Monday, August 03, 2015

Wizz Jones at the Hoy at Anchor Folk Club

Wizz Jones is a 76-year-old Croydon-born folk and blues singer-guitarist and songwriter who's been performing since 1957. Influenced by the likes of Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters and Ramblin' Jack Elliott, he has worked with musicians such as Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, and banjo-player Pete Stanley, and has been recording since the mid-'60s. He was at The Hoy at Anchor Folk Club, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex on July 28.
Across two sets over some 90 minutes, from the bluesier side of things came Doc Watson's 'Deep River Blues' with some excellent guitar picking and neat chord shapes, and his version of Blind Boy Fuller's 'Weeping Willow'. Highlights from his own compositions were the moving 'Burma Star', written about his late father who survived the Second World War after being 'listed as missing in '42', with its near-'20s jazz feel; the lighter 'Lullaby Of Battersea'; and 'Mississippi John', his tribute to the late Mississippi John Hurt. Wizz also rang the changes with a jazzy, stepping version of 'The Glory Of Love',  and demonstrated some exemplary chording and picking on his version of Blind Willie Johnson's 'Lord I Just Can't Keep From Crying'; he even played some banjo on Ewan McColl's 'The Father's Song'. For an encore, and determined 'to get the time to play my hit... 'When I Leave Berlin'' (which Bruce Springsteen covered to open his 2012 show in Berlin) Wizz ended the night on a high. An enjoyable evening's entertainment from a fine singer and guitarist delivering a well blended musical repertoire, complete with some touches of laconic humour. Seamus McGarvey

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Sixties soul with The Flirtations

Sixties soul came to the Jazz Cafe last night with an appearance by the Flirtations, a girl group who still put on a fun and very tuneful show. Sisters Earnestine and Shirley Pearce got together with another sister, Betty, to form the Gypsies in 1962, before changing their name to the Flirtations. Betty left in 1964 to be replaced by Viola Billups who, as Pearly Gates, enjoyed solo success in the seventies and eighties. Although originally from South Carolina and Alabama (in Vi's case) the Flirtations were  based in the UK, where they made a string of up tempo soul numbers for Deram which failed to make a great deal of impact at the time but which are now regarded as Northern soul classics. Today the three Flirtations still look gorgeous and harmonise well. They also have a great line in humour between numbers.
Kicking off with a lively stab at Arthur Conley's Sweet Soul Music, and backed by a band which suited them well, they moved on to another soul classic Do I Love You, before singing their own Need Your Lovin'. Marvin Gaye's Little Darling (I Love You) was followed by the belting Stronger Than Her Love, a Flirtations original. Next was Can't Stop Lovin' You, a song which, they said, Tom Jones was given preference over by their record company. Other numbers included Martha and the Vandellas' Nowhere To Run, their own Someone Out There and their biggest hit Nothing But A Heartache, before they returned to the Motown songbook with Junior Walker's Shotgun and the Jacksons' I Want You Back. They dug back to the early sixties with Jerk It, recorded when they were known as the Gypsies, before finishing strongly with Dancing In the Street. In between Vi complained about a sore throat, although she sounded fine, while Shirley, wearing a fetching blonde wig, described herself as 'the sexy one', and Earnestine insisted she was 'the pretty one'. To my eyes, they all looked great and this was a show that brought a smile to our faces.
Earlier, and I kick myself for arriving late, I caught a bit of the support act - Diane Shaw, an ebullient and highly vocal soul singer from Manchester. She sounded fantastic on Edwin Starr's Stop Her On Sight and I wish I had seen more.
Nick Cobban

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Porretta final day plus photos

