1 from 8[1]


Profile on and Interview with Eddie Amoo, band member of the Real Thing, songwriter, property developer, L8 stalwart by Louis Julienne

Eddie Amoo wears his years very well. Granted he is a pop star and looks like a pop star. The clothes are casual, the demeanour easy, cool black locks tumble from beneath an always present hat, and his face remains unlined. He is part of the Real Thing, a highly successful band, with many hit records in the 1970s and early 80s, including a number one hit record in 1975, You to me are everything. He lives a stone’s throw from Princes Park in a large, well-appointed house with his wife, Sylvia, his childhood sweetheart, they got married in 1964. Their four daughters have well flown the comfortable nest. They have three grand children. 

Sooner or later a serious black group in England had to come along and break through, a serious black group that was sellable to a huge white audience,” says Eddie summing up the appeal of the Real Thing at the time they broke through. “And we were just lucky to be at the right place at the right time.”

And now, thirty years on, is the band still working?

We seem to get busier as the years go on,” Eddie says. He thinks it’s because there are so few original bands left, a lot of original members leave or you only get one left from the original band. “We’re basically the same as when we first began, although sadly we lost Ray Lake five, six years ago. We tour indefinitely, clubs, arena tours like Wembley, Manchester Evening News, the NIC in Birmingham, gigs like that. We do a lot of theatre package shows,” he adds, still surprised about the enduring qualities of the group.

The Real Thing’s success was certainly not an overnight wonder.  The group released eight singles without any recognition apart from in the local charts. Then ‘You to Me Are Everything’ became a surprise UK No. 1 chart hit.  

The roots, the precursors of the Real Thing were the Chants, a Doo Wop group, all slick dark suits and ties and white shirts, small Afros, singing in breath taking unison and harmony RnB American songs. The line up was Eddie Amoo, Nat Smeda, the Ankrah brothers, Joey and Edward, (the bass and lead respectively) and Alan Harding. My personal favourite Chants record was a cover version of the Drifters’ Sweet was the Wine; one of the few British covers that was better than the US original, on a par with the Beatles’ Mr. Postman surpassing the Marvelettes’ original. I had the Chants’ single for years until some lowlife teeft it from me yard. I’ll pay top dollar to anyone who’s got an unscratched copy. While I’m at it I’ll also pay top dollar for Oscar Toney Junior’s sublime version of For Your Precious Love (another cover that surpassed the original) vinyl, tape or CD. We don’t get paid for contributing to TGR so I think we’re allowed free advertising.

“The Chants started in 1962, we were just five guys hanging round together and we liked to sing harmony; we weren’t musicians, none of us could play. Joey Ankrah had pretty good ideas about harmony. We all arrived at Joey’s cellar and Joey handed out some harmonies and it sounded special. The first song we ever sung was ‘A Thousand Stars’. Joey had come up with arrangements for the song and it just sounded like magic.I remember Joey Ankrah as a musician back in those days and earlier – he and our kid were best spas – when he used to play some mean chords on the piano in Stanley House.

The Beatles heard of the Chants and rehearsed four songs with them, which they then all sang in the Cavern packed with screaming teenagers. That day was the Chants' introduction to showbiz and they never looked back making a modest living out of singing for nearly a decade and a half. But they did not get a hit record, it just did not come. Their first single I Don’t Care, everybody thought it was going to be a smash hit but it failed as did single after single after single. Sweet Was the Wine got into the Liverpool charts but didn’t have any impact nationally.

“The Chants split up naturally; we came to realise in our thirteenth year, which is round about 1975, that it wasn’t going to happen. We could probably have gone on working in the clubs and that, but we were never going to get the success that we thought we deserved. My brother Chris was only a kid when the Chants were going and he wanted to do the same type of thing so when he got to about 15 or 16 I said to him bring a few guys round and I’ll coach you. My idea was to keep them off the streets and that’s what led to the Real Thing being formed.”

Eddie Amoo had meanwhile developed into an accomplished writer. He wrote the Real Thing’s first three singles before he actually joined the group. He didn’t start out as a musician. “When we first started I didn’t know what an instrument was, we were just singers. We’d listen to records, get our harmonies and just evolve.” By the time the Chants split up, Eddie was well equipped for a successful musical career. The Chants had provided an opportune apprentership; he could play the guitar and the piano, compose and write songs. He had co-composed the Chants’ first single I Don’t Care then they had got together with Tony Hatch (the famous songwriter producer) and he worked out a set of chords which developed into a song that should have had more recognition than it did. Tony Hatch had come to the Cavern to audition the Chants and signed them with Pye Record. Thirteen years later the Real Thing were signed to the same record company.

