Motown: It's really got a hold on me; HIT DETROIT FOR A CITY BREAK WITH SOUL.
OUR guide, Michael, is telling us how Motown founder Berry Gordy Jnr was a boxer but switched to a musical career because it would be less damaging to his looks.
It's good stuff, interesting stuff, and I'm trying to concentrate - but I'm distracted. I can hear Motown music playing in the background and I want to listen to that as well. Then I hear the opening to the Isley Brothers' This Old Heart of Mine. It's one of my favourites and it's all I can do to keep my feet still.
I'm at Hitsville USA, the Motown Historical Museum in Detroit, Michigan. That's where, 50 years ago tomorrow - January 12, 1959 - Berry Gordy Jnr secured a loan of EUR800 from his family and the Tamla Motown record label was born.
Gordy had taken the city's nickname, Motor City - from its car-making heritage - changed it to Motor Town and abbreviated it to Motown.
In 1972 Gordy moved Motown to LA and the studio at 2648 West Grand Boulevard stood empty for a while. Gordy's sister Ester saved memorabilia and when music fans knocked on the door she would show them round.
She eventually decided to turn it into a museum and Hitsville USA opened as the Motown Historical Museum in 1985. Visitors travel there from all over the world, with the highest number coming from the UK.
I have always been a big Motown fan. I have most of the records, know most of the lyrics and have seen most of the stars perform. Just to be here is a big deal for me.
Our museum tour starts with a video. On it, Smokey Robinson tells us all about those Yesterme Yester-you, Yesterdays when the studio made music 24/7. The songs - wistful, upbeat, catchy, sometimes cheesy and always polished - would tell a story and always have hope.
We follow Michael upstairs to a gallery that tells the Motown story with black-and-white photographs and gold and platinum discs.
There's a black hole in the ceiling, a simple reverberation chamber creating an echo effect, giving Motown its distinctive sound.
Gordy's apartment above the studio has been kept just as it was in the Sixties. Marvin Gaye often slept on the orange vinyl settee after a late-night recording session. Artists would sit at the formica table putting their records into paper sleeves ready to go to the record stores.
Downstairs is the reception area with a mustard settee where two of the Temptations sat and cried when they heard their single The Way You Do The Things You Do was a hit. We peek into the Control Room. The equipment looks dated and I wonder how it produced such timeless sounds. Producers once sat here, tapping their feet to the music until they wore holes through the beige floor tiles, pounding their footprints into the floorboards below.
Then it's time to go into legendary Studio A.
Four steps lead down to it and I feel like I'm walking on hallowed ground. It's small, maybe 20ft by 12ft, and I can hardly believe that all the songs I danced to, smooched to and sang along to were made in this small backroom in an ordinary street in Detroit.
An empty coffee cup sits on the piano, the lid is up and the ebony and ivory keys are worn with use.
This is the original piano, a baby grand, and it's been here for 50 years.
And here it will stay - the walls were built around it when the room was converted from a garage.
There's no way to get it out.
I spend ages here. I'm on cloud nine and the lyrics of those old songs play through my mind. It's quiet but there's something special in the air.
I mention this the next day when I go to see Mar tha Reeves - and she seconds that emotion. Reeves, now a Detroit councillor, was lead singer of Mar tha and the Vandellas (Dancing in the Street, Jimmy Mack). "There's magic in that room," she says. "It's just compact enough to get the right sound. The Motown sound is in the actual room."
We meet in her office at City Hall. It's untidy, papers are piled everywhere but at 67, Reeves is as glamorous as ever. She shows me plans to have statues of Motown ar tists erected around Detroit and tells me the best places to visit. "There's Bert's Market Place where they have a Motown Room.
And we have a newly-built opera house, with fabulous concerts. It's just perfect. And the Fox Theatre. When we first played there in the Sixties it was really run down but it's been restored. It's one of the prettiest theatres in the country now.
"We have the Max Fisher Concert Hall next to Orchestra Hall. I go there as often as I can. We have three major casinos now. I like bragging about them and I like going to them! You could have a wonderful time here just about every day of the week."
After meeting Reeves, I visit the Berry Gordy Mansion. It was empty for a while but has been restored by the new owner. It's her home but she offers tours, which you can book online (www.motownmansion.com).
We're shown the theatre in the basement, where Motown artists performed for Gordy's guests, the bowling alley, gym and pool.
Then we have lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe (mains from about pounds 10) where among the memorabilia are two white silk suits that belonged to the Temptations, Marvin Gaye's address book and a dress worn by Diana Ross.
A monorail - the Detroit People Mover - links several downtown areas. It costs just 50 cents (about 30p) and you get a good view of the streets. We did a full loop to get our bearings then got off at Greek Town for dinner. Sports lovers can watch baseball at Comerica Park, football at the Ford Field and ice hockey at the Joe Louis Arena - all served by the monorail.
Detroit is famously home to the now-struggling Big Three vehicle manufacturers, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, and dominating the city's skyline is the distinctive GM Renaissance Center, the world headquarters of General Motors. The centre's circular towers are linked to a central tower like cogs in an engine. Upstairs are offices and a hotel, with shops and cinemas on the lower floors. It is popular but soulless - made of grey concrete like a multi-storey car park - and each tower looks the same.
We go round and round, get hopelessly lost but manage to find the Seldom Blues Jazz and Supper Club in time for dinner. The live music is great and the food is good but a bit pricey, with main courses costing from about pounds 20.
We carry on the car theme at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village at Dearborn, on the outskirts of the city.
The museum is huge and there are 80 historic houses from all over the States in the Greenfield Village.
You can also take the Ford Rouge Factory Tour and see trucks being assembled on the production line.
I haven't moved on musically but Detroit has. It hosts Detroit International Jazz Festival (September 4-7, 2009), the largest free jazz festival in the US.
It is also the home of the White Stripes, Eminem and techno music. Annual techno festival, the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, runs from May 23 to 25.
We popped over to Cleveland in neighbouring Ohio to pick up the music trail at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. My accent is noticed: "You British have done so much for music," the lady on the door tells me. I can't sing a note but I walk in feeling proud.
Back in Detroit we spend our last evening in the Fox Theatre as recommended by Mar tha Reeves. It's snowing when we leave - horizontal, stinging snow whipping across the river from Canada. Detroit pokes up north of Canada and you can walk along the Detroit River and look south to Windsor, Ontario.
The cold wind has us hurrying along and we pass a woman at a bus stop who keeps moving to keep warm. She sees me watching and we both laugh - dancing in the street is a good way to keep out the cold.
What's the deal?
BON Voyage offer seven nights from pounds 799pp for travel by March 31, including flights, car hire, five nights in the Courtyard By Marriott, Detroit, and two in the Radisson Hotel Gateway, Cleveland (www.bon-voyage.co.uk, 0800 316 0194). - SEE www.greatlakesnorthamerica.co.uk or call 08456 020574. Also www.motownmuseum.com and www.motownmansion.com
Tina meets Motown singer Martha Reeves; Martha and the Vandellas in their heyday; Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye & Stevie Wonder; The GM Renaissance Center in Detroit; The Control Room at Hitsville USA; The birthplace of Motown is now a museum; Smokey Robinson's Tears of a Clown 7"; Pictures: DETROIT METRO CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU/ REX FEATURES
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|Publication:||Sunday Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Jan 11, 2009|
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