Tracie: ‘Souls On Fire (The Recordings 1983-1986)’

❉ James Collingwood explores the house that Tracie Young built and finds hidden gems aplenty.  

“Tracie’s connection with Paul Weller as a mentor was obviously strong but this compilation shows her qualities as an impressive solo artist and a talent in her own right. Tracie was the equal of other strong female voices of the time such as Carmel, Tracey Thorn or Alison Statton…”

In 1982, with The Jam at their peak, Paul Weller placed a small ad in Smash Hits: “Fancy yourself as one of the great ’60s chanteuses? Well, if you do and you’re female aged 19-22 then Paul Weller’s Respond Records are looking for you.”

The next month, a second advert appeared: “Situations Vacant – Paul Weller’s Respond label are still looking for a female singer to record. Paul would like to stress that you don’t have to be a 60’s maniac to qualify. All you need is a strong voice and good technique. Send a cassette…”

Not confident enough to respond to the first advert, 17-year-old Tracie Young responded to the second after being inspired to do so as a result of attending a Q-Tips gig. She sent a cassette, on which was a cover of the Betty Wright song Shoorah Shoorah. After a phone call and an audition, Tracie (always known under her first name as a performer), was signed as a solo artist. In a matter of weeks, she was performing on Top Of The Pops with the Jam for their final single, the chart-topping Beat Surrender.

With the introduction to the pop world complete hit singles, NME and Smash Hits cover appearances and a solo album soon followed. Cherry Red’s Souls on Fire: The Recordings 1983 -1986 includes all Tracie’s work over this period, including the two solo albums (the second of which was only released in 2014, 25 years after it was originally made!) bonus tracks, live appearances, and rarities. As with all Cherry Red deluxe releases, it also includes informative sleeve notes in the accompanying booklet.

The connection with Weller as a mentor was obviously strong but this compilation shows Tracie’s qualities as an impressive solo artist and a talent in her own right. She was the equal of other strong female voices of the time such as Carmel, Tracey Thorn (Everything but The Girl) or Alison Statton (Weekend and previously Young Marble Giants) and should have had a longer music career but has had an enduring professional life as a radio presenter and producer.

Despite including her on the first Style Council single Speak like a Child Paul Weller had always intended to mentor Tracie as a solo artist anyway and wanted to include her on his own record label Respond Records. He intended Respond to be run as a roster of acts modelled on the Motown family. Other acts on the label included Vaughan Toulouse (groundbreaking DJ and Department S singer) The Questions (who wrote Tracie’s first hit The House that Jack Built) and the brilliant pop band Dolly Mixture.

in a 1993 interview with music journalist Mat Snow regarding Respond, and the Solid Bond recording studios he had also set up in the early eighties, Weller stated: “People tried to talk me out of it, but I just fancied having my own label. Who wouldn’t? To do a label properly, you have to devote to it as much time as you do your own work, or else something’s going to suffer, which it did. I got it wrong, and wouldn’t do it again. There you go.”

Tracie was unfortunate to get mixed up in the failure of Respond and it probably led to the non-release of her second album No Smoke without Fire after her impressive debut album Far from the Hurting Kind.  Cherry Red released it in 2014 with Tracie’s help, and both albums are included here.

Strong tracks appear on both albums and Tracie’s voice and phrasing (learnt from listening to her mother’s Barbra Streisand albums) is impressive throughout. Stand-out tracks include the beautiful Elvis Costello-penned (I Love You) When You Sleep which Costello wrote specially for her. Spring Summer Autumn is a Weller/Style Council composition beautifully performed whilst Far from the Hurting Kind is an impressive title track.

Reading the sleeve notes we’re informed that Tracie strongly disagreed with Weller on certain things particularly on the way the two early singles were recorded disliking the drum machine sounds for example. She also disagreed with Weller’s decision not to include the hit singles on the album with Weller apparently being inspired by the Beatles policy of giving listeners “value for money” by not including 45s that they had already bought. Versions of the singles appear on the bonus tracks here.

There are some real hidden gems here.  The brilliant Me and Jimmy Stone on the second album, a bizarre interview with Weller, who puts on a ridiculous accent, on Tracie Raps and the controversial animal rights-inspired version of Paul Hardcastle’s 19 are all fascinating.

The DVD included with the album is also a brilliant nostalgic trip and includes promos, live performances, and the Top Of The Pops appearances. It also includes a performance on BBC One’s ’80s flagship chat-show Wogan of the live favourite, George McRae’s I Can’t Leave you Alone. A real talent.

❉ Tracie: Souls On Fire – The Recordings 1983-1986 (Cherry Red CRCDBOX144) 4CD/1DVD Set was released 30 June 2023 by Cherry Red Group, RRP £31.99. Cherry Red Records have been releasing and reissuing the most innovative and independent thinking music since 1978. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

 James Collingwood is based in West Yorkshire and has been writing for a number of years. He currently also writes for the Bradford Review magazine for which he has conducted more than 30 interviews and has covered music, film and theatre.  His Twitter is @JamesCollingwo1

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