The No1 single brought the Real Thing enduring fame and some serious income and their follow-up record, the self-penned Can't get by without you, went to No 2 in the national chart. ‘Can you feel the force’ is a brilliant disco classic - the 1979 remix is the best (it was originally released the previous year on the album "Step into our world") and probably the best single they ever released. The band had everything going for them. They had hits, they were a rocking good band and Chris and Eddie Amoo were song writers. No other British black group had ever been taken seriously by the industry before the Real Thing; they paved the way a decade later for the likes of Soul to Soul. Musically, they were essentially known through their disco pop hit records. However, their stage act featured songs that were quite different from what they had put on record. The record company called them in and suggested that they should put Liverpool 8, Stanhope Street and Children of the Ghetto, arguably their three best songs ever, on the next album. They all agreed and in the studio successfully turned the three songs into an extended medley. The songs were vibrant and heartfelt and talked of the streets and people they grew up with. This was the musical highlight of the Real Thing, although the gems were buried in an otherwise unremarkable album Four from Eight [four guys from Liverpool 8]. The album cover was a classic with photographs capturing the fashion extravagance and the underlying disquiet of the area in the mid-1970s. Unfortunately the album did not do too well either.

It was a mistake,” says Eddie. “From a business sense and a creative sense, we the group and the record company made a big mistake. They released the album on the back of three songs. Secondly you can’t expect people who buy ‘Can’t Get By Without You’ to get into songs like ‘Children of the Ghetto’ or ‘Stanhope Street’. It was never going to happen, we were a bit naïve. We didn’t know about markets then we just thought ‘if you put a record out, lah, it’s either a hit or it isn’t’.” The silver lining of the album was Children of the Ghetto, a poignant song that became a soul classic and a huge earner for the Amoos.

Despite their success and touring all over the world the Real Thing have always been a Liverpool band. Not for them the bright lights of the capital; okay some of the band went to live in the rich suburbs but Eddie has lived within a mile of where he grew up and invested his money in property when the area was crumbling and unpopular.

Every thing we do, all our musical ideas, particularly me and Chris, even today, we draw from round here, where we grew up.”

The group weren’t tempted to move to London, not being newcomers to the business; they had been around long enough to know about showbiz parties and wild life. “We knew that if you get drawn into it you are not going to last long. Sadly, Ray [Lake] did get drawn into it and it caused him and us a lot of grief and in the end it destroyed him. Stick to your roots, stick to what you know and you’re going to be a lot better off.

Investing in the area

We realised about 15 to 20 years ago that the group can’t go on forever. Even the amount of time we have been in the business amazes me. Chris and I came up with a plan to invest all our publishing money, because we were developing the song writing side. We started off with experimenting with little houses around Liverpool. Buying them, doing them up and renting them. But our first big venture was Sunnyside Place off Devonshire Road. We call it Abbey Mews now. It proved to be an absolute winner. I remember going down to the auctions and this huge, burnt out property in Princes Park was for sale and nobody wanted to know for £30,000. Me and Sylvia we looked at each other and thought if we don’t get to buy this we’re mad. We bought it and it turned out to be an amazing project. It’s never, ever been empty; people have always wanted to live there. After that we bought three doss houses on Princess Avenue. It was rat-infested, they stunk and they were going cheap. People said ‘you’re mad, you’re throwing away your money. But these investments were our pension, to give us some sort of security when the group finishes.

Since then prices in the area have shot through the roof, auction houses are packed to the rafters and the Amoos are sitting pretty, thank you very much, the faith they invested in the area is paying off big time.

What have been the highlights of your career?

Getting to No 1 was a special buzz. After 13 years with the Chants and achieving nothing and then joining the Real Thing in 1974 and a year later we went to number one that was absolutely amazing. Another huge buzz was when ‘You Never Know What You’re Missing’ took off, because that was our first self-penned number to go in the charts. Another highlight was the success of ‘Can You Feel the Force?’ That was self-penned and became one of the greatest all time selling records in the UK.  Another highlight was when Philip Bailey from Earth Wind and Fire recorded ‘Children of the Ghetto’. Earth Wind and Fire had always been a favourite of the band, so that was nice.”  

“The greatest mistake we’ve ever made in our career was going to South Africa… It was the ugliest two weeks of my life.

What have been the low points of your career? Eddie thinks for a few seconds then pinpoints to the year 1982. “For some reason, in 1982, our run of success stopped. Our record company had gone down the tube and we stopped touring. We were working with David Essex as a backing group. Then 1983 followed with the greatest mistake we’ve ever made in our career – going to South Africa.”

