IT is not every day that a bona-fide Motown legend comes to York.

Make the most of it on Thursday when soul diva Martha Reeves, 70 now and still living in Detroit, performs Nowhere To Run, Dancing In The Street and Heatwave with The Vandellas at The Duchess.

It may surprise you to learn that Nowhere To Run reached only number 28 in the British Top 30 in April 1965, but it has become a guaranteed dancefloor filler, and Martha knew all along what a special song it was.

“I had high hopes for all of my recordings, particularly that one,” she says. “I remember we recorded it straight after we toured. We were called into the studio the same day we finished touring and Holland Dozier Holland had prepared this song for us: Nowhere To Run. All we had to do was sing!”

Sing it she did, and how! “There was always competition in Motown as far as recordings were concerned, and you could see people thinking, ‘hey, if you can’t nail it, we’ll do it’!” recalls Martha.

Contrary to the myth that Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody spawned the first proper promo video, Martha can lay claim to that moment in pop history. “We were filmed singing Nowhere To Run at the Ford Motor Company production line while a Mustang was being built.

“It was seven in the morning, and the workers were complaining, saying, ‘Hey, get these women outta here; we’re trying to make a car; we’re trying to work’…but they didn’t stop the line; they just made us jump off and on as it was moving,” says Martha.

“So we got a first-hand view of just how cars are made and they made this car in the two minutes 45 seconds that we sang the song!

“I suppose it was the first music video, but not a lot of people realise that.”

Martha Reeves and The Vandellas were among maybe 30 acts vying for attention at Hitsville, the small house in Detroit where Berry Gordy launched the Motown label “There were lots of girl singers and I was one of the favourites,” says Martha.

Hence she was given first shout on such a number as Heatwave, in somewhat unusual circumstances. “I was at a Christmas party when one of the Holland Dozier Holland songwriting team came up to me and said, ‘Come over; we have a song we want you to record – now!” she says. “I said, ‘No! I’m at a party with my high heels on’!’”

The songwriters nevertheless talked Martha into going to the studio pronto. “We did the song in one or two takes and then went back to the party!” she reveals.

Martha is most associated with Dancing In The Streets, a song that gained renewed impetus after Mick Jagger and David Bowie’s cover for Live Aid went to number one in September 1985. “I was jealous!” she says. “I wanted to be between them in the video in a shove-up dress!

“What happened through that record was that most of the people who heard it then discovered my version.”

Martha continues to add to her live repertoire, not merely focusing on her vintage Motown hits. “I had an album of songs I’d written that came out in 2002, which were inspired by my life, and I’m working on another one now for my own label, Itch,” she says.

Yet Thursday night’s show, above all, will be a chanced to revel in Martha’s past. “Those songs were the sound of young America; the sounds of the youth of the world,” she says. “It was music to make love by – and it still is.”

• Martha Reeves and The Vandellas play The Duchess, York, on Thursday. Doors open at 7.30pm. Box office: 08444 771000.