Enjoying the refreshments of London’s Cumberland Hotel in 1966 is Stevie Wonder, as he visits the U.K. for promotion and concert dates.
- The onetime “12-year-old genius” has been travelling overseas since he was 13, and this visit in early 1966 was his third to the U.K. Previously, he passed through London in December ’63 after a two-week stint at the Olympia theatre in Paris, where he shared a concert bill with other American, British and French artists. Then, in March and April 1965, Stevie toured the U.K. as part of the Tamla Motown package tour, together with Martha & the Vandellas, the Miracles and the Supremes, with the Earl Van Dyke band.
- At the Cumberland Hotel, Stevie was close to the central London headquarters of EMI Records, Motown’s British licensee. The musician’s tutor, Ted Hull, accompanied him on all such trips in these early years of stardom. In his book, The Wonder Years, Hull described the Cumberland as “one of those posh places where, if shoes are left outside your door at night, a valet picks them up, polishes them and returns them before the morning.” Hull also recalled being there in the company of Dusty Springfield and Martha Reeves. “When Stevie and I stopped at our rooms, the two women were scurrying up and down the hall, switching all the shoes around.”
- On his 1966 trip, the 15-year-old Stevie arrived in London with Ted Hull, mentor Clarence Paul and Motown drummer Hamilton Bohannon. He appeared on a number of TV music shows, and EMI held a press reception for him on January 20. Wonder was promoting his latest single, “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” released on Tamla Motown a week earlier, and he played a series of concerts for promoter Roy Tempest. These included dates in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Nottingham, as well as smaller towns.
- Stevie’s appearance on February 2 at the Scotch of St. James in London attracted Paul McCartney, and their meeting was captured in a widely-seen photograph. Near his tour’s end, Stevie played at the capital’s Marquee Club, with John Lennon in the audience. In Manchester, Motown fan Brian Hunt remembered Wonder’s appearance at the Oasis nightspot, as quoted in Keith Rylatt’s book Hitsville! The Birth of Tamla Motown: “First, the queues were immense – all the way up the street and nearly into Albert Square. Second…the place was steaming – fantastic music, Stevie playing drums as well as singing and playing the harmonica.”
- The trip evidently paid off. “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” became Stevie’s first British hit, reaching the Top 20 in March during a 10-week chart run. In the years since, the superstar has toured and visited the U.K. consistently. In 1969, he played shows nationwide, supported by the Flirtations and the Foundations. In 1970, he played a two-week season at London’s Talk of the Town nightclub, which was recorded and released as an album. In 1980, Stevie came to perform songs from his Hotter Than July album (that time, he stayed at the hipper Montcalm Hotel, not far from the Cumberland). There were other tours, and in 2014 he headlined the Calling Festival in London, and in 2016 played his entire Songs In The Key of Life album for tens of thousands in Hyde Park.