(Real) things aren’t what they seem
Despite having a massive disco hit, Eddie Amoo tells how Liverpool band The Real Thing’s soul lies in more gritty material
07 April, 2017 — By Róisín Gadelrab
The Real Thing – Dave Smith, Chris Amoo and Eddie Amoo – are set to play at the Jazz Cafe on July 13
EDDIE Amoo may not have been a member of Liverpool band The Real Thing from the very start but, if it hadn’t been for him – the older brother of founder member Chris – the group best known for disco hit You To Me Are Everything may never have been formed.
Now, more than 40 years after the band first formed, The Real Thing are returning to the Jazz Cafe on July 13. For more than a decade prior to the band’s formation, Eddie was a member of a capella band The Chants. Growing up in Liverpool in 1962, music from across the Atlantic was permeating youth culture.
“I was just kid on the street having fun,” recalls Eddie. “I listened to doo-wop. All of us were heavily influenced by what was happening in America.
“We had an American base in Burtonwood, the GIs were bringing their music. We were very influenced by what was happening in Harlem. The GIs used to come partying and looking for girls. All the clubs were playing American R&B. It was a fantastic time.
“Five of us got together and we used to listen to the records and copy the harmonies. We used to copy the sound.”
So began The Chants. Being part of the buzzing Liverpool music scene, they soon met The Beatles.
“We auditioned for them, they invited us to The Cavern to play. They made us come down to the night session and brought us on halfway through the show,” said Eddie. “Can you imagine the feeling? Five little ‘darkies’, as they would say, playing alongside The Beatles? I always remember Brian Epstein looking down at us. He said, ‘no, my boys don’t back anyone’. So John Lennon took him aside and changed his mind. Epstein signed us straight away.”
The Fab Four left an impression on Eddie.
“The Beatles were probably why I became what I became,” he said.
“The first thing I learned was the songwriting. All the bands from Liverpool were into R&B, they all did the same songs, Chuck Berry etc. But The Beatles did them but also their own songs. I knew straight away, first I needed to become a musician, because I was an a capella singer. But you’ve got to study your songwriting skills because most people can write a song. They hear a tune in their head but turning it into a reality… I always had an idea for songs but didn’t write them down. That’s what I learned.”
The Chants moved on from Epstein after watching the success of other Merseybeat bands.
“We got impatient. Actually I think Epstein thought we weren’t quite ready and wanted to pace us. But one guy wanted to take us out of work and pay us to sing – we couldn’t believe it. For 13 years we didn’t have a hit. I call it my apprenticeship.”
At the same time, Eddie’s own experiences were filtering down to his little brother.
“Chris was watching me growing. He said, ‘I want to do what you do’. I said, ‘bring me three or four guys and I’ll help’.”
Eddie kept to his word and helped guide The Real Thing, who formed in 1970.
“Then he asked me to join the band so we could tour together. In 1976 it all took off for us and here we are, still.”
Their first hit – You To Me Are Everything – was made to humour their record company.
“We were presented with the song, which in all honestly we didn’t really like very much. We had Children of the Ghetto, we were into Earth, Wind and Fire, but the record company wanted a hit. Our manager played it to me over the phone in Liverpool. I thought, it’s not bad but isn’t it going off a tangent from where we are now.
“He said, ‘yes, but it’ll get the record company off our backs’.”
The song was recorded at The Roundhouse in January 1975.
“We’d made a few records and they hadn’t been successful,” says Eddie. “When we walked out of the studio we didn’t think nothing. About three months later we started getting calls that it was selling 10/20/30 records a day.”
The song became a massive hit, although those more familiar with the band’s discography will know their soul lay in more gritty, realist songs such as Children of the Ghetto, which has since been covered by the likes of Courtney Pine, Philip Bailey (of Earth, Wind and Fire) and Mary J Blige.
Eddie said: “You wouldn’t believe that song got released because even back then I liked to write about the environment around me and that song says it all.
“By this time a new generation was growing up in Liverpool and we were all a lot angrier now, getting more politically savvy. We started to notice that people were getting things you weren’t getting, it was racial.
“Back in 1962 we couldn’t go into town unless we went mob-handed, because if we did, there’s a chance we’d be beaten up.
“We were typical angst-ridden teenagers competing against other teens who probably had the same problems as ourselves, all battling for the same piece of the cake. A bit like Brexit – Brexit came about because working class people didn’t like the deal.
“We were angry at never getting a chance to get a decent job, we were all thrown out of school by 15, no chance to get a better education, lives staying the same, we were angry about this.
“Then came the riots. Children Of The Ghetto was the precursor to the riots.”
While the song was later picked up by other artists, it is a sore point for Eddie that The Real Thing didn’t receive the recognition that they deserved.
He added: “It’s really frustrating, I’ve got a write-up here from Mary J Blige, she did a live album. On the sleeve notes it says Mary J always says that the highlight of her show was Philip Bailey’s Children Of The Ghetto. She doesn’t know that we wrote the song. Don’t worry, we did get paid. It just goes to show you how ironic this business is, people don’t realise we wrote that.
“Ray, who sang the lead, he died tragically. When you hear the original version, you can hear the anger and anguish in his voice. I sing it in a wistful way. But the way he sang it, it sends chills through me. It’s a big part of our set.”
• Visit www.thelegendaryrealthing.com/ for more information and to buy copies of the new DVD The Real Thing at The Philharmonic Hall.