'Blue Eyed Soul'
...Helping Biddu create his creamy brand of easy listening soul ('there aren't any black guys in the Biddu orchestra, but I think they've got the same feeling as the American bands') is a veteran arranger who, with his plump build ('I know I don't have the right image,' he smiles) seems as unlikely a candidate to perform black soul music as a yoga-practising Indian. But Gerry Shury is adamant as to where his musical preferences lie. 'Soul music is what I love, so that's where I specialize. When I started out it was really unfashionable to be involved with black music in Britain, but that's changing now.'
Born in Brixton, Gerry received little formal musical education, but by his teens was playing clarinet, sax and piano. 'Piano was what I was best at so that's what I stuck with. When I left school I was a music copyist for Francis Fay & Hunter, the music publisher. I began forming little bands to play at nights. One of the first big things I did was to accompany Dakota Station one night, and eventually this led to regular work for me and the group, playing at American Air Force bases. We were doing a kind of Booker T thing.
'I then started getting work as a session pianist and worked on straight pop stuff for artists like Petula Clark; this led to more work and eventually I started doing arrangements for pop sessions.
'Around 1968 I was asked by Tony Macaulay to do an arrangement for The Fantastics. It was the first really interesting arranging I was offered. But even then cutting black artists in England was a whole different concept, and you had to make them sound pop to make them acceptable.' Macaulay and Shury successfully made The Fantastics (one-time US doo-wop team the Velours) 'sound pop' and 'Something Old Something New' was a big hit for them on Bell Records in '71. This led Gerry to do some arranging for Johnny Johnson & The Bandwagon, but he was still working on pop arrangements too.
'Then in '72 I met Ron Roker who was at ATV Music. Ron had asked me to arrange a Drifters-type number for an artist he was producing called Jimmy Justice. Ron and I hit it off right away, and we started song-writing together and have been writing together ever since, forming our own publishing company, Geronimo Music. (Gerry + Ron = Geron/imo) One of our first songs was a soul thing called "Using Me", which Ron and I produced together for the ex-lead singer of The Fantastics, Richie Pitts. This was the first time I was involved in producing as well as arranging and writing and at last I was able to get down all the ideas I had with people who felt the same music I felt.
'My next song with Ron was "Guilty". It was recorded by The Pearls in the UK and released by Dick Leahy's label, Bell Records. It made the top ten and Ron and I were doubly thrilled a little later to find that it had been covered by soul female group First Choice (of "Armed and Extremely Dangerous" fame). It was recorded at Sigma Sound and we admired the Philly sound so much it was a great thrill for us to have reached them with our music. 'Ron and I were even luckier to record and co-produce with Phil Swern an English girl vocalist Polly Brown, who had been signed to Pye Records previously with her band Pickettywitch ("Same Old Feeling"). Ron had picked up a song for production from the Abba writers, who had just won Eurovision; the song was called "Honey Honey", and we had waited for Polly to be released from her Pye contract so that we could record her. We were both in love with her vocal sound which was soulfully sweet sounding and between Diana Ross and Dionne Warwick.
'Luckily enough, Polly wanted to work with us too and so we set up the group Sweet Dreams, comprising of Polly singing lead with Ron doing the boy's vocal, to record "Honey Honey". And in the same session we were able to record another of our songs called "Up In A Puff Of Smoke", which was to be released separately as Polly Brown's first single release on a new label set up by Dick Leahy called GTO. To our joy and amazement both records took off, "Honey Honey" entering the top ten all over the world and "Up In A Puff Of Smoke" getting Polly her first solo top twenty hit in the USA. 'Ron, Phil and I continued to record an album for Polly and Ron and I recorded an album for Sweet Dreams, this time adding another new black soul singer called Tony Jackson, who partnered Polly, and together they make a great vocal combination.
'My next break was doing the arrangement for Carl Douglas and his recording of 'Kung Fu Fighting', produced by Biddu, which went on to be a worldwide hit and generated a lot more arranging for me. I am working with many other acts now including The Real Thing. Ron and I did 'Stone Cold Love Affair' with them, which has done fairly well in the States. More people are getting interested in the British sound and there are some very funky British musicians now. I use Chris Rae (guitar), Frank McDonald (bass), Barry d'Souza (drums) and of course me on keyboards, and a regular brass section Mike Bailey (trumpet), Geoff Wright (trombone) and Jeff Dailey (saxes & flute). And this is the nucleus of nearly every session I do...'
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