Rick Clarke - Time Keeps Moving On (Raven Records, 1988)
On his debut album, UK singer Rick Clarke delivers a brilliantly sophisticated performance that sees his beautiful voice backed by the intricate stylings of the bountiful UK Street Soul genre.
The UK during the 1980s was a turbulent time, with social and economic strife led by a political agenda that saw to dismantling many social and economic systems and leaving huge swathes of the population more adrift than ever before. However, whilst many aspects of society suffered, music seemed to provide a respite to the disenfranchised, with some incredible leaps forward leading to the foundations of so many integral scenes, sounds and clubs. The influx of disco towards the end of the 70s and the electronic infused sounds of boogie, modern soul and funk led to the continual emergence of Brit Funk, a genre which soundtracked many clubs across the country, whilst Italo Disco and the blossoming Chicago house scene moved things further forward in an electronic direction. Acid house and techno would arrive later in the decade, which would spark one of the UK's most significant cultural movements, but during this time another important music genre was emerging from the Black British underground, and that was the UK Street Soul movement. Inspired heavily by a mixture of Jam and Lewis productions, the UK soul jazz group Loose Ends and the plethora of excellent Brit Funk bands that released amazing records in the years proceeding, the genre was defined by a strictly DIY approach, that saw minimal drumming patterns interspersed with soaring rhodes keys that remained simple in application but overly soulful from their touch, with these two elements setting the tone for the vocal work that was laid on top. Similar in sound to many of the early 80s boogie and disco bands, UK Street Soul however had a much more humble and compact approach, leaving behind the slick studio affects that made the American sound so appealing to a club like environment and instead going for a feel that remained more personal, more intimate and connective, but still very dancable. This aspect remains very much a hallmark of British musicians being able to hear and take in the sounds of the US and beyond and distill it so well into their own cultural and musical context, crafting a sound that becomes distinctively British and reflective of those who made it and their identity. Many differing voices would arise within the genre, with various producers having a hand in crafting unique takes on the genre, but always injected a hefty amount of soul and passion into it. The sound became defined by its swinging beat structures, Reggae style sonics and groove, and its representation of Inner city life and the black experience during this time, with the music sweet and soulful yet highly reflective of context and mood. The genre was highly revered when it arrived during the mid 80s, and whilst its sound would morph into other differing sub genres during the 90s, its legacy shines on so brightly to this day, our appreciation and love for the music remaining very much at an adoring level.
Out of the many voices who carved a name for themselves during the UK Street Soul years, Derek Clarke did much to make an enormous impact through the music he released. London based Clarke, who largely released music under the stage name Rick Clarke, began his career in the early 80s as a member of Potion and Side On, whom he released a couple of truly excellent Brit Funk cuts with, before embarking on a fruitful solo career that would span the rest of the decade and chart well into the 1990s. The immediate feature that resonates so deeply is his incredible voice, capable of moving between the octaves and ranges with such confidence and meaning, providing an experience that reminds us of many of the great disco and house singers of the day. His voice is often accompanied by some stellar instrumentals that reside underneath it all, providing a swinging and melodically enriching backdrop to Clarke's ever shifting and characterful voice, meaning that his records often shifting between differing tones and tempos that provided a wonderfully diverse selection of audial experiences. Not only did the songs move around tempo wise, but the amount of styles that Clarke tried his hand at is highly admirable, and reflective of his talents and creative vision in providing a complete experience within his records. It showed how he channelled all that was occurring within the Black British underground, touching on styles such as R'n'B, UK Street Soul, UK Garage, Hip Hop and Swing during his career, all of which was bound together by his unbelievable singing abilities. In many ways, this ability and willingness to explore and bind together so many differing genre strands during this time means that Clarke's body of work is always a joy to re-listen to and get to know, as it contains so many beautiful moments where rhythms and melodies collide in the most succulent ways imaginable, with constant re-listening providing further evidence of his song writing and creative abilities. There were many highlights to select from his career, starting off with the excellent 1981 single released as a member of Potion, 'Catch The Feelin' (Showstopper)', that remains one of the prime examples of ultra-fine Brit Funk; and the equally brilliant 1982 single released with Side On, 'Magic', which also remains one of the genre's best examples.
