In this day and age there are reality television shows to find stars for the London stage, but up until a few years ago it was the other way round where many singers cut their teeth on the stage before finding themselves in the chart, Paul Nicholas, Michael Ball, Marsha Hunt and Maxine Nightingale are just some of the names, with both the latter two starring in the stage production of Hair.
Maxine Nightingale was born in November 1952, in Wembley and when she was 16 years old she began singing in her school band. Enjoying the spotlight so much, she swiftly made the transition to singing in a more professional capacity, appearing in a handful of local clubs and quickly coming to the attention of Pye Records which she signed with and recorded a handful of singles, including Do Not Push Me Baby and the 1971 track Love on Borrowed Time. When neither song became a commercial successful she turned her attention to the West End.
As well as Hair, Maxine spent the early 70s exploring her vocal development through roles in the era’s hottest musical stage shows, including Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, and the well-received London play Savages. She was spotted by the songwriter/production team of J. Vincent Edwards and Pierre Tubbs. In early 1975 they were writing a song called Fool (not to be confused with the Elvis Presley song of two years earlier) for a new signing called Al Matthews and were looking for a backing singer and so enlisted the help of Ms Nightingale.
Vincent’s first burst of fame came as one of the original cast members of the London production of Hair singing and recording the hit song Aquarius. He played the part of Vince, which he performed almost 2.000 times at the Shaftesbury Theatre London. Tubbs had been a songwriter in the 60s and had success with the Pretty Things’ Come See Me.
Tubbs and Edwards wrote Right Back Where We Started From in about seven minutes while driving to the hospital where Tubbs’ wife was about to give birth. The song heavily reflects Edwards’ admiration for the Motown songwriting team of Holland–Dozier–Holland. A rough demo featuring Edwards’ vocal was cut the next day and it was Edwards who approached Nightingale with an offer for her to record the song.
Nightingale initially refused but was eventually persuaded by Edwards on the understanding it be released under a pseudonym. Edwards also had to convince her to accept a royalty payment rather than a one-time session fee equivalent to $45. Right Back Where We Started From was eventually released under her real name and she was also awarded a more substantial royalty than she’d originally agreed to.
According to Edwards consideration was given to the song being recorded as a duet between him and Nightingale, but this possibility ended when Private Stock Records recruited Edwards to record a remake of the song The Worst That Could Happen. Nightingale herself had opined to Rolling Stone magazine that Edwards’ vocal on the demo was pretty horrendous. He stuck to writing and has since written for other movie scores including Down and out in Beverly Hills, The World is Full of Married Men, Whatever Happened to Harold Smith?, and the Disney Movie Cleopatra.
The track was laid down at Central Sound Studio in Camden. The musicians on the track were two former members of the Electric Light Orchestra, Mike de Albuquerque on bass and Wilf Gibson on violin, Ex Status Quo member Pete Kircher played drums and the keyboardist was Dave Rowberry of the Animals. Additionally Tubbs played guitar and Edwards provided some percussion. Nightingale said in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, “I disliked Tubbs’ utilisation of both a crashing keyboard arrangement and heavy handclaps and I also wasn’t comfortable singing in a higher key than I was accustomed to.”
Mike de Albuquerque recalled: “We were doing one of those demo sessions where everybody goes and sits down with music in front of you and you try and get through as many tunes as possible. I remember Pierre Tubbs saying, listen guys, ‘I want to record it in its entirety, the four pieces in this three hour session’ and we recorded two pieces with Maxine and two with somebody else.
Although Tubbs and Edwards are credited as the sole writers, the intro bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1974 northern soul track Goodbye Nothin’ To Say by The Javells featuring Nosmo King. It seems that no action was taken by Nosmo – alias writer Stephen Jameson and John Doctors.
Later that same year she was paired with Jimmy Ruffin for the beautiful duet Turn to Me. The song failed to make the UK or US singles chart but did gave her her first US R&B Top 20 debut. In 1977 her follow up UK hit was Love Hit Me which was written and originally recorded by Edwards and just fell short of the top ten. In 1989 Sinitta recorded a version of Right Back Where We Started From and took the song to number four in the UK – four places higher than the original.
Edwards is still in great demand for TV shows throughout Europe and also performed last year at the Café Royal in London with his good friend and songwriter Jimmy Webb. Vincent is also host of the American TV show Buskers which was filmed in New York. He is currently in Chicago recording with the Bluesman singer Boogie Bob.
Maxine continues to perform live but her focus shifted in the 1980s and 1990s from disco and pop to sultry laidback jazz. But as her real fans continue to catch her live shows she always includes the old favourites.