UK Soul-Rock Singer Returns To San Francisco

By Dave Pehling

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Though they never registered as much more than a footnote in modern pop history for most American music fans, pioneering London soul-rockers the Equals earned themselves a solid following in Britain and the European continent during their initial flush of mid-to-late ’60s chart success.

With a mix of catchy pop hooks, driving mod soul grooves and energetic rock, the Equals came together in a North London housing estate in 1965. Notable for being the first interracial group to have an impact in England — guitarist and principle songwriter Eddy Grant who was born in Guyana and Jamaican twins Dervin “Derv” Gordon (vocals) and Lincoln Gordon (bass) were black, while guitarist Pat Lloyd and drummer John Hall were white — the band in many ways prefigured the propulsive stomp of ’70s British glam with their hit singles “Baby Come Back” and “I Won’t Be There.”

“Baby Come Back” from 1966 would be the band’s only single to even scrape the charts in the States, but it would become their biggest smash in their native England after first topping the charts in Germany and the Netherlands. The band became a popular touring attraction and put together a string of solid singles including “Viva Bobby Joe” and the island-tinged “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” in 1970.

Health problems in 1971 led Grant to leave the group, though he eventually recovered to launch his own successful career as a producer and solo artist, scoring his own hits in the late ’70s and early ’80s with “Walking on Sunshine” and “Electric Avenue.” The Equals would continue to produce new music in a more funk/soul oriented vein while playing to ecstatic audiences in the decades that followed, staying in the public consciousness thanks to covers of their songs like the Clash’s version of “Police on My Back” and a U.K. hit version of “Baby Come Back” by Pato Banton. Songs by the band have also been a favorite of more underground acts like the Detroit Cobras (“Green Light”) and former Bay Area resident and garage-punk favorite Ty Segall (“Diversion”).

While the group still comes together for occasional shows in Europe and England, the legend of the band and their infectious music has also spread in the U.S. thanks to the release of  CDs compiling their classic hits. Earlier this year, singer “Derv” Gordon came to San Francisco to play a one-off show backed by Oakland bubblegum-punk band So What at the Mission District’s Elbo Room for what was the vocalist’s first ever U.S. performance. The success of the sold-out appearance would lead to a full-blown East Coast tour last May and the current West Coast jaunt that comes back to the Elbo Room Friday night. Local garage-pop band the Rantsouls will warm up the crowd with DJ Mitch Cardwell playing tunes before and between bands

Derv Gordon with So What
Friday, July 28, 9 p.m. $20
The Elbo Room

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