20th March 1965 marks a significant moment in Motown history, the day that Motown arrived in Britain and began forging their legacy across the pond. Traveling across 21 cities in the UK, a group of legendary Motown artists performed their first engagement on the Tamla-Motown tour.
The line-up included Motown artists Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, The Miracles and Martha and the Vandellas. Now known to the world as huge stars, when they first arrived in Europe, they were relative unknowns in the UK. By 1965, Motown records was enjoying success in the US with songs by Marvin Gaye, The Marvelettes, and Martha and the Vandellas all climbing the pop charts, but the Motown sound was virtually unheard of across the pond as Beatle-mania continued to dominate the UK music scene. Motown achieved their first number 1 hit in the UK in 1964 with The Supremes’ ‘Baby Love’, which prompted the label to launch a Motown tour to the UK.
The tour kicked off at Finsbury Park Astoria, London, but wasn’t an instant sell-out; British star Georgie Fame was added to the bill to help sell tickets to UK audiences. The tour travelled to many places in the UK including Bournemouth, Liverpool and Wigan, ending in Portsmouth on the 12th April 1965.
Midway through the tour, on 28 April 1965, the Ready Steady Go! TV special, “The Sound of Motown”, was broadcast, hosted by Dusty Springfield and featuring The Supremes performing “Stop! In The Name Of Love”. Thanks to Dusty and a growing crop of British fans, by the end of 1966 Motown was no longer an underground sound, coveted by hard-core fans on late night radio shows, but a huge part of the British music scene. In 1965, Motown had charted only one UK Top 20 hit, but by the end of 1966 they’d had eight. In an interview, Paul McCartney spoke of the Beatles’ admiration for the Motown sound, saying ‘all of us loved Motown’. The Beatles released three Motown covers on their second album in 1963, including a cover of The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman”.
In the years following the first tour, artists from the Motown label went on to huge success in the UK. In 1972, the Jackson 5 performed in the Royal Variety Show and enjoyed three top 10 singles with “I Want You Back”, “ABC”, and “The Love You Save”. Additionally, The Supremes had 13 top 10 UK singles between 1964 and 1972, including “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “Stoned Love”.
Motown continues to influence and inspire British musicians to this day and its music regularly appears on singing competition shows, with artists such as James Arthur, Louisa Johnson and Little Mix all singing Motown music in The X Factor and going on to win the competition. The 2016 competition featured a Motown week, with a performance from the West End cast of Motown The Musical.
Many important British artists have also shown their love of Motown with special covers of their favourite songs. From Ed Sheeran to Jessie J, Adele to Amy Winehouse and beyond.