Colonel Abrams: Trapped!

The family history of Colonel Abrams probed by Paul Sexton. NB: this feature mentions Spandau Ballet and Stevie Wonder

HAVING “COLONEL” as your real first name can have its advantages — and there’s a long line of Abrams to testify to it. The current chart incumbent with ‘Trapped’ should go under the full name of Colonel Abrams IV and he recounts that his father used the name to his benefit.

“My father was in the army. They would call him Private Colonel Abrams! And they would always salute him, it was amazing.” The story goes that Colonel Abrams I fought in the American Civil War, no less, although the Eighties Abrams doesn’t profess to be the family historian. “One day I’ll look up all the background — I don’t know too much about our military background. My grandfather is still alive, but as far as I know he didn’t have a military career.”

‘Trapped’ is only the Colonel’s second record, and the first was a confirmed floorshaker as well — ‘Music Is The Answer’, quite popular here as an import on Streetwise and a record that featured a quite monumental ballad as its B-side, ‘Leave The Message Behind The Door’. When I mention that it’s on my list of all-time slowies, the relationship is cemented. “You really made my day saying that,” Abrams smiles. “The thing about that song was, people knew me as a dance artist for three or four years and when I did that ballad, they said ‘What is that?’ But I’m really a ballad person.”

IF THAT’S right, he does a pretty fair impression of a nightclub man, with ‘Trapped’ moving feet here and in the States. “When Streetwise was bought out, I sat down and did my homework and decided I had to come out with something quite high-energy. I went round and gave it to the clubs in New York and it became a hit there three or four months before it came out on vinyl. People were going into the stores and asking if it was available.”

The new hit was produced, surprisingly, by the old Spandau Ballet producer Richard James Burgess. “My manager introduced me to him. I didn’t know anything about him at the time, I wanted a piece of his product. I think he was producing Melba Moore at the time. One would think it would be risky, and wonder if it would work, but it did work, we fit together like hand-in-glove.

“He’s producing most of the tracks on the album, the others are being produced by Cerrone.” (Pause for gasps of whatever-happened-to-that-old-disco-merchant). “It was another unlikely combination but it just worked as well, he’s always been known for dance.” What has he been up to since the days of ‘Supernature’ and ‘Love In ‘C’ Minor’? “I think he kind of took it easy for a while, I think he’s got something new coming out. But when we got together and he heard my material (the Colonel writes most of his own songs including ‘Trapped’) it really made him interested in working again.”

ABRAMS GREW up in Motor/Motown City, Detroit. “I wanted to get into the music business for years, and maybe get onto Motown, because that was their golden era back then. In fact there were a lot of artists on Motown who lived not far from where we lived, and I believe there was a Bible class near us that I went to which Stevie Wonder may have gone to. I remember there was a guy called Stevie, who was blind and fits the description. This was before he was famous. I’ve always wondered to this day if it was him.”

The family moved to New York when Colonel was nearing his teens. “I won an amateur night at the Apollo Theatre, and I wanted to get more serious about it, so I started to make my way around the record companies, and nothing happened, as usual. I did a showcase at the most popular club in the city, that didn’t work, so I went to the record companies again, and to make a long story short, I touched base with the clubs and that’s when things started to happen.”

‘Trapped’ isn’t a true story but the good Colonel does have a knack for the “what if” as a songwriter. “It was basically a story I put together in which the parents don’t want the girl to see the guy, the song never states why, it’s just saying that’s what happens when the parents get involved. The guy is trapped in his mind, and he’s afraid that the parents might turn him over to the authorities.

“I’ve got a good imagination,” he smiles.

© Paul SextonRecord Mirror, 14 September 1985

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