The final night at the Porretta Soul Festival featured most of the acts from the previous couple of days performing just two or three numbers each. It was a very enjoyable evening, even though most of the songs had already been performed during the Friday or Saturday shows. It began, however, rather shakily, with a blues band called Amnesia International, who were competent enough, but not really suitable for a soul festival. Numbers included Hold On I'm Coming, I Put A Spell On You, Steamy Windows, Every Day I Have The Blues and Midnight Hour, sung by MC Rick Hutton.
The evening improved when the excellent Anthony Paule Band took over the backing duties. Derek Martin reprised three of his numbers and Prince Phillip Mitchell, suffering a cold, did two before Theo Huff emerged wearing a splendid white suit with orange hat, trimmings, shoes and shirt and gave a bravado performance on Running Out Of Lies and It's A Good Thing I Met You. He's a real showman and hopefully we will see more of him in the future.
Frank Bey (pictured above), making his third appearance of the weekend, kicked off with a superbly soulful song I Just Can't Go On, written by Christine Vitale, wife of Anthony Paule, plus three from his earlier appearances. There was an appearance by Bernard 'Pretty Purdie, and a return by Sugar Pie DeSanto, this time wearing a black spangly trouser suit and hat. David Hudson actually completed a couple of superb numbers this time, including Love And Happiness, while Chick Rodgers and Wee Willie Walker again impressed. The show ended with the now traditional finale with nearly all of the artists on stage together contributing to various numbers including Drink Muddy Water, Every Day I Have The Blues and Stoop Down Baby.
Here's a selection of photos from the weekend: First, here is Wee Willie Walker.
This is Sax Gordon, who was on stage for nearly all the weekend.
Here is Sugaray Rayford, a surprise hit from the Friday show.
Drummer Bernard 'Pretty' Purdie sold out of his autobiography. Of the 2500 artists he has worked with the singer who showed most emotion, he said, was Aretha Franklin.
Theo Huff was one of the real stars of the weekend. Here he is in action on the final evening.
Prince Phillip Mitchell showed that he is as good a singer as he is a songwriter.
Here is Derek Martin.
Stax sax man Joe Arnold played a few numbers on the Saturday evening.
Chick Rodgers has a big voice, very much in the style of Aretha.
More of an entertainer than a singer these days, here is Sugar Pie DeSanto.
Here is Porretta regular David Hudson,
Finally, here's one of me with Prince Phillip Mitchell.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Porretta Soul Festival day 3

After the excellence of the Friday night's music at the Porretta Soul Festival, the third night, Saturday, proved to be a hit and miss affair, with rather more miss than hit. It started badly with a Spanish band from the Canary Isles called the Sugar Hill Band who proved to be a holiday camp show band whose music bore little relation to soul. Despite a six piece horn section and 15 members in total their set failed to impress. Having said that they went down well with most of the crowd, many of whom it seemed were there for a good time, rather than good soul.
Things improved markedly when the Anthony Paule Band took the stage and sixties soul singer Derek Martin appeared. After a dodgy start with an audience participation version of Hit The Road Jack, he got into his stride with his Sue single Daddy Rolling Stone. Another song of his, You Better Go, followed, slowing things down a bit, and he moved on to Otis's I've Been Loving You Too Long. Derek recalled travelling with Otis - he called him The Bear because of his size and the bear hugs they exchanged. After a new song, a jazzy number called Let's Talk About It, he finished strongly with Don't Put Me Down Like This, the flip side of Daddy Rolling Stone. A longer set would have been appreciated but it was good to see him.
Next on stage was Memphis sax player Joe Arnold, a man who backed many of the best records that came out of Stax and Muscle Shoals. After impressive instrumental versions of 6345789 and Last  Night he was presented with an award by festival organiser Graziano Uliani, who has done so much over the years to attract soul greats to Porretta.
Completing the first half was Chick Rodgers, a slim lady with a big voice who does a remarkably good take on the songs of Aretha Franklin. A regular at Porretta, her set included Don't Play That Song, Dr Feelgood, Baby I Love You and Natural Woman, plus Gladys Knight's I've Got To Use My Imagination and B B King's To Know You Is To Love You. Predictable as her set was, it was none the less enjoyable, as she really does have power in those lungs of hers.
It was after the break that things began to get rather shambolic. Well known session drummer Bernard 'Pretty' Purdie came on stage and brought his unique style to an instrumental called Funky Donkey, and then supported two numbers by Loralee Christensen (Cold Sweat and Rock Steady), plus a cracking version of Memphis Soul Stew with Sax Gordon handling the vocals. There were delays with a further presentation, this time to Bernard, and what seemed like an unplanned version of The Meters' Cissy Strut and an impromptu version of Land Of 1000 Dances by MC Rick Hutton.
Presumably the hold up was caused by the late arrival of Sugar Pie DeSanto, making a return to Porretta after a break of several years. Now nearly 80 she is as energetic as ever, very funny with one liners, instructions to the band and leering facial expressions, but her voice is not what it was. There was a lot more talk than singing, but she did manage to get through I Don't Want A Fuss, part of the slower Life Goes On, her early hit I Want To Know, I Don't Care and, as an encore, In The Basement. No Soulful Dress though.
By this time the show was running late so it was a bit of a surprise to see Frank Bey return for a second night. His voice is great though so it wasn't a problem listening to his four numbers, which included Still Putting Them Down, Kiss Me Like You Mean It and Hard Times. With the time now after two it was at last the turn of Atlanta based David Hudson, who has now become an annual visitor to Porretta. He seemed in no hurry however as he talked his way through Nothing Ever Felt So Good. He has a great voice but I guess we will have to wait for tonight's finale to hear it, as I'd had enough as he eventually got round to his next number Take Me To The River.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Day two at Porretta Soul Festival

