July, July, July
Philadelphia International Records
July is, for me, a time of arrival. I arrived in New York, in 1979, aged 17, in July. My first trip to London, when I was 20, was in July; eighteen years later, in the same month, I moved to Wales. It wasn’t planned, it just happened.
Two weeks after my arrival in New York I was standing in a Bronx street party listening to a DJ play everything from James Brown to The Whispers to Big Youth. It was still hot at mid-night – bugs and small birds gathered around the street lights – the block was packed with people dancing and drinking. As the night wore on the songs got slower, and some time around three in the morning the DJ dropped July, July, July by Billy Paul. The perfect song at the perfect moment. Warm, summery, heavy, perfect. I knew that I had found my music.
When I arrived in London I began going to reggae sound systems and blues dances. The atmosphere there reminded me exactly of those New York block parties. Everybody came to dance, to forget their troubles, to be together, to be both soothed and excited.
When I moved to Wales, to a remote farm, down a gravel track, with my nearest neighbour a mile away, I was able to play music as loudly as I wanted. That first month I arrived one of the first records I played was July, July, July. I played it at three in the morning, after a day spent clearing nettles and bracken. I was exhausted and wondering if I’d done the right thing. I was an outsider, a new comer. What did I know of life in the Welsh hills? I played it and remembered other Julys, other departures, other arrivals.
This morning I played it and danced around the room. It’s still, at the right time, the perfect song. I called my friend Rob, played it for him over the phone and asked, is this perfect? We both agreed: Billy Paul, Philly International, Gamble and Huff, summer – if it’s not perfect it’s as close as it comes.