A Chat With The Foundations' Clem Curtis

Posted on: 28 July 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

The British soul sensation's original lead singer talks to 50connect.

Clem Curtis was lead singer of British soul group The Foundations, lending his voice to their hits Baby Now That I've Found You, Back On My Feet Again and Any Old Time (You're Lonely And Sad).

He left in 1968, but is performing today with the group he reformed in the 1970s. He's in Staffordshire on 10th August for the Burntwood Sixties Summer Festival.

The sixties was a special time, agrees Clem, who believes that unfortunately the music business has lost its way over the years.

"Everybody knew what a hit record was. When you heard a song play if you couldn't sing it you could whistle or hum it so that was great."

"I can not relate to today's music because half of it has no meaning. The words don't mean anything. Many of the bands today used 60s music in order to get anywhere, with samples and so on."

The Foundations' own inspiration came from their contemporaries.

"In the 60s there was rock, pop, blues, and American soul music. Lots of bands played soul but it wasn't as popular. It had to change. People like Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett and a whole group of American artists were doing this dance music, and this was our preference."

The band picked up on the sound and used it to create their own style.

"We listened to white labels that we got from the market that nobody had heard of. There were no names of bands. I suppose we were copying a new sound, I don't know if it was Motown or whatever, but that was the kind of music that we all liked and that's why we took it up."

Before becoming a musician, Clem was a professional boxer. Singing at home with his musical family led to his change of direction.

"I used to sing with my uncle. He had a guitar and came round the house. I had one of those girly falsetto voices. He told me one day that, 'This band guy has got a band called the Ramongs and he's looking for backing singers, d'you fancy trying it?' I had nothing to lose so I did, and it all stemmed from there."

That group became The Foundations. Interestingly they were the first multi-racial act to have a number one hit in the UK in the 1960s, with their debut record Baby Now That I've Found You.

"Tony Gomez the piano player came from Salong, Eric Allendale our trombone player was Dominican, I was from Trinidad. It just happened that we were a very diverse mixed bunch of people. That in itself was something new."

It was quite ground breaking at the time. The group were also unusually diverse in age, from 38 year old saxophone player Mike Elliot to 18 year old Tim Harris. Clem was among much more musically experienced people.

"They were a versatile bunch of musicians. Most of the guys had tried their hand in different things at some point. Eric played with Terry Lightfoot and Edmundo Ros. I probably was the only one that had no musical experience. My mother sung jazz and stuff like that, but I used to box, so it wasn't something that I ever thought about."

Although Baby Now That I've Found You reached number one in 1967, the next couple of singles charted lower. In 1968 Clem left the group, partially influenced by Sammy Davis Jr.

"I met Sammy Davis Jr. and he introduced me to some very nice people and I thought it was the time for me to go. I went to America to learn about my craft and to watch other black artists like myself - Lloyd Price, Wilson Pickett and many more - so that I could have a better understanding of the business."

He toured with the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder and The Temptations.

"I worked with quite a lot of people over the years and it's been great being able to rub shoulders with people that I admired before I was in the business. America was great fun for me, and it still is today. Probably the reason why I'm still in the business today is because I really wanted to learn the craft and I am doing."

Clem believes going to the USA helped him to be still in the business today.

"I'm still here when many other people from my era who had a couple of hit records are no longer around. The longevity of it for me is great fun. It's a tough, demanding business to be still in. Those who have been lucky enough to have a hit record or suddenly become rich often get to that point and retire. I haven't reached that point, I love what I do."

After leaving the group he didn't stay in touch with the other members.

"Apart from Eric Holland, who passed away a few years ago, Tim Harris the year before last, and Alan Warner, I haven't actually ever seen any of the other members."

This is not a source of regret.

"Absolutely not. The Foundations broke up in 1970. I was on tour with Donny Elbert and the agent asked why I was doing backing vocals when I'd had my own hit records, and would I like to reform The Foundations? I said yes and that was it from 1970 to now."

Clem is keen to stress that he and his group are recognised as The Foundations around the world. He still enjoys performing, and is gaining new fans as well as delighting old ones.

"Children still come to my door and say, 'You're the man that sings those songs, aren't you, can we have your autograph?' I'm grateful that young people today still remember us and the music I was involved with. My audiences have extended because there's a generation of children from about age 8 upwards who were never anywhere near when we created the music, to people my age and over who were around in my time. They can still sing every song I've done word for word, so that is also a great feeling."

40 years on The Foundations' hits are still played regularly, and part of their popularity today is due to their use on the silver screen. Their later hit Take A Girl Like You was used in the 1970 film, in 1998 Build Me Up Buttercup appeared in There's Something About Mary, and Baby Now That I've Found You was featured in the 2002 movie Shallow Hal.

"We've been very fortunate over the years. I've been going in this business 41 years and it's still a great pleasure. It's a wonderful feeling to still be able to do what you love best and that's what I do. I have the same excitement going out now performing in front of thousands of people. I'm still lucky to be able to travel to America and all over Europe and work."

And it’s with the same gusto Clem views his age, and retirement.

"I'm 68 in November. If you saw me I don’t think you'd think I'm 68."

"God gives each person a moment in life to enjoy all the things you can do. I hear people in the business say about a DJ for example, 'They're that age, why are they still doing the things that they're doing?'"

"While you are capable, enjoy it and people still pay to see you why shouldn't one enjoy it?"

"People keep telling us when we should retire, and what we should do when we do, but if a man or woman is able to do their thing sanely they should be allowed to continue doing that - and that's what I like."

By Cherry Butler

Web Links

Clem Curtis' official website: www.clemcurtis.com

Summer Sixties Festival: www.burntwoodwakes.co.uk

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