Day two of the Porretta Soul Festival lived up to expectations with five excellent male singers, backed by bands that more than did them justice. It was a pleasantly cool evening after a huge thunderstorm earlier in the day and the less than capacity audience were royally entertained, not least by Prince Phillip himself. But more about him later..
First on was the Luca Giordano Band, plus the excellent Sax Gordon, who backed LA based blues man Sugaray Rayford. A new name to me, he proved to be a big man with a big voice, with more than a touch of southern soul about him. He began with the uptempo Blind Alley, from the CD of the same name, and followed up with the bluesy If I Live To Love Again, All I Think About and Stuck For A Buck, which showed he could move as well as sing. A tour of the audience followed with Albert King's I'll Play The Blues For You which led into Little Milton's If You Talk In Your Sleep. His encore, Louis Armstrong's What A Wonderful World, was performed seated with just a piano for backing. A subdued end to what had been an excellent set.
After a short break the Anthony Paule Band took the stage to back the remaining acts. After a couple of well delivered numbers by Loralee Christensen, one of the Sweet Nectar backing singers (Hold On I'm Coming and Son Of A Preacher Man) it was back to the men, in the form of Theo Huff, a young soul singer from Chicago who made a good impression when he appeared at Porretta two years ago. Dressed in a smart red suit and hat he stuck largely to songs by Johnny Taylor (Who's Making Love and Cheaper To Keep Her) and Tyrone Davis (Turn Back The Hands Of Time and The Turning Point) plus It's A Good Thang I Met You from his Now Is The Time CD. Finally Theo was joined on stage by David Hudson for Last Two Dollars, a duet which set the Rufus Thomas Park stage very nearly alight.
Next on was the tall slim figure of Prince Phillip Mitchell, dressed in a white suit and looking very elegant. Best known as a song writer, he is a fine singer with a light high voice. His set included several of his own songs, including Turning Over The Ground, Starting All Over Again, a big hit for Mel and Tim, I'm Gonna Build California All Over The World, and Bobby Womack's Home Is Where The Heart Is, and covers such as I've Been Loving You Too Long and, rather predictably, At Last, which seems to be performed at every festival these days.
Next on stage was Anthony Paule's regular vocalist Frank Bey, who made a tremendous impression this time last year. Frank is a relaxed singer with a voice that oozes soul. Numbers included Its Good To Have Your Company, the pleading You Don't Know Nothing, I'm The One Who Loves You, Next To My Heart, Not Going Away, a soulful version of John Lennon's Imagine, which went down well with the Italian audience, and If I Could Reach out. Another superlative performance I thought.
Final act of the evening was the diminutive Wee Willie Walker, a Goldwax artist in the sixties, who has lost none of his vocal talent. Numbers included I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water, You Name It I Didn't Have It, Sam Cooke's A Change Is Gonna Come (another festival favourite these days), If Nothing Ever Changes, a slow version of the Beatles' Help (a duet with Loralee) and Read Between The Lines. Final number, as the crowd dispersed, was Lucky Loser. For the audience, however, it had been a win from beginning to end of a great night's soul music. Photos soon.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Porretta on track once more

