine

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Contributor: Colin Duncan

The year was 1974 and I was in Soul City – that’s Dundee not Philadelphia, Chicago or Detroit – and I became aware of this album, saw it being carried on a bus and in the city centre. Remember in the pre-computer age how important the LP was and how they were carried as badges of being at the cutting edge of popular culture. This cover was different – AWB – with the W in the shape of the back view of a naked woman on a white background. Brilliant symbol. Would it be acceptable today?

On my next visit to one of the many record shops in the city, I found out that the band was called The Average White Band. There were two Dundonians in the band, and one band member had been to the same school as me, and another guy I knew had jammed with them. Remember how you used to hang about record shops blethering to the owners.

I finally heard the album after having a few pints with a few guys. After the pub closed – ten o’clock on the dot with ten minutes drinking up – you would go back to somebody’s flat and all sit listening to an album. Really listening. I thought it was a brilliant album and as soulful as any other music I had heard.

So did many others, and the album went to number 6 in the UK charts and number 1 in the US charts. Two Dundonians, a guy form Perth and another from Montrose in a band with two Glaswegians sitting at number 1 spot in the US album charts. Ah, the influence of the East Coast. The album was on Atlantic and was produced by Arif Mardin. The rest is history, as they say.

Show Your Hand, Average White Band, Cut The Cake, Soul Searching, Person To Person, Benny and Us, Warmer Communications, Feel No Fret, Shine and Cupid’s In Fashion were all bought by me as they were released. The first band I was complete on, but I had to go back the way to get Show Your Hand. Benny and Us is a collaboration with Ben E King.

Although I thought they had arrived from nowhere, they were experienced musicians at a time when soul music was a driving force in Scotland. Think of Alex and Les Harvey, Frankie Miller, Maggie Bell and Jimmy Dewar. You had to be able to dance to music in Scotland.

By 1967, all future members of the AWB were in London. The Dundee Horns, alto and tenor saxes, Roger Ball and Molly Duncan were members of Mogul Thrash. The drummer, Robbie McIntosh, was an outstanding young talent who progressed from The Senate to Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express. Alan Gorrie, vocals and bass player, and Onnie McIntyre, guitar, were in Scots of St. James. Hamish Stuart, vocals and guitar, fleetingly joined them, with the name changing to Hopscotch. He later left and formed Dream Police. Gorrie and McIntyre formed Forever More and produced two albums, with Roger Ball and Molly Duncan, joining some sessions on the second album. I wasn’t aware of some parts of this history until relatively recently and I am lucky to have the two Forever More albums.

In addition they were sought out as session musicians: Alan Gorrie was a regular at Central Sound Studios in Denmark Street; Duncan, Ball, Gorrie and McIntyre all played on Johnny Nash’s I Can See Clearly Now; McIntyre and McIntosh played on Chuck Berry’s London Sessions; and they all played on Bonnie Bramlett’s Sweet Bonnie Bramlett album.

Robbie McIntosh died tragically in 1975. After a week’s residency at the Troubador Club in Los Angeles, the band attended a party given by the owner. Robbie took heroin thinking it was cocaine and died of a heart attack. I remember the impact his death had in Dundee; he had attended the same school as me, he was an outstanding drummer and was only 24 years old. He was replaced by Steve Ferrone.

The music is genuine soul music of the highest quality. The sound is distinct, beautiful and not a sanitised copy of American soul bands. This is achieved by having two powerful singers in Hamish Stuart and Alan Gorrie, who are able to complement each other. The rhythm section is outstanding with Alan Gorrie’s bass and the drumming of Robbie McIntosh and, later, Steve Ferrone. Alan Gorrie can also move to guitar. Onnie McIntyre’s distinctive guitar playing helps define the sound of the band, yet in true soul style the playing is always relevant to the song. Hamish Stewart, in addition to having a truly great soulful voice, is a great guitar player too. The sound is completed by Molly Duncan on tenor sax and Roger Ball on alto sax. Roger could also move to keyboards for certain tracks. Having played together for a long time, coupled with a high level of musicianship, ensured that the sound was always together and studio and live performances are great.

