Angelo Starr, musician, record producer and lead singer with The Team chats with Kevin Cooper about his brother Edwin Starr, his love of Motown music, recording their latest album and their appearance at The Riverbank Bar and Kitchen Nottingham on 2nd October.

Angelo Starr is an American singer, musician and record producer. Upon the death of his brother Edwin Starr in 2003, Angelo stepped in to front The Team, the band that had previously toured with Edwin.

There are few other bands with such extensive performing experience as The Team. Whether for a throng of forty thousand at the now legendary V Festival in Chelmsford’s Bowl or for just twenty-three guests in the dining room of a media and premiership football tycoon; whether at 8 a.m. in a field near Aachen full of motor cycle enthusiasts or at midnight in an opulent London hotel for the royal family; whether in session for Capital Radio or on The Jonathan Ross Show, their mantra is the same; ‘we came here to party for whoever, whenever, wherever!’

Before their appearance at The Riverbank Bar and Kitchen in Nottingham, Kevin Cooper caught up with Angelo Starr whilst he was waiting to board his plane for Rome, and this is what he had to say.


Angelo how are you?

Hi Kevin I’m fine thanks how are you?

I’m very well thank you and thanks for taking the time to speak to me.

Thank you Kevin, it’s very much appreciated.

So how is life treating Angelo Starr?

It’s all good at the moment. I’m glad to say that everything is going fine. We are still doing the things that we set out to do a while ago now. We are still trying to keep the music alive and more to the point, keep it authentic. Also as well as keeping active, the good news is that we are currently working on some new material. As long as people are still loving the music then it is a great thing for us to be able to do. So from that perspective I can’t really complain (laughter). We have a fantastic group of guys in The Team and it is always a pleasure to work with them. So anything that allows us to keep doing that is a massive plus.

I have to ask you, where are you from Angelo?

Well Kevin I was actually born in Cleveland, Ohio over in the USA. However I spent my formative years split between there and Detroit as I would often go up there to visit Edwin in the summers during the school time breaks. Both places were quite significant as they both had heavy musical histories; Detroit for the obvious history with Motown and Cleveland for its location between New York and Chicago. So geographically, all of the artists were travelling between those two locations back in the day; Cleveland was a significant stop-over for them so we got a lot of live entertainment from Jazz to Rock to just about everything (laughter).

And just how did music start for you?

I think that Edwin and I were both products of the same influences. There was always music playing around the house and as a result I found myself listening to whatever it was that Edwin was listening to at that time. It was because of all of the music that was around me that led me into trying to have a go myself. The fact that Edwin was in the business kind of shaped which musical direction I would go in. Edwin was doing Soul music and R ‘n’ B and so this consequently shaped the music which I would finally go into.

And may I ask, where are you flying off to today?

We are flying out to Rome for a few days and then we will be back refreshed and ready to hit the road.

You are going to be performing at The Riverbank Bar and Kitchen here in Nottingham on Friday 2nd October, are you looking forward to that?

Absolutely Kevin, we are always keen to get up in front of people who really know the music and who really love the music. You can never substitute that for anything. People always ask us what our best shows were and inevitably they think that they would be the biggest shows that you have played, the arena shows and the mega-complex shows. But often it is really about just performing where people really appreciate the music and love the music enough to be connected to what you are doing at the time, and that can be as few as five people (laughter) if you know what I mean.

So in answer to your question Kevin, yes we are really excited at the thought of playing in Nottingham at The Riverbank Bar and Kitchen, very much so. I have to tell you that we have been trying for a while now to play more shows in the areas where our members actually live. We have been busy travelling the whole world doing things for everyone else and unfortunately, that means that you never manage to play near to your home. A few of our guys are based in the Midlands and of course our long time Manager Lillian (Kyle) is from the area and she still resides in Nottingham so it made sense for us to be able to do at least one show where we were near to our friends as well as our fans.

Well I will tell you that you will be in good hands Angelo as there is a massive Northern Soul and Motown fan base here in Nottingham and they all love the music of Edwin.

