Sunday, June 17, 2018

3rd Blackpool International Soul Festival

Now firmly established on every Northern Soul lovers' calendar, the 3rd Blackpool International Soul Festival did not disappoint the 2,000 fans who attended. Once again the historic Winter Gardens was filled with great music, covering Northern Soul and Motown, jazz funk, ska and mod 60s club soul, modern soul and rarities. But for me, the attraction was a line up of five US soul acts, many of whom I hadn't seen before. And although all five were excellent in their way, pride of place went to Patti Austin (pictured above),a singer who I've always regarded as a bit too jazzy and smooth for my taste, whose 75 minute set on the Saturday evening was absolutely stunning.
But to start at the beginning, Friday saw the appearance of three legends, each of whom were given a mere 20 minutes or so to show what they could do. Time wise it was insufficient, as between them they did only 11 numbers, but I can't fault their professionalism or their ability or, indeed, the excellent backing by Snake Davis and his band. First up was Margie Joseph, looking great in a silver trouser suit, whose high voice did justice to her four numbers from her Volt and Atlantic back catalogues - I'll Always Love You, Come On Back To Me Lover, One More Chance and I Can't Move No Mountains. Afterwards Margie, along with most of the other acts, did a meet and greet and was full of fun as she signed autographs.
Next up was Ann Sexton, fresh from doing a 75 minute set in London which by all accounts was a stormer. She is a ball of fire - raunchy and mischievous - and set the stage alight, but it was a shame that her limited stage time meant that she only sang four numbers and was on stage for just 22 minutes. Originally a gospel singer, she recorded some excellent soul for the Sound Stage 7 label. She came across strongly on Color My World Blue, You Gotta Use What You Got, All Over But The Shouting and her biggest hit You've Been Gone Too Long. Can't wait to see her again.
Final act of day one was Nolan (N F) Porter, a swivel eyed, hat wearing soul man with an engaging manner and a good stage act. The first of his three numbers was Oh Baby from 1972, followed by the excellent If I Could Only Be Sure and his soul anthem Keep On Keepin' On, which went down a storm. 16 minutes was Nolan's allocation.  I saw Nolan perform at the 100 Club a few years ago when he did a full set and would love to have seen more of him but, as with the others, it was great to see them at all. Admittedly for many people attending it was the records and dancing, not the live acts, that were the main draw, but the attraction of such a talented group of soul legends must be huge for many.
Next day Nolan failed to turn up at a question and answer session, earning him the title of No Show, or NS, Porter, but the discussion between DJs Kev Roberts, Richard Searling (organiser of the festival) and Chris Curtis was fascinating. Topics covered included the rivalry, intense at times, between the Wigan Casino and Blackpool Mecca, the antics of DJs in the old days of covering up record labels to steal a march on their rivals, soaring prices of rare soul records and worries about who the live acts might be in 20 years time.
Saturday's live entertainment kicked off with Eloise Laws (pictured above), sister of Ronnie Laws, who looked great in a white blouse and red slacks as she sang three numbers - the upbeat If You Don't Watch Out from 1980, the ballad Love Comes Easy and her Northern hit from 1973 Love Factory. Another short but sweet set, and, as it proved, the perfect appetiser for the star turn of the weekend, Patti Austin.
I had my doubts about Patti beforehand, but she quickly dispelled them when she launched into her excellent 75 minute set. Looking elegant in a black outfit, her long silver hair swaying, she began what she described as a musical journey, covering some songs which she recorded as a teenager - and hadn't even listened to since - as well as some of her current much more sophisticated stage act. Early songs in her set included You're Too Much A Part Of me, the bouncy It Happens All The Time (recorded when she was just 14), at a time when she toured with Patti LaBelle and James Brown. Next came Do You Love Me?, Are We Ready For Love and the jazzy In & Out Of Love, during which she did some scat singing and whistling. It was clear that we were in the presence of a real star, whose stagecraft, rapport with her audience and vocal chords were fantastic . The upbeat (I've Given) You All My Heart followed, and her big Northern soul hit Take Away The Pain Stain. Then it was the jazz flavoured Quincy Jones number We're In Love, He's Good Enough For Me (recorded when she was just starting out), Leave A Little Love (better known as a hit for Lulu), Through The Test Of Time, with audience participation, and Someone's Gonna Cry. Betcha Wouldn't Hurt Me, a song written for Patti by Stevie Wonder, and the James Bond styled You Didn't Say A Word, followed before she brought her exquisite set to a close with Music To My Heart. Is Patti really a Northern soul artist? Maybe not, although some of her songs fit the bill, but she's a great performer and has real star quality. The audience certainly thought so, as the extended applause showed. Shame she wasn't at the meet and greet afterwards though. The arrival of all five acts on stage at the finale set the seal on a great weekend.
Next year's line up has already been announced and includes Eddie Holman, Philip Mitchell, Brenda Holloway and Randy Brown, so it looks like I will be making the trek to Blackpool once again.
Below are some photos of me taken with some of the acts.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Eli 'Paperboy' Reed at the 100 Club

