The cast

Oral histories




One of the legends of British soul, Jimmy James and his band The Vagabonds were rivalled only by Geno Washington's Ram Jam Band as a live club attraction in the 60s. And like Geno, he found his record sales spectacularly failed to match his reputation and status, scoring just one hit in the whole decade - an uncharacteristic version of Neil Diamond's 'Red Red Wine'.

Even so, Jimmy remembers the era with considerable affection, and is particularly enthusiastic about The Who; on one occasion the Vagabonds had all their equipment stolen, and it was Pete Townsend - a big admirer of the band - who helped them out, buying an entire new set of amps, instruments and p.a. Apparently he's a very very nice man.

In the early 70s Jimmy signed up to Biddu's production company - as a solo artist, though the name Jimmy James & The Vagabonds was preserved - and began making records more deliberately aimed at the charts. The first to become a hit was 'I'll Go Where The Music Takes Me,' one of the best disco-pop records of the time, but one which was never quite as big as it should have been. The problem, according to Jimmy, was that its success took the record company by surprise - since no one had much faith in him ever really making it - and all their energies were concentrated on churning out vast quantities of The Brotherhood of Man's 'Save Your Kisses For Me', which had just won the Eurovision Song Contest; consequently the supply didn't exist to meet the demand.

The follow-up 'Now Is The Time' was actually more successful, though not as well remembered, partly because it's just not very danceable and partly because it's anti-radical sloganeering ('Revolution is no solution') just ain't what people want from their 70s black music. In fact even at the time, as former Vagabond turned arranger Pip Williams remembers, Jimmy came in for a lot of criticism from soul purists for selling out and making radio-friendly records. Which seems a little unfair really - you can't begrudge a man for making a living surely?

Anyway some of the records he made with Biddu are genuinely good stuff. The album before 'I'll Go' was You Don't Stand A Chance (If You Can't Dance) which is still sounding wonderful. And he did release one of the best-titled singles ever with 'If You Think This Funk Is Junk, You're Drunk'. (The other side of that, incidentally, was 'Let's Go Disco', which The Real Thing also recorded with Biddu.)

Nowadays Jimmy is still appearing in cabaret, doing an unashamedly crowd-pleasing set that presumably really pisses off any soul purists who happen to wander in. For the rest of us, it's not a bad thing occasionally to check out a proper old-fashioned entertainer who's more concerned with enjoying himself than posing.

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Jimmy's Premium Bonds

Eddie Amoo
Ken Andrew
Dave Bartram
Mike Batt
Wayne Bickerton
David Blaylock
Trevor Bolder
Jacko Boogie
Tony Burrows
Sally Carr
Tina Charles
David Courtney
Rob Davis
Richard Dodd
Patrick Doonan
Ray Dorset
Herbie Flowers
Ken Gold
Graham Gouldman
Dave Hill
Harvey Hinsley
John Hughes
Jim Irvin
Jimmy James
Steve Jones
Lorraine Kelly
Paul Layton
Les McKeown
Russell Mael
Johnny Moore
Mike Moran
Chris Norman
Bill Oddie
David Paton
Lyn Paul
Phil Pickett
Suzi Quatro
Chris Rae
Chris Redburn
Norman Rogerson
Ron Roker
John Rossall
Andy Scott
Eddie Seago
Mat Snow
Chris Spedding
John Springate
Ray Stiles
Alwyn W Turner
David Van Day
Phil Wainman
Johnny Wakelin
Jeff Wayne
Alan Williams
Pip Williams