The Real Thing going to South Africa caused uproar. It was a time when the Anti-Apartheid movement was growing strong in the UK. Some of the older readers may remember the stinging article written by Manneh Brown condemning the Real Thing for going to South Africa and Eddie Amoo’s tame reply in Black Links, TGR’S predecessor. It was a time of high passion after the 1981 Liverpool uprisings, and in the middle of the campaign against Zola Budd the Boer runner who had been granted British citizenship in record time so she could run for England and had her races interrupted by activists, including famously in Birkenhead.

At that time, although we were about to write about the ghetto we were not really into politics. So when we were offered the chance to go to South Africa, first of all we thought we’re not going there, we’ll get aggravation because we’re black. But the way it was sold to us is ‘imagine the impression it will make singing Children of the Ghetto in South Africa. We also thought it was an opportunity to go to a place we will probably never go to and actually see for ourselves what’s going on. So we went as the backing group of David Essex, a huge pop star of the time. When we got there the first shock we got was at sound check when we were rehearsing Children of the Ghetto.  David Essex came up to us and said they’ve asked me to ask you to take that number out because it will upset some of the people there. We looked at him and said but one of the reasons we came out here was precisely to perform this song. He said that was what the promoters wanted and right away we realised we had made a big mistake. Then it got worst, when we were doing the backing vocals, doo-woping, the promoters said to cut them out also because it might upset Asians in the audience. We got into huge arguments with the staff of places where we played. They would try to justify the system. It was the ugliest two weeks of my life. One good thing is that we made friends with a lot of black people and went back to the townships to see how they lived. The settlements were horrific; I had never seen so much poverty in my life. When we got back home we found ourselves in Shit Street. There was a furore about us going, which if we had thought about it before we left we wouldn’t have gone. We upset a lot of people. And we didn’t particularly gain, we would have been paid the same if we had done the same in Harrogate, we weren’t paid extra. It wasn’t money, we went there for the experience of seeing South Africa, but it was very naïve of us and pretty damn stupid. When I think back to it now I think we got off pretty lightly, it could have been a lot heavier. It was a humbling experience.”


Muhammad Ali was the Man

He must have met hundreds of stars over the years. Who stands out? Who impressed him the most?

Without hesitation, he answers “Muhammad Ali. He never let me down in the way I’d perceived him. We were invited to a special evening with Muhammad Ali for Thames Television. The group was one of a number of personalities who had been invited. What really impressed me was after the show we were all in the Green Room and all these people were throwing themselves all over him, he just made a beeline for us. He made a point of walking right through all these people and came over to us and stood talking, laughing and joking with us for about fifteen minutes. In terms of star status we were nothing compared to some of the people in that room. I was so proud. The guy was so clever, so fast.

“I remember as a kid I used to worship the Motown stars. But when you meet these people and talk with them after a show, the glamour goes when you find out some of the terrible things they went through. They’re just like us, off the streets, not much in terms of formal education, out of school at 15. Although I too left school at 15, the standard of education we got compared to kids today was vastly superior. You left school with quite a lot of skills. Your English was good, your Maths was good, we were pretty articulate. If you took school seriously back then you were pretty well equipped. As a song-writer I didn’t really discover that I had a talent for writing until the Chants came together. When we met the Beatles I sat back and realised that John and Paul were writing a lot of songs. I thought that’s the key. To be successful you had to write songs.

Did he have any musical training prior to the Chants?

My dad used to play guitar, but I was never into me dad’s music. He is from Ghana and used to play High Life. But you’re growing up you’re into rock and roll and stuff like that. There was always music in the house and me dad used to try and get me to play, but because I wasn’t into the music I never bothered. Everything flowed from the Chants, because it hit me how important being a musician was. I used to watch all the Liverpool bands, most of them were three-chord bands and I thought I’m sure I can do better than that. When it became obvious that we weren’t going to have this huge hit record we started doing cabaret. We slowly evolved into a show group, a cabaret group. The downside to that was that we didn’t have our own band and we had to use club musicians, and sometimes the musicians weren’t up to it and we’d get slaughtered. So I learnt to play piano and slowly became a musician, which improved my writing and enabled me to write songs.”

Did he have any local musician role models when he started out?

“There weren’t any local role models when we first started; all our role models were Americans. The doo-wop people like Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, then the Temptations, then War, Earth Wind & Fire and Parliament.

What advice would he give to young people who want to embark on a musical career?

The key to success in this business is songs. They have to develop song writing abilities. If you can perform but can’t write songs, team up with somebody who can and vice versa. The next important thing is to get your songs on tape and get them heard somehow. The best way of doing that is through the net; there are sites on the net where you can gain direct access to A & R men. You have got to get your ideas heard and do what you have to do to get them heard. Don’t get discouraged when it doesn’t happen straight away, it might take years for it to happen.”


[1] This article first appeared in Granby Toxteth Review

Translate This Page