MUSIC FEATURE: Breaking down the barriers and marching to original beats

The Soft Tone Needles, featuring guitarist Jack Johnson, singer Kat Brittain and saxophonist Mark Wilkinson.  Photo supplied.
The Soft Tone Needles, featuring guitarist Jack Johnson, singer Kat Brittain and saxophonist Mark Wilkinson. Photo supplied.
  • East England band finds northern accent full of soul
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The Soft Tone Needles at the 2017 Holbeach Music and Beer Festival, August 4, 5 and 6

One of the freshest sounds to be heard across the East Midlands and eastern England includes three sons of the South Holland soil.

The Soft Tone Needles, a ten-piece northern soul band that has been performing since 2008, is pride of place for guitarist Jack Johnson, of Holbeach, and two Long Sutton musicians, drummer Dave Jackson and saxophonist Mark “Wolverine” Wilkinson.

Anyone wanting the beat of northern soul should head to this summer’s Holbeach Music and Beer Festival on August 4, 5 and 6 as the band are amongst the line-up of acts due to play.

Dave said: “We had an 18-month break because a lot of us had things on and we came back for Festival Too in King’s Lynn last July.

“It was a tropical rainforest and the skies opened from one end of the site to the other.

Everything you hear is real, it’s an authentic sound, made by real musicians, and as a singer, I feel my performance is something that is hugely important in adding energy to our shows.

Kat Brittain, lead vocalist, The Soft Tone Needles

“It wasn’t easy for us to get it together as literally thousands of people left so we never really had a big comeback.

“We just started gigging again, with our lead singer having a couple of gigs with us.”

The Soft Tone Needles’ performing life started in South Holland nearly ten years ago when the band was invited to a Bakkavor Pizza fun day in Holbeach St Mark.

Dave said: “I was brought up on northern soul and I wanted to be in a soul band, so I started one instead. “We do a lot of street rally gigs at racing circuits, but we can also play in front of 3,000-5,000 people.

Mark said: “We just to like to play and get on with it, but it’s fun when we get older people who come up to us and say ‘we can’t believe you’re doing this’.

“But we get a kick out of it, whether it’s an old school gig or a party.”

The Soft Tone Needles band is also made up of keyboard player Dan Sheehan of Peterborough, lead singer Kat Brittain, brothers Dave (trumpet) and Alex Maddison (trombone) and bass player Russell Edwards, all from King’s Lynn, saxophonist Lauren Young from Wisbech and percussionist Andy Davies of Cambridge.

Kat said: “I’ve only been singing with the band for around a year but, personally, I wanted to join them as I’d never been exposed to northern soul before.

“It’s been a huge learning curve in terms of my style of singing and technique.

“However, I love the way it makes you feel and the stories told through the lyrics.

“No two songs ever seem to be about the same thing and I’ve enjoyed both the challenge and the demand on my voice which the songs bring.

“I’ve really had to work hard to get up to scratch with the original tracks, but I also love the fact that everything you hear is real.

“There are no backing tracks or anything fake - it’s an authentic sound, made by real musicians, and as a singer, I feel my performance is something that is hugely important in adding energy to our shows.

“I feel that because I love the music, and that it makes me want to dance, this is transferred to the audience.

“I believe The Soft Tone Needles stand out as a band as every person involved in it is an incredibly talented musician and it’s been fantastic playing with all of them.

“I’m looking forward to more gigs to come.”

Audiences of The Soft Tone Needles, named after the equipment used to play gramaphone records, have been introduced to northern soul classics like You Didn’t Say a Word, I Got to Find Me Somebody, Come on Train and My Man, a Sweet Man.

Dave said: “When we have rehearsals, we play to a pretty tight level and we work on little bits until we get them tight.

“But there are still a few last minute panics at gigs and some contrasting opinions until we decide how to do it.

“We’ve had a lot of changes since our first gig nine years ago, but we listen to lots of other soul music so that we can play songs of a broad genre.

“As a band, we do mix it up with songs that we either like or are interested in.

“We don’t want to do the same Motown stuff that everybody else plays.”

Instead of Beyonce, Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys and Nicki Minaj, The Soft Tone Needles have cornered the market in pioneering singers such as Darrell Banks, Willie Mitchell, Frank Wilson, Yvonne Baker, Dana Valery and Don Thomas.

Lauren, one of The Soft Tone Needles’ original band members, said: “The aim of the band was already in motion, with core members and the choice of style of music being 60s Northern Soul, when I joined.

“Dave Jackson has been brought up with the influence of these tunes and I found it really interesting to be in at the start when a new area of music was introduced to myself.

“I’ve learned a lot along the way, both musically and historically, and we’ve also found that the genre is so popular now.

“Before, it wasn’t so much of a common thing to come across bands in our areas at playing more Northern Soul at live gigs, as apposed to commercial and Motown soul.

“Although we do throw a few of these numbers in from time to time, we like to keep the variation in our sets to fit the occasion.

“Personally, I find the concept of a tribute band different to what we do because instead of trying to imitate particular artists, we perform with our own energy, whilst still respecting the music people come to enjoy at the same time.

“Northern soul fans can be very particular in ways that if it’s not what they want, the dance floor will say it all so we like to respect our hardcore soulers.”

The Soft Tone Needles are still a popular choice at music and fundraising events in South Holland and eastern England, recently playings as guests of Spalding United Football Club at the “Sweet Soul Music” night a month ago.

Lauren said: “It was a lot of fun and it was wonderful to see people enjoying themselves as much as we were.

“It’s been great working with our new line-up, bringing a new feel through Kat whose always has a great interaction with our audiences.

“Kat really knows how to work them and thanks to those who were there, we had a cracking night.”