Updated: Dec 10, 2022
"You to me are everything the sweetest song that I could sing, oh baby". What a line. A song that to this day, is in the UK top 10 requested songs at weddings. It’s a tune that characterised the famous summer of '76, and was sung by the first Black British pin-ups. So when a documentary about their life starts with archival footage of national front supporters and a racist old white man, you start to think whether you’ve entered the right cinema room.
Well, you have.
Simon Sheridan, writer and film maker known for his specialisation in 70’s music and television, is no stranger to talking about tough issues behind smiling faces. His first feature film ‘Respectable- the Mary Millington stories’ not only shares similarities in title, but also in the fact that it tells truths about performers whose fame is concentrated into a relatively small timeframe. With a great number of interviews from fans, band members (Eddie Amoo, Chris Amoo, Dave Smith) and family, this documentary is no doubt a celebration of the band, yet it doesn't shy away from talking some real talk, about how it was to be a black artist paving the way.
In conversation with Sheridan, I asked why he wanted to make this film as someone who's not from Liverpool, is not of colour, and wasn’t old enough to witness the group at their height. What is the contribution he could make to their story? Well, like myself and many others, Sheridan is a fan. He actually pitched the idea of a documentary to Eddie after being blown away from seeing the group perform. Which led to an invitation to Liverpool.
Stating ‘creativity never stands still’, Sheridan's dynamic spirit is evident in the film. Having only been to Liverpool once in his life before Sheridan tells me that when he re-visited for research on the group, it was ‘a revelation’. The cinematic energy of the rough neighbourhood of Toxeth, and psychically being in the place the boys grew up, filming on the streets, really brought this story to life for him.
Liverpool is known as a melting pot of good music. Of course, the Beatles pioneered this and although an ignorant description, The Real Thing’s coinage as ‘the Black Beatles’ really shows how much they contributed to music at the time. The reminiscent smiles that appear on the faces of the fans in the documentary when they talk about seeing the first black group on ‘Top of the Pops’ (the only place where you could see positive representations of people of colour) demonstrates the integral part the group played in paving the way for others to follow.
The Real Thing Top of The Pops 1976
The interviews in this documentary are truly amazing, and create a well-rounded story about the group. With many stories coming from fans, but also family and band members, we are able to explicitly see the contrasting views of how the band was perceived, and what was going on behind the scenes.
When asking Sheridan about the way in which interviewee's and the other members of the group interfered with the making of this documentary, he was nothing but positive;
"I’m always learning as a storyteller; you can’t predict what somebody is going to tell you. That’s part of the beauty of documentary-making – the surprises that hit you along the way."
Throughout this documentary you really see this, with intertwining themes of nostalgia, head-butted with experiences of race discrimination. This film is paradoxical, which perfectly represents the situation of the group at the time.
Talking about the toughest part of the documentary but also one of the main reasons Sheridan chose to tell this story, the story of Ray Lake, he expressed the worries he had about how people close to Ray would take to Sheridan telling the story of his demise. But they handed the reigns over to Sheridan with great respect with Eddie saying “You need to tell the full story, Simon”.
One person Sheridan states he couldn’t have done the documentary without was Ray’s ex-wife, Gail Lake. Having someone so close to Ray be so comfortable and gracious with handing his story over, really gave a sense of security to the documentary and as a viewer, you can feel the close collaboration surrounding this narrative.
Sheridan states: "When you make a documentary, you need a strong idea of the story you want to tell. Hearing in great detail about Ray Lake’s fall from grace and his terribly sad death really hit me hard. I’m so glad I was able to give him the due recognition he deserved in the history of soul music."
This documentary can in ways be seen as the the third wave of The Real Thing, with their first climb to fame being the initial release of ‘You to Me Are Everything’, ‘Can’t Get By Without You’ and ‘Can You Feel the Force’, which lifted them up to become the first all black group to reach number 1 in the UK. And the second being the re-release of these tracks ten years later in the in 1986, which flung them once more into top 10. A very 'full circle' moment must have been after the premiere of the film in London 2019, when the band performed on stage. From pitching to Eddie after watching them perform to now watching the same performance after telling their incredible story. Sheridan calls this a magical moment.
Entitled 'Everything' this documentary tells you exactly that. An untold story about the first British black group to dominate the charts, showing people that the smiley faces of The Real thing were, and still are - 'Real'. We'll be screening 'Everything - The Real Thing Story' on December 14th at Melkweg, Amsterdam! Join us and get your tickets HERE!
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