Songwriting credits were shared. Alan Gorrie and Hamish Stuart could both produce great songs on their own, but there were many collaborations, including Gorrie, Stuart; Ball, Gorrie, Stuart; Ball, McIntosh, Stuart; Ball, Gorrie; and all six musicians together. This produced a real variety of songs. Also, the AWB could take other artists’ songs and make them their own. Songs by the Isley Brothers, Ware and Sawyer, Ned Doheny, Donny Hathaway and Edward Howard, Whitfield and Strong, James Taylor and Bacharach and David all get the AWB treatment.

In my list, I left out Pick Up The Pieces and Cut The Cake, both of which I love, but I think everybody is aware of these tracks. I took my oldest grandchild to Iron Man 2 a couple of years ago and there’s a guy dancing to Pick Up The Pieces!

From AWB, I have selected three great tracks: You Got It, Nothing You Can Do and Keepin’ It To Myself. This album has been with me for a long time, I still play it regularly and to be honest I could pick ten tracks from it to meet the Toppermost criteria.

From Cut The Cake I’ve gone for It’s A Mystery, a song produced by all the band and it showcases their talents – a ballad, but with that funk interweaving through it. I think it may be the last track that Robbie McIntosh played on, but I’m not sure. Steve Ferrone appears on many tracks on this album.

From Soul Searching it’s got to be the Hamish Stuart song, Queen Of My Soul. Extra voices were added for choruses and Carlos Martin, a congas player, was added. Stuart’s singing is great on this. Roger Ball is credited with horn arrangements and the sax playing is outstanding.

From the live album Person To Person, I’ve selected Cloudy, a beautiful ballad from Cut The Cake. The playing on Cloudy shows clearly how the band could play sensitively when performing live.

The James Taylor song, Daddy’s All Gone from Warmer Communications is an example of how they could cover other artists and adopt a song to make it their own. I chose this song rather than one written by a recognised soul writer and this choice also reflects my catholic musical tastes in that I have always liked the singer songwriters and enjoy James Taylor.

The album Feel No Fret meant a major change for the Average White Band, in that they parted company with Arif Mardin and produced the album themselves with some help from Gene Paul. This album matches the AWB album for me and I could pick many tracks from it for my Toppermost list. I’ve left off Atlantic Avenue and Walk On By, both brilliant cuts, in favour of Please Don’t Fall In Love and Ace Of Hearts. Should they have started to produce themselves sooner?

My final selection is from Shine, a surprise gift from a group of colleagues. Maybe I went on too much trying to introduce others to their music, but the gift was received graciously and the highlight for me was the Alan Gorrie song, Let’s Go Round Again. It seemed to get a lot of radio plays. Other great songs on the album include Our Time Has Come and Whatcha Gonna Do For Me which became a hit for Chaka Khan, and led me to buy a Chaka Khan album.

Average White Band still tour with original members Onnie McIntyre and Alan Gorrie and their concerts are really good. A highlight a couple of years ago was when AWB were joined on stage by one of my other Toppermosts, Michael Marra, and Hue and Cry at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow – a brilliant evening. I’ll still go to every concert in the Glasgow area, but in the beginning it was a truly great era when six Scotsmen were big players in the soul arena.

The official AWB website

Average White Band biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #134

1 Comment

  1. Peter Viney
    Nov 26, 2013

    Fabulous article on great musicians. I last saw the current touring band about five years ago confirming my opinion that Alan Gorrie is one of the very best British bass player / singers. On sit-ins, I didn’t know about the Johnny Nash connection. The Dundee Horns also play on the folk album The Bunch. As you mention, Onnie and Robbie play on Chuck Berry’s London Sessions … which means My Ding A Ling. I never bought “Benny & Us” (with Ben E. King), probably read a negative review at the time, and after reading this was curious to look at it, went to amazon to look, and saw they have a new 2013 live double CD: “Times Squared – Live From New York” which has a good review. In spite of avidly reading the CD reviews in the magazines, I’d never heard of it. Christmas is coming!

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