That’s great Kevin and like I said we are all really looking forward to performing for the Nottingham people. We are looking forward to performing in a tight place where everyone can hear each other without the need for all of the technology, the amplifiers, a loud music system and so forth. It will be just like it used to be and I love that (laughter).

Obviously I can’t speak to you without speaking a little about Edwin. Did he ever take you to the Hitsville recording studios back in the day?

Absolutely Kevin, in fact it was not uncommon to find myself in a recording studio wherever he happened to be recording at that time. As a result of that I met a lot of the people who were on the label at that time, like Marvin (Gaye) and Stevie (Wonder). I was lucky in the fact that I got to see a lot of the early Motown Reviews, it was simply amazing. The thing that I remember the most is sitting in the barber’s shop where all of the artists used to go to get a haircut (laughter). I can still clearly remember sitting next to The Jackson Five while they were waiting to get their hair cut.

One of the great things about having an older brother who was in the music business was that Edwin would take me along to watch his concerts right from an early age. Most people’s memories would be from an audience perspective but I was lucky in the fact that I would watch a concert from either standing in the wings or even backstage. I was like the magicians assistant. I got the chance to not only see how the magic was being created but to actually feel the magic. It gave me a taste of wanting to be a part of it as well.

What made Edwin decide to stay here in the UK?

Edwin was very aware that over in the UK you could find people who had such a love for the music, who knew where the record had been recorded, who had played on the session, the various releases that had taken place, and it was that which enamoured Edwin with the UK, and subsequently me as well. When you find somebody who is that committed and dedicated to the music that you are a part of and the music that you are trying to create, you would be crazy not to find a way to get as much of that love as you can. And the UK certainly supported Edwin throughout the years.

Do you feel that you are now the keeper of Edwin’s legacy?

Absolutely Kevin, absolutely. For me it is a great scenario. I have seen it written that I am the musical heir to Edwin Starr’s legacy. I said that it’s a big ask but I will take that (laughter). It is something which I embrace happily because Edwin and I were always very close being family, but even more than that I have always respected him as a man and also for what he had done, and what he had achieved. So there is nothing more important to me than making sure that we keep that legacy alive. Consequently I am very conscious of that fact and it feels as though I have been given a baton to run with and my job, or part of it at least, is not to drop it (laughter).

Here in the UK Edwin was looked upon as Soul Royalty. Has that helped you or hindered you in any way?

It has certainly helped me Kevin. However, it could have been a hindrance if we had been trying to do something that wasn’t as good as Edwin’s work or perhaps a little disrespectful. Then people could instantly compare it and say this is not anything close to what we recognise as having been his legacy. Then it would have been difficult. But on the other hand, what has been good is that people recognise that we are carrying on a legacy; we are trying to keep it alive and we are trying to keep it authentic. They know that over the years I have worked with a number of different people including Alexander O’Neal and more recently Lemar. But the most important thing is that we are doing it with the idea that people know that no matter what it is that we are associated with, we are trying to maintain a certain level of quality.

From a personal point of view I have always thought that Edwin was the unsung hero of Motown.

Well that may well be the case Kevin but I have to say that I don’t think that he ever felt unsung because the people who really mattered; the people who loved his music and knew what he was all about, they never let him down. I think that was the thing that was always more important to Edwin.

My favourite track of Edwin’s is Soul Master. Do you have a favourite Edwin Starr track?

I like a lot of the songs and I also like Soul Master too although it is not one of his best known tracks amongst his fans but it is certainly a good track. If I had to say his most popular, commercial song it would have to be 25 Miles because it kind of pays homage to some of the harder edge that would later become his signature in terms of his delivery so if I had to say, it would be 25 Miles. We love to play that song for the audiences and they seem to love it because there is something about it; it is kind of rocky, soulful, and stompy. It has all of those elements that makes it a little bit more than just a record. There is something in it that seems to strike a chord with people.

But if you want to talk about a more obscure track there are some songs that I do like of Edwin’s and one in particular which is a ballad actually and it is called Don’t Waste Your Time which is on the Clean album.

