This year's Porretta Soul Festival has to be the best yet - certainly the best of the ten or so that I've been to. The quality of the artists performing was just superb, with a whole load of stand out performances by legendary Memphis soul men and women, great weather and fantastic backing once again, in most cases, by Austin Delone's band with Sweet Nec
Friday kicked off with the forgettable James Thompson band, but soon picked up pace with Vaneese Thomas
(pictured), the lesser known of Rufus's daughters, who was backed by Soul Spinner, an Italian band who actually 'got' soul music. OK it was mostly covers, but A Woman's Love was a stand out and Vaneese got things moving in the right direction. Bobby Johnson
followed and kept the high tempo going with some crowd pleasing soul numbers. Things looked a little shaky with the appearance of Jesse Dee
, like Eli Paperboy Reed a young white soul man from Boston with a penchant for Sam Cooke material. I wasn't particularly impressed, although a storming version of Jackie Wilson's A Woman, A Lover, A Friend on Sunday made me think that he has potential for the future.
Much more to my soul taste was Oscar Toney Jr
, who appeared in a pink suit complemented with pink shoes with OTJr written in red on the toes. Oscar gave us deep soul with For Your Precious Love and went walkabout in the crowd with For The Good Times. Excellent
entertainment. Friday's soul fest finished with Percy Wiggins
(pictured), dressed more soberly in a smart brown suit and looking like a bank manager, who excelled in a restrained way on his own material such as Book of Memories and Perfect Stranger and moved into a medley of Sam Cooke songs. Not the most demonstrative of singers his voice nevertheless was strong and pure and certainly soulful.
Next evening was even better. First, it was the turn of Percy's brother, Spencer Wiggins
, to show us that 40 or more years after his amazing Goldwax recordings he still has the voice and charisma to match just about everyone who has ever recorded in the southern soul field, even label mate James Carr. His dramatic version of Uptight Good Woman, with numerous false endings, was stupendous, as was Old Friend and several other Goldwax tracks, and he stayed true to his religious principles by finishing with a couple of gospel numbers. Spencer was worth the admission price alone - an absolute star.
But that was just the start of a great evening. Toni Gre
en, the wonderfully glamorous star of the 2007 festival, once again wowed the crowd with a sexily diva like and very soulful set - much too short in my view. And she made my evening by name checking me at one point, as we had chatted earlier in the day. Why she is not better known is a mystery to me, because she has musical and sex appeal in spades.
Toni was followed by J Blackfoot
, now mercifully recovered from a stroke apparently, who showed that the exciting stage act that he put on at Porretta 11 years ago was still very much intact. Apart from his big hit Taxi and one Soul Children song Hearsay it was mostly covers, which was a shame (although Austin's band can hardly be blamed - Austin told me that they had learned 85 new numbers in the last couple of weeks) but overall it was exciting stuff.
Finally we were privileged to witness the King of Rock and Soul himself Solomon Burke
(pictured), with his own 14 piece band and surrounded by a bevy of sexy daughters, grand daughters and violinists.
Solomon's act these days is fairly predictable but of the highest quality. with a selection of his early hits such as Cry To Me and Down In the Valley, some later material and some cheesy but effective covers of He'll Have To Go, What A Wonderful World and the Saints. Very enjoyable nonetheless.
Sunday's show saw all the main acts, apart from Solomon, make brief appearances and it was a laid back affair with a smallish crowd, unlike Saturday's packed house. Spencer, Percy, Toni, Oscar, Vaneese, Bobby, J and Jesse all ran through two or three numbers each and the evening culminated with all the artists on stage for a bravura performance of 6-345789 organised mainly by J Blackfoot. A fantastic end to a fantastic festival.
I will put some more photos on the blog in the next few days, along with some set lists, courtesy of Dave Carroll.