It's almost exactly ten years since I first saw Eli 'Paperboy' Reed perform solo in the top room of a pub in Chalk Farm. I was knocked out by this Boston boy's amazingly soulful voice and I've followed his career with interest ever since, bumping into him in LA a couple of years ago when we both, separately, toured the city's blues clubs and catching him at various gigs in London over the years. He has made several albums during the intervening years, comprising mostly original songs, and has now teamed up with the High and Mighty Brass Band, a New Orleans styled combo from New York, on a new album, featuring remakes of some of his older songs.
Eli and the brass band appeared at a packed out 100 Club in London last night to reveal the new sound. The High and Mighty band comprise two trombones. two trumpets, two drummers and a sousaphone and I guess if you like brass bands you would be in heaven. But for me it was a rather mixed experience. Eli's voice is as strong as ever, but whether the rather discordant backing of a loud brass band really shows off his wonderful voice to best effect is debatable. The band began by playing three instrumentals which set up the mood for Eli, who came on stage with his right leg in a cast, but otherwise looking good. He used his powerful voice to overcome the somewhat raucous backing, but it seemed a struggle at times. Maybe my recent attack of deafness in one ear (caused by attending too many loud gigs over the years) has affected my appreciation of what was undoubtedly a full blooded set, but some of the up tempo numbers were not really to my taste and I would have liked to have heard Eli with less intrusive backing.
Numbers included The Satisfier, Well Alright Now and the Joe Tex styled Name Calling, all from the new LP, but all previously recorded with Eli's old group The Trueloves. Your Sins Will Find You Out was a highlight, as was the excellent Walking and Talking (For My Baby). Other songs included I'm Gonna Getcha Back and Take My Love With You, also on the new album. The encore ended with Eli and the band leaving the stage for two stirring gospel numbers - Just A Closer Walk With Thee and Glory Glory Hallelujah - sadly invisible to most at the wrong end of the venue (I had left by this stage, so thanks to Dave for this bit).
It's always good to see Eli perform and I just love his voice, which has hints of Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and even James Carr. But the brass band format was risky as it threatened to dominate. The crowd seemed to love it though, so maybe he's on to a winner.


Saturday, June 02, 2018

Two more down

It's only a couple of days since my last post, but there have been two more significant music deaths already - both of them artists who I saw perform in fine form only three years ago.
Eddy 'The Chief' Clearwater. aged 83,was among the most colourful of bluesmen, frequently wearing a Native American head dress in his act. Influenced very much by Chuck Berry, he was a popular blues artist around Chicago for many years, playing left handed guitar and appearing at the Kingston Mines club. His first record, Hill Billy Blues in 1958, was recorded under the name of Clear Waters, a play on Muddy Waters. He became better known in the eighties with albums on the Rooster Blues label and later recorded for Alligator. A regular at blues and rock and roll festivals, I saw him in 2015 at the Rockin' Race Jamboree in Spain. I wrote at the time that he made a stunning visual impression and was one of the stars of the festival. His set included the early recording Boogie Woogie Baby, a couple of tracks from his 2014 album Soul Funky, and two Chuck Berry tunes, ending with You're Humbugging Me and Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On. The photos show Eddy at the Spanish festival.
The second death in the last couple of days is that of Texas born Royce Porter at the age of 79. Based in Houston, he recorded rockabilly for the Spade label before achieving success with Starday. After a spell in the Navy he returned to recording, cutting some sides for Huey Meaux's Tear Drop label, before relocating to Nashville, where he achieved enormous success as a song writer in the country field. He wrote a string of hits for, among others, George Strait, which made him a wealthy man. I saw Royce perform at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2015 (pictured below), where his set included Yes I Do and Looking. There's an excellent in depth write up of Royce's career here:

