I've just got back from the Porretta Soul Festival where it was New Orleans artists who took centre stage, rather than the usual Memphis based acts. Laid back and enjoyable as ever, despite a less than usually star-studded line up, the festival proper kicked off with a stunning show by Irma Thomas on Friday. She was on great form, as was her band, as she performed many of her old favourites plus three tracks from her new CD. She showed that she still has a great voice and a personality to match, and that it's possible to read unfamiliar lyrics from a songsheet whilst still getting the delivery absolutely right. There was much debate among us music anoraks about the origins of Time is on my side, her classic song that she feels was stolen by the Rolling Stones, but Wikipedia says that the song was written by Norman Meade, a pseudonym for Jerry Ragavoy, and first recorded by jazz artist Kai Winding with backing by the Enchanters (Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick and Cissy Houston). Irma's version, with added lyrics, was recorded a few months later.
Sunday provided the other high point with a classic show by the Neville Brothers, who were on superb form. How refreshing being able to get within a few feet of the band in comfort, rather than being one of 50,000 fans at Jazzfest and viewing from half a mile away. As ever, Aaron's voice was spellbinding and Charles's saxophone playing was stunning. Davell Crawford was the main support act and he was a revelation, with some excellent NO piano playing and and good mixture of New Orleans and blues tracks.
The weakest night was Saturday where the headliner was Howard Tate. Fine on his early hits like Get it while you can and Ain't nobody home, he struggled with material from his latest CD as he read from a song sheet and, unlike Irma, failed to sing into the mic or, at times, keep in tune. He would have been fine as a support, but as the main act on the busiest night he didn't quite cut it. Similarly Bobby Purify, who did half a set on two of the nights, was good, with a still soulful voice, but insufficiently rehearsed to do more than five numbers, only two of which were Purify originals.
Porretta continues to be a festival unlike any other - intimate, relaxed and low key. I have to admit, though, that going for the first time with my glamorous girlfriend Lex, whose long legs and Naomi Campbell-style looks turned heads wherever she went, was quite a thrill too.