Under the Rick Clarke name, some selected favourites include his 1981 solo debut, 'Potion', which stands out for its excellent grooves and excellent vocal work; the beautiful and sultry 'Love With A Stranger' record, that arrived in 1985 and signalled a shift in direction for the singer towards the emerging UK Street Soul sound; the gorgeous R'n'B swing 'If You Think You're In Love' record from 1988; the slow, steady and expertly groovy 'You Can Depend On Me' record, that arrived in 1993; the fantastic garage joint that is the 1999 record 'Stand By Me', that contains Clarke covering Ben E King's classic of the same name; and finally, the equally great garage cut 'Make Love To Me/Do What You Gotta Do', that also arrived in 99'. Clarke also released a couple of LPs under the Rick Clarke name, including the ultra rare white label LP 'Guess Who', that landed in 1992 and contains some of Clarke's most bold and creative works; and finally, the excellent 1997 LP release 'Turn The Lights Down Low', that showcases some fine vocal work and beautiful keys and drums. In all, Clarke spanned the widest spectrum possible within his music, taking in all manner of styles and genres with his voice acting as the conveyor of mood and feeling, allowing us all the time in the world to take in, enjoy and dance ourselves silly to the grooves. At times really in flow, at others soft and tender, its the kind of music that sings true to its roots and lights a fire deep inside of us. Clarke is a supremely talented musician, an incredible vocalist, and a key figure in one of the UK's most integral and important genres. If you enjoy the sultry sounds of the UK Street Soul scene, then his works are a must listen.
And now we arrive at the subject of today's review, his debut album as Rick Clarke, 'Time Keeps Moving On', which landed in 1988 on the Raven Records imprint. Here we see Clarke on peerless form, utilising complex instrumental work to craft a solid foundation for which his voice can really soar, with backing lines doing the business to elevate the tracks in all the right moments. It smacks very much of early 80s boogie and R'n'B productions, but packaged very much within the realms of UK Street Soul, with the swinging beats and layered vocal lines wrapping around our minds indefinitely and with real purpose. You can dip in and out of the cuts and find something new and different each time, with each tune applying itself to a differing mood and context, no matter where you find yourself. Its a wonderful starting point to Clarke's foray into making LPs, and stands out for its definitive sound that rings true as a collection but contains so many instances of individualised brilliance. So, without further delay, lets dive into this gem of the UK Street Soul story.....
First up we have the title track, that begins with the vocal line 'time keeps moving on' quickly being joined by the swinging beats. The deep chord lines and high end bass line then move into the mix, providing an intoxicating sound that just soars and flies up into the clouds, our souls enriched beyond a point of no return. Clarke begins weaving a narrative within the sea of sound, his voice guiding the instrumentals to follow along, as chord changes prop up his words with such meaning. Its the application of the main chord line that really gets you, as it moves from a softer approach and a wide expanse of colour and tone, laying itself over the foundations of rhythm and bass that lie underneath. The chorus are where the vocals really shine, as Clarke shows off his full range as backing line prop up his words further, with the climax of the arrangement arriving around the 3 minute mark, as the instrumentals weave around each other with such grace and beauty. Its truly spellbinding, with the sax, guitar and additional key lines creating a world we are very happy to be a part of. Just like the title track, the song just keeps on flowing onwards and upwards, its feel one of perpetual motion that could keep on vibing for years to come. Utterly brilliant stuff. Up next comes 'If You Think You Are In love', and the tempo comes down a bit for this one. The drums are slightly more choppy, with the spaces between still persisting, as the main horn line leads us within the melodic section as gorgeous keys lay themselves over the drums, with the bass softly moving along underneath it all. Clarke's vocals arrive soon enough, with his voice carving out a space in the mid section as backing lines provide a call back feel, crafting an even larger sense of dynamism in the groove, with the two vocal lines increasing this relationship at all the right moments. The horns arrive soon after the chorus line, as the guitar work comes on strong alongside the delicate piano line, and before long we are greeted once more by Clarke's soaring voice. The verse contains all the wonderful vocal interplay of the previous, with the interplay going through the gears to provide some contrast to the previous verse, before the song moves into another instrumental segment with the piano taking the lead on this one, as we move through one final choral line before the fades arrive. Incredible. 'Grooving On' arrives next, and the tempo goes up for this one. The drums have a somewhat house tone to them, but as ever the swing remains the stand out tone for it all, as the vocal line repeats 'keep on grooving on', as the chordal line arrives soon after to provide the melodic notions we were all craving. The short key stabs provide a real sense of energy, providing really nice switches up in energy and feel, and signal for the vocal lines to switch up their application and structure, moving between the gears with a real sense of purpose and direction. As the title suggests, its all about the groove, and we become very much involved in all that groove has to offer. A late night burner for sure.