Over here in the UK it was actually the B Side to Contact.

Wow Kevin you certainly know your stuff (laughter). It is a great track and I think that the reason why I like it is because I never think that Edwin was as celebrated as he could have been for his balladry as he was for his Northern Soul stompers and that kind of thing. I think that was unfortunate because he had a lovely soft tone as well as the powerful rockier tone that we all know. I would have liked to have seen that and I would have liked for him to have seen that in his lifetime. But unfortunately sometimes times runs out on us a little too soon.

When Edwin passed away, did you ever consider bringing in a new vocalist?

At that time we didn’t know whether we would continue to perform as The Team as we had done before Edwin passed. However due to a request on Edwin’s website asking us to continue to perform so that the people out there could continue to enjoy the music that we played, we decide to carry on. However at that time we really did think that we needed to bring in a new vocalist. The problem that we were faced with was that if we did indeed bring in a new vocalist would it be a continuation of what Edwin had started and would it still be perceived as being authentic. So the only other alterative that we had was to try a totally different tact, and that was me taking over the role as vocalist.

At least that way we knew that it wouldn’t change the dynamic; we simply kept what we had and tried to make that work as opposed to introducing another element which may or may not have changed things. Thankfully over time and with the consideration and patience of the friends and fans that we had made over the years we manage to get to a stage where we were comfortable with just doing it with the members that we had but with me singing as opposed to Edwin. One thing that allowed us to do with absolute certainty was to know that there was no hidden agenda. It really was just about doing the music as we had done it before and as we hoped that the fans wanted to hear it.

And did you need any motivation or encouragement to take up the mantle of singer?

I most definitely needed motivation Kevin. The reason was because as you can imagine I said too many people then that I never really tried to be my brother when he was alive and I certainly didn’t want to be perceived as trying to be him when he was no longer there. So I was a little concerned that it could be misconstrued what it was that we were trying to do. But I was very much encouraged by not only the fans but also by other people within the entertainment industry. A lot of people said that if I didn’t do it then someone else would do exactly that and that they would try to become a tribute of Edwin. They said that it would be most fitting if we could carry on because at least that way it gave us the best chance of ensuring that people were giving it as you hoped it was going to be delivered.

Billy Paul was very encouraging, along with Geno (Washington) and Jimmy James along with many others. They were all very supportive as have been a lot of the venues because they could have said that we were not Edwin and they simply can’t sell that. That could very well have been the response from them. However as it turned out they believed in us and they continued to book us and over ten years later we are still here. So hopefully we are doing something right (laughter).

Cast your mind back and tell me what was the first record that you ever bought?

That’s difficult Kevin because I am not really sure (laughter). At a guess I will have to say that it was probably one of The Jackson 5 records only because they were so popular. Their music was certainly a music of my youth.

Who has influenced you along the way?

That’s easy Kevin, it would have to be Earth, Wind and Fire.   I do recall spending a lot of time listening to their music. Back in the day I would also watch Soul Train while sitting on the floor with my guitar trying to mimic the music that I was watching (laughter). Also for his artistry I would have to include Prince. He has a great understanding of the business which today sadly, is very rare. I would also have to say Gladys Knight because of her loyalty to her family. I very much respect that being the brother of Edwin Starr. That gave me the opportunity to stand beside him and also behind him on stage and learn an immense amount of what being a performer was all about, without having to make the mistakes which many artists had to make in order to get that same knowledge.

What has been the musical highlight of your career so far?

Well firstly I must tell you Kevin that it is a strange one (laughter). When I was growing up I played in local bands. I got hold of Edwin’s Manager Lillian and asked her if my local band could open a show for Edwin (laughter). To my surprise she agreed that we could do it and it was one of the first times that our parents got the chance to come to a show and see both of their sons performing on the same show on the same night (laughter). That was the highlight for me because it represented all of the sacrifices that our parents had made to make it possible for us to do what we loved doing and it was a chance for them to see the significance of those sacrifices.   That was probably the biggest musical highlight for me.

