Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Porretta Soul Festival

My annual pilgrimage to the Porretta Soul festival was, as ever, enjoyable and fun (despite my girlfriend having to cry off at the last minute), but the line up was rather more low key than usual.
Day one was dominated by New Orleans piano men who, although both excellent exponents of their art, were just a little too similar. Davell Crawford (minus his grandad ‘Sugarboy’ who was originally slated to accompany him), played a solo set which never quite caught fire, despite some solid New Orleans R and B numbers and a good version of Randy Newman’s Louisiana 1927. Later we were able to compare his nimble fingers with the huge digits of blind New Orleans pianist Henry Butler, who pounded the keyboards to within an inch of their lives. I’ve always regarded Henry as being a jazz man, and hence haven’t taken much notice in the past, but he is clearly much more than that, with a varied repertoire taking in jump blues, funk and New Orleans R and B. I didn’t warm to him much on day one, but he appeared again on days two and three with shorter sets and I appreciated his quite incredible mastery of the keyboard rather more. Not sure about his deep voice though – reminiscent, to me at least - of Screaming Jay Hawkins. The highlight of day one was without doubt Mable John, whose clean soulful voice is as strong as ever. Her versions of Bad Water, Your Good Thing, brother Little Willie John’s Need Your Love So Bad and others were powerful and beautiful at the same time. Prior to the main acts we had to suffer an hour of a strange, spoof French soul band led by Captain Mercier – doing a tribute to Nino Ferrer (who?) – and a 75 year old rock and roller called Clem Sacco. Both were awful. Day two was a marked improvement, the highlight being Bishop Joe Simon with the 24 strong Avenue D male choir from Florida. I had grave reservations about Simon as we were told that he would not do any secular music. He was true to his word, but did include a slightly changed version of My Special Prayer and his first hit A Teenager’s Prayer, which he clearly didn’t regard as being ‘satan’s music’ (his description of his early works). Joe’s voice was strong and the choir were good, if a little camp in their mannerisms, and he still has what it takes. Just a pity that we will never again hear him sing The Chokin’ Kind or Drowning In A Sea of Love. Mable John and Henry Butler reprised their first night highlights and a first for me was Otis Redding III. Although clearly not in the same class as his dad, he’s a pretty competent guitarist and singer who ran through a selection of his hits including a moving version of Dreams To Remember (written by his mother Zelma). Special mention has to be made of the backing band led by Austin Delone which was superb throughout, with a first rate horn section, and the girl backing group Sweet Nectar. There was a single song from Charlie Woods with his tribute to Rufus Thomas and Porrette Terme and the final act on Saturday was Sugar Pie DeSanto, appearing for the second year running, who again wowed the crowd with an act that was funny, bawdy and excellent entertainment. The final night saw more glimpses of the acts from the previous two nights, climaxing with an amusing encore with them onstage together. Joe Simon refused to join in at first – Sugar Pie mischievously said that he couldn’t possibly join in because he’s a bishop – but then did a great duet with Mable John on Lay My Burden Down. The main act on Sunday was Chaka Khan, who appeared with her own band and seemed in good form. I’ve never been a great fan of her rather bland seventies soul style, but it was professionally produced and she came across well, looking good in the process.
So another Porretta comes and goes. It's not in the same league as the Ponderosa Stomp - but then nothing is - but it's a laid back weekend in beautiful scenery with some good music thrown in. More pictures and some movies will follow soon.


At 6:56 pm , Anonymous Mohair Slim said...

Cheers Nick. Tell me more about Sugar Pie. How was her voice?
I wish I’d known about Chuck Carbo. Will have to do a belated tribute this week on the show.
Hopre you’re well and everything is cool over there.
Mohair Slim
Blue Juice Radio Show
Melbourne, Australia

At 6:58 pm , Blogger Nick said...

Sugar Pie was on good form and very funny, constantly making faces, hitching up her skirt, dragging a member of the audience on stage and getting him to lift her up with her legs round his waist. Her voice was pretty good, if a little ragged. She was making faces at the po faced 'Bishop' Joe Simon during the finale on Sunday. "He don't sing the blues - he's a bishop," she declared. Here's her setlist, as noted by a friend who was there
I Don't Wanna Fuss
Life Goes On
I Want To Know
In The Basement
Hello San Francisco
Black Rat
I left before The Night Time Is The Right Time and a number from her newish CD
Matter Of Time
In The Basement

At 8:53 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Nick,
How did you like MotownHead, headlining Thursdaynight at Porretta. It was a classic, but very energetic and stunning soul show!

At 9:59 pm , Blogger Nick said...

I wasn't there until the Friday so didn't see MotownHead, but tribute bands are not really my thing. I like the real thing.


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