ParkARTS Neighborhood Concert: Soul City Band
Neighborhood concerts are made possible by the generosity of:
- Berklee College of Music
- Friends of Ramler Park
- The Fenway Civic Association, and
- The Navy Band Northeast.
Thousands of people all over New England, who probably haven't been in a nightclub or concert hall in years, have heard and grooved to Soul City. That's because the ten-piece Boston soul band plays a busy schedule of all kinds of gigs, of which clubs are just a small part. The band's reputation and the classic sounds they bring keep them working a variety of corporate shows, and many of those private events that make some original musicians blanch — weddings. Pat "Trick" Wallace has been managing Soul City since its inception in the late 1980s. He started out playing guitar with them, stepped back into a purely managerial role for a few years, and then about four years ago when they needed a bassist, he returned to the stage.
The current Soul City lineup includes vocalist Natalie Antell, Jim Clark on trumpet, Tucker Antell on tenor sax, Ian Travers on trombone, Jason Miele on baritone sax, Wallace on guitar, Dan Snape on keyboards, Vancil Cooper on drums, and Adriel Ferguson on bass. "We all teach music in some way or form," said Wallace from his Boston home. "I think this lineup has four people from Berklee College of Music, two more from the New England Conservatory, and four more from various places. Our keyboard guy (Snape) was the musical director for the British version of the Blues Brothers touring band. The trombonist (Ian Travers) was in the British Army Jazz Band for 13 years. Our drummer was raised in the church, so he has a unique, gospel style of drumming that really gives us a different feel."
"There must be about eight bands playing around Boston with the word 'soul' in their name," Wallace pointed out. "What sets us apart is probably our songlist, and there are certainly songs that every band will do, but we do certain rhythmic things nobody else does. We are probably a little more mainstream, old school soul than many others, although not as predictably mainstream as some others. We will do all the requests we can, and then do a wide range of other stuff. Having the male and female singers gives us a real edge, and the four-piece horn section really sets us apart."
The obvious question is, why would such accomplished musicians devote their time to playing basically covers? Turns out, they just love soul music and have fun playing it. "The band chemistry we have is as good as I've ever seen," said Wallace. "All ten of us throw ideas around and decide what songs we're going to do. We're also committed to playing with the full band. It's not that we haven't sometimes gone smaller in our earlier days, but we're after the sound the whole band can give us, and don't want to dilute it with just six pieces, for example."
"People stay in this band for a long time, because we have a lot of fun playing together," Wallace noted. "Even when something opens up, a band member usually recommends someone who would like to join us. But this lineup is very secure — when people see us play, and want to hire us, they often ask if this will be the actual group that plays their gig, and the answer is yes. There are lots of bands where one or two key guys just go out and book horn players for a particular gig, and you get a different lineup every night, but that's not our style. Our lineup stays together, which is one reason we sound so good, and I must say our horn section is incredible."
So how does Soul City get all those business gigs, or those wedding parties? Word of mouth is a huge selling point, but occasional club dates are also a prime factor. " ...Ryles is not a huge place, but it works for us, and is the only club we play regularly — mainly because we always have a ball there. But it features jazz and blues, and so we fit right in, and it's also a fine showcase for potential clients to come and hear us..."
So music purists can scoff at wedding gigs or corporate shows, or the whole idea of being a cover band playing classic tunes from soul's yesteryear. Soul City is having fun, and making a decent living performing music they all love. Nobody is having second thoughts. "One time someone in the band suggested we might want to go back to doing the song 'Y-M-C-A' and some of us hated the idea," Wallace noted. "We put it back in our setlist anyway. The next time we played it, with just the opening notes people in the crowd were reacting, and by the middle of it, they were climbing up on their chairs and singing and motioning out the letters and having the greatest time. You never see a crowd that animated at local rock clubs." "We have a simple motto," Wallace added. "People dance — we win."