Shalamar ‘Uptown Festival’ / ‘Disco Gardens’ / ‘Big Fun’ 2CD (Robinsongs) 4/5

One of the classic disco groups and an early example of the Solar sound that would come to be personified by the likes of The Whispers and Dynasty. The trio comprised the dynamic vocal duet of Jody Watley and Howard Hewett, with the dazzling visual dancing talents of Jeffrey Daniels. Instrumentally, the backing band were largely anonymous, but over time the sound became distinctive as the Solar sound and in the UK, Shalamar crossed over into the pop charts. The three albums contained within chart the progress that the group made from disco wannabees to a tightly defined soul-disco outfit with serious pretensions.

Starting off with, ‘Uptown Festival’, which is no less than a medley of classic Motown songs and in truth the group getting used to a studio environment, the title track was at the very least an indication that Shalamar were far more capable than operating as a mere covers band, and could in fact create a voice of their own. Their first real attempt at what became known as the ‘Shalamar sound’ started in earnest with, ‘Disco Gardens’, and the immortal disco anthem ‘Take That To The Bank’, which is here in all its full length glory and it still sounds like as fresh at the day it was recorded. As a whole, the album was a somewhat mixed affair, with hits and misses along the way. The mid-tempo ‘Leave It All Up To Love’, was a clear sign that the band could look beyond strictly dancefloor tracks and attract the listener with a strong hook, something of a Shalamar trademark over the years, with the vocal harmonies to the fore. Equally, the group could deliver quality ballads, as with ‘Lovely Lady’, with Jody Watley taking over lead vocal duties.

The fortunes of Shalamar really took off with the third album, ‘Big Fun’, which was by far the best balanced of the trio of albums here and illustrated by the three singles that were released off it and all succeeded to a greater or lesser extent. Another dancefloor winner emerged with, ‘Right In The Socket’, which is heard in the full length version and builds into a steamy disco classic, with thumping drums and handclaps, electric piano and subtle layered strings that typified the Solar label approach. An ever bigger hit proved to be ‘The Second Time Around’, which attracted the non-disco crowd and set the template for their successful foray into the UK pop chart territory. While not reaching the same heights as a single, ‘I Owe You One’, was a subtle soul-disco song that reinforced the view that Shalamar were here to stay and for a seven year period from 1977 to 1984, they were indeed one of the finest groups to emerge. A lovely overview of the early part of the career of the band and bonus cuts include the 7″ versions of the singles on ‘Big Fun’. As per usual, excellent graphics and lengthy historical notes in the inner sleeve. The second part of their career would see Shalamar first climbing to the top of the import charts, then taking advantage of the early 1980s promotional video boom to conquer the UK pop market, especially with the dancing talents of Jeffrey Daniel, and then on the pinnacle of their career with that stunning hit ‘A Night To Remember’.

Tim Stenhouse