Wednesday 13 December 2017

Obituary: Clem Curtis

Trinidad-born lead singer of 1960s and 1970s chart-toppers The Foundations

SINGING STAR: Clem Curtis in 1970 Photo: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
SINGING STAR: Clem Curtis in 1970 Photo: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo Sportsdesk

Clem Curtis, who died on Monday aged 76, was the original singer with The Foundations, best remembered for the 1967 pop-soul hit, Baby Now That I've Found You, the first of six UK chart entries.

He was born Curtis Clements in Trinidad on November 28, 1940; his mother was well-known nationally as a jazz singer. He showed little interest in becoming an entertainer until the family's emigration in the mid-1950s to London, where the black teenager encountered racism - most tangibly when he and two white friends were charged with theft. Only Curtis received a custodial sentence.

In 1966 he became backing vocalist in The Ramong Sound, an octet that purveyed, as Curtis recalled, "a type of English Tamla [Motown] sound". Before the year was out, he was fronting the group - now renamed The Foundations - after a period sharing the spotlight with Arthur Brown, who in 1968 would have success with the million-selling psychedelic hit Fire. "I'd never sung lead publicly," Curtis remembered, "and I was dead scared, but having Arthur there gave me more confidence."

Following Arthur Brown's departure during 1967, the outfit undertook successive round-Britain tours headlined by the Toys and Edwin Starr. All manner of Commonwealth territories - Barbados, Ceylon, Jamaica, Trinidad and Dominica as well as Britain - were represented within The Foundations, their ages ranging from 19 to 37.

By then the combo had landed a recording deal with Pye Records through the producer Tony Macaulay, who presented them with two of his own compositions, Let The Heartaches Begin (later a hit for Long John Baldry), and then Baby Now That I've Found You for consideration as a maiden single.

After it spent a fortnight at No 1, bringing appearances on Top of the Pops, The Foundations went on a promotional visit to the US, where Baby Now That I've Found You peaked at No 11. The follow-up, Back On My Feet Again, broke into the domestic Top 20, but a third single, Any Old Time, was a comparative flop. Moreover, Curtis noticed that "the friendship, the closeness the band had had gone out the door - partly because nobody wanted to rehearse any more".

He was, therefore, open to suggestions from Sammy Davis Jnr that he try his luck across the Atlantic as a solo performer. Curtis tendered his resignation from The Foundations, but agreed to stay on until a successor - Colin Young - was found.

Curtis then recorded many solo releases, among them a disco remake of Baby Now That I've Found You, before resurrecting a line-up of The Foundations - which included his percussionist brother Derek (soon to join Hot Chocolate) - in direct competition with both an unconnected combo using the same name, and another group led by Colin Young. Curtis's repertoire now took in Build Me Up Buttercup, the 1968 hit originally recorded by Young.

The revived group's touring schedule included a troubled expedition to Australia during which Curtis found himself in a police cell on a trumped-up charge of assault.

In the mid-1970s the band nearly reappeared on Top of the Pops again, when The Foundations were asked to record one of Britain's Song for Europe entries. Where Were You (When I Needed Your Love) was a favourite to be selected, but a technicians' strike just before the group's television broadcast ensured the victory of Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran's Rock Bottom.

During the next decade, Curtis built a sideline as an antiques dealer in his home town of Olney, Buckinghamshire, - and as an actor, most conspicuously as a camp "Lion" in a 1984 West End production of The Wiz, a performance singled out for praise by The Guardian's critic as "fiercely comic and touching".

He then teamed up with other 1960s veterans in The Corporation for a sprightly revival of The Showstoppers' track Ain't Nothing But a House Party. Aided by a remarkable video, this tiptoed into the lowest reaches of the charts. Curtis, like the other participants, remained a popular mainstay of nostalgia revues.

He is survived by his wife, the jazz singer and pianist Elena Safonova, and a daughter and five sons from previous relationships.

© Telegraph

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