Richie Sampson (l) with the other members of the close harmony group. SKW
'Some kids won't know The Drifters, but they'll know the songs'
Interview: Soul Kinda Wonderful

'Some kids won't know The Drifters, but they'll know the songs'

One of the UK's top soul and Tamla Motown tribute bands stops off on the Costa del Sol next month for their only performance in Spain during an extensive tour

Tony Bryant


Friday, 24 May 2024, 13:42

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One of the UK's top soul and Tamla Motown tribute bands stop off on the Costa del Sol next month for their only performance in Spain during an extensive tour that includes theatres and venues all over the UK until the summer of 2025.

Three times National Music Awards Winners (2013/16/17), the close harmony vocal group, Soul Kinda Wonderful, or SKW as they are known, will bring An Evening with The Drifters 50th Anniversary Tour tribute show to the Cervantes Hotel in Torremolinos on Saturday 15 June. The show features classic songs of the celebrated American soul vocal group fronted at one time by Ben E. King, such as Stand by Me, Under the Boardwalk, Save the Last Dance, Saturday Night at the Movies and Kissing in the Back Row of the Movies, among others.

SUR in English spoke to founder and vocalist Richie Sampson via video-link from his home in Leicester prior to his performance on the Costa del Sol to chat about his early life and his successful career in the music business.

Born in 1968, Richie arrived in the UK from Jamaica with his family when he was seven years old. He grew up in the West Midlands (living next door to comedian Lenny Henry at one time) and studied science at Leicester University, after which, he enjoyed a career working as a physics and chemistry teacher.

First band

Richie's interest in music evolved from listening to Tamla Motown artists like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and The Four Tops. While at university, Richie formed his own band, which went on to support UK roots reggae group Steel Pulse, which he says, smiling, is "my claim to fame".

"It was while studying science at university that my interest in music began to develop and I started my own little band. We weren't very good though," he says, bursting into laughter.

After spending several years working as a teacher, in his late 30s, he discovered that he could, and more to the point, people wanted him to, sing, and he began dedicating his time to practising vocal harmonising.

He soon began to make his mark on the UK soul scene, working alongside longstanding members of The Drifters, including Ray Lewis, Johnny Moore and Roy Hemmings.

Richie has also worked as frontman for the renowned British band, The Foundations, a group that had a string of hits during the late 1960s and early '70s, and who were the first multi-racial group to have a number one hit in the UK.

"Yes, I sang with The Foundations for a while, with Alan Warner, the guy who formed the original band way back in the day. I stepped in as vocalist after Clem Curtis died. This happened shortly before I started my Drifters show. Build Me Up Buttercup is still one of my favourite songs," he says, with a hint of nostalgia.

After his stint with The Foundations, Richie had the idea of forming SKW, performing the hit songs of The Drifters and those of the Motown greats he had grown up listening to.

Specific vocal harmony

Finding suitable members of the band in 2014 was not an easy task, as Richie had to find a specific type of vocal harmony where the voices are characterised by the close proximity of the individual pitches within a chord or musical phrase. This type of harmony is often associated with genres such as barbershop quartets, gospel, jazz and choral music.

Along with Richie, the lineup includes Tayray Thomas, Roy Bailey and Carlton Powell, all renowned vocalists in their own right.

"There was only a small community of those guys who were into soul and Motown at that time. But thankfully, there were guys around that could do close harmonies, and I was able to find singers from my own town, and also from London. We have a stable core now, and some of the band have also performed with the most recent line-up of The Drifters. This is why we are considered the official tribute to The Drifters in the UK," he explains.

The group on stage.
The group on stage. SKW

The Drifters were originally formed as a backing group for Clyde McPhatter, a key figure in the shaping of doo-wop and rhythm and blues. The second group was formed in 1959 and was led by Ben E King, although the lineup has changed numerous times over the decades. The various lineups during this time, which contained few, if any, original members, have seen more than 40 different members since the band was first formed.

SKW has played at all sorts of venues, including luxury cruise ships; the Butlins' soul weekends, where they perform for up to 10,000 people; and at festivals sharing the stage with legendary soul and pop artists like George McCrae (who is a close friend of Richie), The Three Degrees, Boney M and The Real Thing. The group have also been hired for private events by A-list celebrities like David and Victoria Beckham, Tom Cruise and Sir Alex Ferguson.

Richie says that he is amazed at the age-range that turn up to their concerts, because they are not all older people who remember the original Drifters, whose golden eras were the early 1950s and 1960s, and the post-Atlantic period of the early 1970s.

All ages

"What happens is the more mature fans come because they remember the original band, and they bring their children, or grandchildren. These kids might not know who The Drifters were, but they will definitely know songs like Stand By Me or Under the Boardwalk," Richie declares.

Richie and the band also write their own compositions, and along with classic soul hits, their show in Torremolinos will include songs from their recently released album, Closer and Closer to You.

"We perform all the classics, and also mix some of our own tunes into the set, which works very well, because they are similar to the soul sound of the '60s and '70s," he says.

Richie has also just recorded a new solo single called Got to Get Through to You, a song that contains the raunchy rhythms and electric ambience of the dancefloor classics of the golden era of funk and soul.

This will not be the first time the group have been to Spain, and their spectacular Drifters show, of which the Daily Express said, "The music lives on," is sure to appeal to lovers of the iconic sound of a vocal group that set musical trends with more than a dozen hit records, most of which are still regarded as legendary recordings today.

"The audience will expect to hear all the popular songs, and that is what they will get. It will be a night for lovers of soul and Motown. There will be something for everyone. I don't think Drifters fans will go away disappointed," Richie concludes.

An Evening with The Drifters 50th Anniversary Tribute Tour show, which will also feature Irish crooner Desi Egan, and Juan José Portero, who performs a tribute to Julio Iglesias, will begin at 8pm. Tickets cost 30 euros.

Tel: 673426299

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