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Catching up on some music deaths

It's been a couple of months since I caught up on some of the musicians who have died recently. As ever, there have been quite a few, although the list is not as long as on some other occasions.
Two of those who have passed on in the last two months have appeared at Tales From The Woods shows in recent years. Roy Young (pictured above), who has died aged 81, was a great showman and also a keyboard player and singer who could give Little Richard a run for his money. Having auditioned successfully for the Oh Boy! TV show in 1958, he recorded a cover of Just Keep It Up for Fontana the following year with a great B side, Big Fat Mama. Other Fontana  recordings followed but he made his name in Hamburg, playing with Tony Sheridan and at the Star Club with the Beatles. He joined Cliff Bennett's Rebel Rousers and later formed his own band, backing Chuck Berry on tour. Later he worked with David Bowie on Low and worked with Long John Baldry among others. His appearances at a number of TFTW shows, in 2010, 2011 and 2013, were memorable: he always gave his all and was among the most convincing of UK rock and rollers.
 Stuart Colman, who died recently of cancer aged 73,  was a musician, record producer and broadcaster, who hosted a TFTW show starring P P Arnold in 2016. In the sixties he was a member of Pinkerton's Assorted Colours, which evolved into The Flying Machine, but it was his career as a broadcaster, first with the BBC and then with Radio London, that he is best remembered for by many of my generation. He was quite simply essential listening music wise. As a producer he was instrumental in Shakin' Stevens' success, worked with loads of artists from Kim Wilde to The Shadows, and made albums with Phil Everly and Little Richard. I remember seeing Stuart backing Johnnie Allen at a hot, sweaty Weavers Arms in London in the early nineties, but then he moved to Nashville and worked with a whole other group of musicians, including Nanci Griffith, the Crickets and Linda Gail Lewis. A great guy who will be much missed.
My first visit to New Orleans in 1989 was a life changing event, not least because I got to see the Neville Brothers play for the first time. I had always loved Aaron's voice and Art's rock and roll records, but the four brothers together was something else. The most jazz influenced of the four was sax player Charles Neville, who has died aged 79. Their album Yellow Moon featured Charles's superb playing at its best and when Aaron toured solo it was Charles who provided some classy musicianship behind his fabulous voice. I've seen the Nevilles many times - in New Orleans, London and Porretta - and it's sad that we will never get to see the classic line up again.
The Staple Singers were a wonderful gospel and soul group who made great records in the sixties, seventies and beyond. Now, Yvonne Staples, a key part of the group throughout their Stax years, has died aged 80. Always in the background, Yvonne's voice was strong enough to take the lead, but she was supportive of the family. Even in 2014, when sister Mavis was on tour, Yvonne was there to provide back up. Another wonderful group which we will never see again, although Mavis is still around and will be playing to sold out audiences in London soon.
A final word too for drummer John 'Jabo' Starks, who, along with Clyde Stubblefield, provided the beat that helped make James Brown, and his associates such as Lyn Collins, the J Bs and Bobby Byrd, so funky. The Vinyl Word raises a glass to them all.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Brenda Holloway in London