You are now one of the firm favourites on the Butlins circuit. Do you enjoy playing there?

That’s right Kevin we play at a lot of the holiday camps in the UK. Some people are just discovering that Butlins are now a mainline venue. There have been times in history when people might have looked down their nose at doing the soul weekenders in the holiday camps and the scooter rallies but Edwin quite cleverly knew that a gig is a gig and that you go where people want to see you. If you do that and you give the people what they have paid for and what they have come for, then you will have the opportunity to go back again and again and again. That is a lesson that I have tried to learn and I hope that The Team and myself have learned over the years, because we have certainly been asked back on many occasions. And I think that had we not learned that lesson early we would have disappeared as unfortunately some others who were equally as talented because over the years you have to stay true to the music and also to the people who pay to come and see it.

Do you ever think that there will come a time when Motown as a live entity will become a spent force?

No Kevin I definitely don’t think that will ever happen and I will tell you the reason why. The Motown model was very sound; it was a very sound business model, and it was a very sound human model. What I mean by that is that many record companies have tried to replicate what was achieved during that time at Motown. Many times they have concentrated on the music and the sound of the music and those kinds of things but one of the elements that will always exist in human kind is the desire for people to express themselves. And as long as there is a desire for a person to elevate themselves from where they are to somewhere more significant for them to achieve their own dreams and their own goals, then there will be a Motown spirit.

Whether it is called Motown or not that would be something different but I think I was encouraged by an event that I did several months ago now at a music academy. There were hundreds of young people who were busily working away at their craft and trying to perfect it to the stage where they could identify exactly what their sound is or what their image was, those kind of things. They were trying to find out just how they fit into this crazy thing that we call the music business and this crazy thing that we call life. And I think that is why Motown will always be significant. There were a lot of people from the projects, the American equivalent to your council estates, who had dreams that were bigger than just being there for the rest of their lives.

You had songwriters and musicians who were working in the car factories every day building automobile chassis and so forth, but they were very creative entities and they were writing music in the evenings and finding ways to feel alive in an environment that sometimes tries for you not to have that feeling. Everybody always wants to feel connected like they are living somehow and music is certainly a thing that allows you to do that and I believe that will always be the case.

You briefly mentioned that you are working on some new material. Does that mean that there will be an album out soon?

Yes Kevin. There are recordings which are in progress now and we are doing some mastering for a forthcoming project which may be branded as Angelo Starr but it is still coming from the same camp and that is with a view to keeping the music out there. We want people to know that we are not just simply trading on the past. We are trying to also make sure that they know that we are contributing to the future as well.

So what can we expect from the show here in Nottingham?

What I hope that you can expect is a good night out (laughter) with lots and lots of energy. One of the things that I was very, very aware of is what Edwin always told myself and The Team is that it is all about the music. If you respect that music and you respected the people who you were playing the music to, then you set the tone for a great night. It is the audiences party and we have just been invited to come along so what you can expect is to hear all of the classic Edwin tracks of course, Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.), Contact, Headline News, 25 Miles, but there will also be a few song choices that you probably didn’t expect to hear too; some of the hidden gems which make people say we have never heard that one played, so there will be a few of those and there might be a few surprises as well.

So I would have to say that you should expect lots of energy, lots of music and lots of authenticity. It is certainly a show that you don’t want to miss Kevin. It is going to be one big party. We are trying to do the songs that have become a part of people’s lives and make sure that they are aware that we haven’t forgotten them and we know that journey because we have been on the same one too. Equally we are just trying to make sure that they are connected to where we are now. There are a lot of the young artists, Bruno Mars for example, who are making music that is reminiscent of what was before them and we are that bridge. We are the ones who were there before but we still keep playing and we are still connected to what is out there happening now. So between those two things is us.

On that note Angelo I will say thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

No problem Kevin. Thank you very much for your time as well. You make sure that you come over and say hi at The Riverbank. You had better wear your comfortable shoes too as we intend to get you up and dancing (laughter).

We will have to wait and see (laughter). You take care.

Bye for now Kevin.