The Porretta Soul Festival - Europe's, if not the world's, best soul festival - has rolled round again and woken this sleepy Italian hill town from its slumbers once more. Now in its 28th year, the Thursday night here is usually an all Italian affair, with local bands taking the stage. But this year, after a performance by a band of smartly dressed Carabinieri, we were treated to a show by Japanese band Osaka Monaurail. Basically a tribute to the sounds of James Brown, they are an energetic 8 piece outfit with loads of musical talent, humour and well orchestrated routines, with a lead singer who can match James's stage craft. Numbers included Sex Machine, an Isaac Hayes tribute in the form of Walk On By, and a funky number called  She's A Fruitbasket, which is one of their own. A fun way to kick off the festival.
They were followed on stage by Italian band Groove City, featuring a singer named Sabrina Kabua, who were ok, but brought to life when Goldwax recording artist Wee Willie Walker came on stage. He joined Sabrina in a duet of I Can't Stand The Rain, followed by a slow soulful version of Help and his 1960s Checker release Lucky Loser. His voice sounded great and I'm looking forward to seeing him over the weekend. MC Rick Hutton proceeded to do a couple of numbers and he was joined on stage by soul men David Hudson and Prince Phillip Mitchell. There will be much more of them over the weekend, so keep an eye on the blog. Photos wil follow soon.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Tito Jackson - Under The Bridge, London

Guest writer Seamus McGarvey has been to see a Jackson...
Last Friday at Under The Bridge I went to see singer-guitarist Tito Jackson, the third oldest member of that famous musical family, in a rare solo performance. Although I had heard Tito perform some blues numbers a few years back, I wasn't sure what to expect, but  he delivered an entertaining blend of blues and some Jacksons hits, and took the opportunity to let the fans hear six new songs from his forthcoming album, and found them well received. 
I caught the last two numbers from the first support act, Larissa Eddie, who hails from Brighton and has toured with Lionel Richie and others; an energetic performer with a good voice and stage personality. Next came the band supporting Tito on the night, The Diane Shaw Band. I last saw Diane (pictured below) and her excellent band at the Northern Soul Weekender at Butlins, Skegness, last September, and they sounded equally solid this time. Before Tito's appearance, Diane performed a mix of covers from The Miracles' 'I Second That Emotion' and Fontella Bass's vibrant 'Rescue Me' through The Elgins' 'Heaven Must Have Sent You' and The Velvelettes' 'Needle In A Haystack' to Edwin Starr's 'Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.)', all delivered with verve and a strong voice, and enthusiastically received by the audience.
 Introduced on stage by Diane to excited applause from the large audience, Tito opened with a great piece of rocking blues featuring good vocals and some nifty guitar work in the shape of 'I Gotta Play' from his first solo album, and a nicely paced version of T-Bone Walker's 'T-Bone Shuffle', the band hitting just the right tempo and Tito playing some easy strolling guitar. With some jokes about his voice not being as high-flying as his late brother Michael's, along with Denise Pearson (Five Star - pictured below)) and Haydon Eshun (Ultimate Kaos) Tito launched into a selection of The Jacksons hits from 'I Want You Back' to 'ABC' and 'Dancing Machine' from their Motown days, on to numbers from the brothers' or Michael's days with Epic including 'This Place Hotel', 'Black Or White' and 'Blame It On The Boogie'. Both Denise and Haydon were in good voice and danced energetically, while Tito himself  remained well to the fore and kept it all moving along. 
For the final section of the show, Tito returned to his solo role and featured songs from his forthcoming album, demonstrating versatility across a range of musical styles. The numbers included  a fine funky piece called 'Jammer St.' with Tito playing some nice solo guitar, the medium stepping 'So Far So Good' and the punchy 'Get It Baby'. He changed the pace for a country number, 'On My Way Home To You' which, as he explained, was 'where I started back in the day', and a medium-tempo reggae-styled number called 'Home Is Where the Heart Is', once again featuring some tasteful guitar picking. Despite all of this being new material, Tito managed to get the crowd onside and singing along, ending with another medium-stepper, 'We Made It', before the full line-up was reassembled for the closing 'Shake Your Body'. Despite loud calls for 'more!' and much chanting of 'Ti-To! Ti-To!', that was it; the end of a well-balanced 75-minute set, and an entertaining evening. Seamus McGarvey ('Juke Blues' magazine)