The godfather of Funk music who made Suffolk feel like home for the American GIs of the 70s
In 1970s Britain a new wave of Funk music was sweeping the Black community – here’s how it reached Suffolk.
Liverpool of the time was divided by race, with many nightclubs enforcing a colour bar and tensions rife among communities.
One haven for people of all colours, who simply longed to groove the night away, was The Timepiece – a place famed for all nighters and the very best of Reggae, Soul and Funk.
It’s master; a DJ named Les Spaine who ushered in a new era of music during a time where people in Britain didn’t hear the likes of James Brown gracing the radios or decks of any other club.
He created a community where all people were welcome to get down to the latest tracks fresh from America. Now, he’s renowned for his work at famous labels such as MoTown and Capital Records, as well as his own company.
The list of legendary artists he’s worked with is long and spans four decades, harking back to acquaintances with Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Rick James, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Ritchie, Tina Turner, David Bowie and Smoky Robinson.
He gave many performances on American military bases in Suffolk, beloved by the Black African-Americans who served their country overseas.
Now he has spoken with SuffolkLive about the heydays of Funk music and the great love he still has for our county, after all his knock out sets of the 70s.
“My idea of it was to make it a UK version of the American Soul Train,” he said of The Timepiece club.
“There were more American bases in the 70s, you have to bear in mind the Berlin wall was still up, Vietnam conflict ongoing and the Cold War was lingering so the they were everywhere.
“They used to come up to Liverpool a lot in those times, the military stationed in Suffolk. Back in those days the big motorways hadn’t even been built yet, so they drove on the tiny A and B roads to get there and back.”
Though clubbing continues to this day, there was something special about the parties of the 70s and Les remembers the music itself taking centre stage.
The clubbing generation of that time had grown up in the 50s and 60s of Liverpool – a hard time he described as “grim”.
“Music was a great outlet,” he said. “There were no mobile phones so when the weekend came it was like the opening scenes of Saturday Night Fever.
“You worked so you could put on your finery and you lived for the weekend. There were no drugs, just alcohol in our club, no smoking herb, it was just people who came to dance and have a good time.
“It always makes me smile that DJs now do sets which last an hour or two – I worked 9pm to 6am.”
His profile within the music scene grew until it reached the point where Les was asked to come down to Suffolk and perform at some of the US military bases such as Mildenhall and Lakenheath.
There were many women who chose to marry American GIs in that time and the DJ says there remains a strong community who to this day share fond memories of when they met their husbands at The Timepiece.
Befriending US soldiers was a benefit to Les too, as they liked to send him all the latest records when new music was released in the states – back then it always came out in advance across the pond.
“In my day you ordered records to the shop, so whenever there was a drop in America it was on the US bases. It gave me quite the advantage over the other DJs as I got sent records from the Americans,” he said.
“The greatest compliment was guys saying ‘man, when I walk in there it’s like being home’. It really was like little America on those bases.”
The godfather of Funk (as he has been dubbed) says he still holds a great love for Suffolk, its peace and tranquillity.
He visits East Suffolk often and particularly enjoys Woodbridge, where he will play a DJ set at the Community Hall on Friday, November 12, in aid of a prostate cancer charity.
He sits on the PRS Executive Steering Committee and also on the Liverpool City Regional Music Board, continuing to have a positive impact on the British music scene.