Cheryl Livingstone finds out what puts the magic into this Motown show
It was a chance visit to a theatre in Dartford, Kent, that first spawned the idea of a show dedicated to the music of Motown.
Michael Taylor, managing director of EasyTheatres.com, was travelling the country with another of his shows – featuring music from Abba and The Bee Gees – and decided to look in on the Orchard Theatre.
“What happened to be on was a Motown show and we got the last two seats in the whole place; there was just people everywhere,” said Gary Mac, a spokesman for the company.
“It was absolutely heaving in there, and we thought that there was obviously a market for Motown. The show that we saw was very good, but some of the songs they chose were very obscure.
“So we were sitting there looking around thinking ‘it’s awfully busy in here, wouldn’t it be a great idea to do this but provide people with the songs they want to hear’, so that’s what we did.”
That was more than 10 years ago and now the Magic of Motown show is a staple in the culture calendar for many. Each year, there are around 100-150 dates in the tour, with each show providing something different.
“That’s what’s really great about the Motown label, there are so many great songs to dip into,” said Gary.
“We get around 36 tracks into the Magic of Motown and basically give people a great night. If we haven’t got people dancing in the aisles and stamping their feet and clapping, then we haven’t done our job. Our cast has a repertoire of say about 150 songs that they can play at any one time, and they are the biggest 150 hits. That gives you an idea of just how many big songs Motown had in the 1960s.
“Year on year, we get the same faces in the audience because they know they are going to get a brand-new experience.”
Gary said one of the most difficult aspects of creating such a great show was finding the right singers and musicians for the house band.
He explained that the Motown sound was very distinctive and there was a house band that did all the early 60s hits called the Funk Brothers. During the 60s, many people tried to imitate that sound, he said, but never quite succeeded.
“So you can imagine how difficult it is to actually recreate that. It’s a very warm sound that the Funk Brothers produced. We spent a long time auditioning musicians to make sure we got it absolutely dead right; it’s very easy to get that wrong.”
Luckily for fans of Motown, it seems the producers of this show got it right and the production has gone from strength to strength over the past decade. And as the cast get ready to head to Aberdeen’s Music Hall on Saturday, November 14, people’s love of Motown shows no sign of wavering.
“I had the pleasure of meeting Edwin Star, one of the original Motown singers, and I asked him that question about his own material and Motown in general. Why is Motown as popular today as it has ever been?” Gary said.
“He said the trick to it is to come up with a catchphrase. If you think about all the song titles, they are all catchphrases – Tracks of My Tears, Ain’t Too Proud To Beg – he said once you have that, you work on the song and put the catchphrase into it and all of a sudden you’ve got a hit record, which is quite interesting.
“The lyrics are always uplifting and tell a story; they are not just lyrics for lyrics’ sake. Each song tells a story and comes to a conclusion. I think that’s one of the reasons why people remember them fondly. And most of them are either fast-moving songs or they are incredible ballads; you don’t really get any that are mid-tempo.”
You can see the Magic of Motown show at Aberdeen’s Music Hall this Saturday, November 14. For tickets and information visit www.aberdeenperformingarts.com
or call 01224 641122.