IT WAS nearly two years ago that soul legend Ben E King made a nostalgic return to Hampshire 50 years after topping the bill at a Southampton night spot.

The pop world is mourning the death of the legendary soul singer who died of natural causes in New Jersey at the age of 76.

Since his death tributes have been pouring in from all corners of the world.

King was famous for his deep velvety baritone voice and the classic hit song Stand By Me.

Along with Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, he co-wrote the sixties number one hit which was voted one of the Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America.

He appeared at a time when pop music was pausing for breath between the wake up call sounded by the first generation of American rock ’n’ rollers and the blast of energy provided on the other side of the Big Pond by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

It was like a royal visit when in September 2013 Ben E headlined at Eastleigh’s Concorde Club with fellow soul legend Jimmy James and The Vagabonds in a tantalising blockbusting double bill of soul music.

The Stoneham Lane club was packed to the rafters and the gig could have been sold out many times over.

They had come to pay homage to the king of soul whose name is etched in the rock ‘n roll hall of fame.

King’s Concorde stage entrance was the signal for a standing ovation.

Later as he serenaded his fans with the Motown chart topper How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You, two lady admirers darted on stage to steal a kiss.

The former lead singer of The Drifters, who was clearly flattered, breezed through his back catalogue of hits including Spanish Harlem and Save the Last Dance for Me and This Magic Moment.

And The Concorde’s Jamie Mathieson said: “It was with great sadness that I have learnt of the passing of Ben E King.

"We were privileged to have Ben perform at The Concorde in September 2013.

“It was an incredible sold out night but what struck me was how personable he was. He was such a nice guy. He will be sadly missed”

It was nearly 50 years years ago that Ben E topped the bill at Southampton’s Top Rank Suite where disco fever regularly swept the floor.

In a Daily Echo review Duncan Eaton wrote: “The shouting and raving at Southampton’s Top Rank Suite was over one man Mr Ben E King.

“He proved why he is one of the most polished and versatile singing artists in the world today.”

The American singer was backed by the Chris Shakespeare’s Globe Band – who were a big hit on the Southampton soul scene.

Saxaphone player Ronnie Taylor spoke of the impact that the former Drifters star made on him.

Speaking of their first rehearsal he said: “Directly he opened his mouth it was ‘Wow!’.

“He was wonderful and as the tour went on he just got better and better.”

Ronnie recalled they did 350 gigs with King ranging over five tours.

Ben had broken away from the hit making Drifters to carve a successful solo career.

At the time the singer had little success in the British charts and Spanish Harlem was about the only single that brought him much joy in the British top 30.

In a Daily Echo interview he was very frank when asked if he was unduly worried about not getting number one records in Britain.

He replied: “No, of course I would like a hit. But I never worry. I find in this business that it does not pay to worry too much.

“For instance if I find I have flopped a little on a live performance, as I have done before now, then I just sit down after the show and analyse my act.

"I go right back over my act again and I get it right.”

But Ben E went on to win an army British fans and one of the major turning points in his solo career was Stand By Me which in the 80s had a three week spell at number one in the UK charts.

He leaves a rich musical legacy to the world.