Brenda Holloway's star burned brightly but fairly briefly during her stay at Motown in the 1960s and for many years she turned her back on performing. Her biggest hit, Every Little Bit Hurts, is a Tamla Motown classic and she recorded several other memorable songs, as well as co-writing You Make Me So Very Happy - later a smash for Blood Sweat and Tears - with her sister Patrice. Today she seems happy with life and came across strongly last night at 229 The Venue in London in a set lasting just over 45 minutes.
Backed by a fairly mediocre band (she insisted on a couple of numbers being restarted) and two blonde backing singers, Brenda, wearing a sparkly long green dress which showed off her curvy figure to the full, got things going with Just Look What You've Done, with its memorable lines about 'turning my dreams to dust' and 'my heart to stone.' Brenda was regarded by Berry Gordy as something of a replacement for Mary Wells after Mary left Motown and the next two numbers, When I'm Gone and Operator, were both covers which, good though they were,  may have hindered rather than helped Brenda's career at the label.
The next song, Reconsider, was unissued at the time, despite its excellence, before being discovered in the nineties. Apparently unsure of the words, Brenda borrowed some reading glasses from a member of the audience but pulled it off well. Next came her first, and most successful, Motown record Every Little Bit Hurts, written by Ed Cobb of the Four Preps (who also wrote Tainted Love). More northern soul excellence followed with Crying Time and Starting The Hurt All Over Again, before Brenda moved on to the ballad You Make Me So Very Happy. After Berry Gordy and Frank Wilson claimed some of the writing credits for Brenda and Patrice's song, Brenda became disillusioned with Motown and her recording career effectively came to an end. Personally I've never liked the song very much, but it should have made her a fortune when it became a rock hit in 1969. To be fair, Brenda sounded great on the song. As an encore she returned to another mid sixties Motown hit, this time I'll Keep On Holding On, originally recorded by the Marvelettes.
It's not often that sixties Motown artists appear in London these days so it was good to see Brenda enjoying herself, even if the band's failings made things a little flat at times. I saw her at the Ponderosa Stomp a few years ago and this was a longer, and more satisfactory set in many ways. Long may she thrive.

Monday, May 07, 2018

California travelling

At last, a final batch of photos from the US road trip carried out with Alan Lloyd, John Howard and Gordon Fleming. The memories are already fading, but the experiences in California will not be forgotten for a long time, particularly the 91st birthday show that Big Jay McNeely put on at Joe's American Bar and Grill in Burbank..
Our California trip started off in Sacramento, a pleasant city twinned with dozens of others it would seem.
While in Sacramento we saw Robert Cray at the Crest Theater. 
Whilst travelling south we stopped off at the James Dean memorial, near where he was killed. Here are John and Alan by the marker.
While there I sampled some of their locally produced cider. They also make jerkum, from plums.
Here's another one of me, this time testing out my muscles (!) at Muscle Beach, between Venice Beach and Santa Monica.
A year ago Alan, John, Jonathan Batten and I set off from Chicago to travel along Route 66. We didn't quite finish it, so this time Alan, John and myself located the finish line on Santa Monica Pier.
Here's one of me and John with Big Jay McNeely.
J P Miles was a smooth voice soul/jazz singer who we saw at La Louisianne in Los Angeles. 
Here's one of me with J P.
Our final night in LA was also spent at La Louisianne, where Sonny Green was performing.
Backing Sonny was a fine band led by Lester Lands.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Las Vegas round up

Here is the last batch of photos from the Las Vegas part of our US trip, beginning with some more from Viva Las Vegas. Here is Roddy Jackson, always a favourite with his enthusiasm and facial expressions, who performed at a TFTW show in London a couple of years back.
Also in the Stars of rock and roll show, here is Norman Fox with the Rob Roys.
Doowop group the El Doradoes put on a good show.
Here's another rock and roller, Mike Waggoner.
Pin ups are a big part of Viva Las Vegas. Here are some of them at a meet up.
Here is the lady who introduced the Miss Viva Las Vegas competition, showing off her tattoos, plus the winner and a couple who could have entered.
The Car Show is a big deal at Viva Las Vegas with dozens of beautiful motors. Here are a few.
Here's a general shot of the Car Show.
I took some time out during the festival to go with Noah Shaffer, Ruth Fitzgerald and Alan Lloyd to see soul singer Sonny Charles at Piero's restuarant in Las Vegas, where former film star Pia Zadora also has a residency. Here are a few photos.
Finally, here's something that has become an annual tradition - a visit to Red Rock Canyon. L-R: Nick Cobban, John Howard, Alan Lloyd, Gordon Fleming.