Tommy Cunningham's personal take on "City of Soul" and the events which inspired and led to its creation...
As one quarter of the Scottish group WET WET WET, Tom Cunningham (that’s me) has enjoyed a 25 year musical career. In my time with Wet Wet Wet we have sold over 19 million records including 3 number one singles. The career high so far has been the astounding success of the song “Love Is All Around” which held the UK’s number one spot for a total of 15 weeks and went on to be a number one hit in 12 other countries.
City of Soul
In 2010 I helped organised a benefit show for the legendary Radio Clyde DJ Tim Stevens. Tim has suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for many years, he was struggling with his disease and it was now forcing him to retire early from broadcasting.
Well, I just got on the phone and invited the cream of Scotland’s musicians to take part. Everyone I called without exception said yes they would love to take part and simply show Tim just how much they cared for him. With musicians from bands as diverse as Wet Wet Wet, Hue and Cry, Midge Ure, Paulo Nutini, The Proclaimers and a host of actors, comedians, TV and radio presenters all taking to the stage the show was massive success.
On that night one Mr. Jim Diamond took to the stage with me and other musicians sitting in on the backing. I had never met Jim Diamond before the tribute show, of course I knew about his hit records, but not the man himself. Well a funny thing happened; as soon as I met Jim it was as though I had known him all my life. We for some reason had an instant connection and that sort of thing doesn’t happen very often. So it was special. I now consider Jim Diamond as being one of my closest friends. On top of that, his voice was spectacular and on stage his antics and performance were brilliant - a very honest man who likes things to be simple and straightforward. A "don’t mess with things that don’t need messing with" type of a guy - do you know what I mean?
Just after this tribute show I got a call from an organisation asking if Jim and the other musicians who backed him that night would consider doing a show in Glasgow for the charity “Cash For Kids”. I called Jim immediately just hoping that I might get another chance to hang out with my new friend. When he said yes I was so happy, but we had one little problem, the band only knew and could play the three songs of Jim's. We had simply learned Jim’s hits and left it at that.
Now we had a lot of work to do. We organised some rehearsal time and Jim flew into Glasgow. He had come up with a solution to our problem. He walks in and says, “Listen I have always loved soul music, it’s where my career started from, it’s where my heart lives, we all come from a soul music background, it is the music we all learned our craft with and that is the direction we should go in”. See what I mean about simple and direct?
He has in his head an inspired set of soul cover songs for us to learn and play. Some of the songs were very obscure in that I’d never heard them before. One song especially stood out for me called, “Morning Glory” by the Purify Brothers. We rehearsed like crazy and in only a few days we had enough songs to play the show. And what a show it was.
At these events they have round tables laid out that people have paid for, they all expect to be entertained and to get their money’s worth, even if it is for a charity it had better be good - well it is a Glasgow audience. Many artists had been on before us, most were the new breed of pop artists who were all having huge Top Ten hits at the time. You know, boy band stuff, with 4 singers and a backing tape. All very good stuff for the young audience who lapped it up. This left us a little nervous as we didn’t really belong on a stage where people mime to their latest hit. We are musicians, we play and feel our music.
Well we, "the old timers", went on last and guess what happens? We tore the place apart. It was electric. Jim was in his element and took the audience on a roller coaster ride that night, the band were simply brilliant.
Can I just stop for a second as I feel I need to explain something here?
I cannot emphasize enough just what a unique moment that was on that stage that night. As separate musicians we have all played hundreds if not thousands of gigs, but that show was a moment of almost perfection. We all left that stage on a high thinking the same thing - “We have to record this band” - it is unique, and it works so well on stage. We have to try and capture this stuff on tape.
In steps Tom Hunter, or Sir Tom Hunter to give him his full title, to you and me it’s Tom. He already knew Jim and was a fan of his voice. He had loved the show so much that when he came back stage afterwards he instantly asked us why we were not recording this wonderful music and releasing it to the public? We all looked at each other and thought good question, we have been asking the same thing, why are we not doing this?
A plan was hatched and with Tom Hunter’s help a studio was booked and we set in motion the process of capturing a sound that is so authentically pure and so steeped in soul that it will take your breath away. The catalyst that made all this possible was the wonderful charity “Cash For Kids”. So it took us a nanosecond to make up our minds that this record should go to them.
It made perfect sense that once the record was finished we should give it entirely to the charity, that we as musicians had already gotten so much out of our musical careers, so now, when we had found something as special and magical as this little band of friends, it should go to help benefit others.
... and so the record CITY OF SOUL was born.