'Better Luck Next Time' arrives next, and this one opens up with some beautiful rhodes style chordal work and Spanish style acoustic guitar. The vocals arrive within the medley, as Clarke emerges to speak some choice words, before the bass line moves us into the swing, and its impeccably done. The application of the melodic features on top of the drums is something else, crafting a calming yet sombre atmosphere of longing and loving someone, with Clarke's voice containing so much wanting and emotion. The movement between the chorus and the verses is achieved through crafting density of the layers, adding indefinitely to the progression of the tune, that remains so smooth and pure, with the climax of this arriving around the 3:30 mark as Clarke leads all the instrumentation in taking us to another level of musical belief and passion. There's still time for a drawn out chorus that burns with meaning and emotion, tugging at our heart strings as we think of a time when we felt that the next time might be the one. Gorgeous. Next comes 'Love', which begins with the rhythmic chordal line interlaced with some stunning guitar work. The drums then arrive on the scene, with a 808 feel to them which is emphasised by the bass line that arrives soon after, with the track quickly transitioning into the verse, where Clarke's softly spoken words are complimented with some beautifully conceived keys, with the two features as ever working alongside each other with gusto and meaning. The overall picture is one of sensual passion, a love letter to the love of a life, with the instrumentalism and vocal work fuelling desires in us all, as Clarke showcases what his voice is all about on this one. The track moves from a very smooth plain of existence and into a more chopped up series of sequences, providing a differing experience that speaks volumes and just shows how accomplished Clarke is as a musician. Brilliant stuff. 'See You Along The Way' arrives next, and the tempo goes up a bit for this one. The swinging beats are quickly accompanied by the sweet sweet chordal line, that moves with the flow masterfully, as their singular feel is quickly joined by the guitar and bass line, as the track moves through the motions with such flair and skill, with Clarke's do do dos signalling the start of the vocal segment. The backing instrumentals encourage Clarke to push the boat out with his vocal applications, with his voice soaring high and landing back down with a skill and determination, its quite a journey indeed. The choruses are where its at, as the full ensemble comes together in the most wonderful way possible, as we soar and soar some more. Top notch.
'I Wanted Your Love' arrives next, and you can tell its going to get the party moving. The drums point the way, as the bass line arrives next to fill in some of the spaces set within their structure, with additional key lines moving into view that look to emphasise the groove even further, and before long Clarke and the chords arrive, and its simply amazing. The chorus line arrives, whipping us up into a frenzy, getting the fires burning instantly, before the energy comes down to provide Clarke with his first moment to build the energy levels up once more. His voice here is on imperious form, moving up and down, left and right with boundless energy, as the drums signal the switch back into the triumphant chorus, which still packs the biggest punch imaginable. The verse once more shows Clarke doing his thing, before leading right back into the amazing chorus, providing us with another exceptional release of energy, before leading into a more stripped back section where the melodies fall away and we are left with Clarke's voice to gently rock us in the dance. The track then progresses into a final verse and chorus, and we throw our hands up one more time, as the tune fades into the night. Beautiful. To wrap things up, we have 'Perfect Lady', which begins with some wondrous keys doing the business, before the drums arrive to craft a foundation for us to follow. With an 808 feel to the foundation, the movement into the melodic laden section feels all the more sweeter, as the groove moves through the gears to provide a foundation that remains high on melodic excellence, with Clarke showing his voice to be one of purity and variety. The swing remains as strong as ever, getting us involved in every single facet that crops up, with the transition into the chorus a thing of beauty, as the drums break down to give us an experience that is so involving and different to the rest of the track. Its a wonderful send off to a record filled with feels, tones and emotion, all bought together by expertly placed grooves and wonderful melodies, either from the vocals or the instrumentation, its all just so brilliant.
Rick Clarke released a fair amount of music that is all worthy of acclaim, but this debut album just has it all. Pointing in the direction of numerous genres, either established or emerging, Clarke creates a world filled with brilliance in relation to groove and instrumentation, with the keys soft, the guitar short and sweet and the drums effortlessly swinging, its a defining record of the UK Street Soul genre and all it looked to set out in terms of sonics. At times up tempo, at others soft and tender, it has all the hallmarks of a complete record, where segments are balanced out to provide a full range of experiences that listeners can get involved within, no matter what mood they happen to find themselves in. Its a real triumph, and one we cannot praise enough, so next time you're in the mood to dance or feeling in love, cast an eye to this solid gold classic, and drift away with its melodic brilliance.
Check it out here: https://www.discogs.com/Rick-Clarke-Time-Keeps-Moving-On/master/1472811
* 'Got To Get A Hold' and 'Don't Say A Word' were not included in the review as we couldn't find it online. We will try and purchase the record at some point and amend to include these two tracks.