Saturday, July 21, 2012

Porretta Soul Festival - day one

It's always a pleasure to get back to the Italian spa town of Porretta Terme for the annual Soul Festival - not least because the weather here is hot, unlike the dismal rain and cold of England. This is the 25th year of the festival, although rumour has it that it may be the last. Let's hope not.
This year's line up is well up to the high standard of previous years, although the first evening got off to a slightly shaky start. First on was an Italian lady from Turin named Silvia Zambruno, who billed herself as 'Me and Mrs Winehouse'. She looks uncannily like Amy with her petite figure and bouffant hair and has her mannerisms off to a T. Vocally she's quite similar as well, although lacking a bit of Amy's power. She sang a string of Any's songs including, inevitably, Rehab and did Our Day Will Come as an encore. A pretty good fake Amy and better than I feared she might be.
Next on was a rather similar act in some ways - Robin McKelle (with the Flytones) - who came across as part Etta James and part Amy but without, I'm afraid, the class of either. A vivacious redhead, she tried - in fact she tried too hard in the end, with her set dragging on for an hour and a half. She started well with some quite impressive versions of Ready For Your Love, Tell Mama, Nothing's Really Changed (from her album Soul Flower), Don't Give Up and I'm A Fool. But things went downhill with an over the top and inappropriately frantic version of Walk On By and I lost interest after that, although her act continued through several more numbers.
This was very much a game of two halves and the festival really came alive in the second part of the evening. The Bo-Keys, including Ben Cauley on trumpet, Howard Grimes on drums, Archie Turner on keyboards and bassist and band leader Scott Bomar (but sadly without Skip Pitts, who died earlier this year) played some rousing instrumentals, including Sundown On Beale, before Ben performed a couple of vocals - Never Found Me A Girl and These Arms Of Mine. He hasn't got the greatest of voices but it was definitely the real thing. Joining them on stage was John Gary Williams, formerly of the Mad Lads, who came across strongly on Fever, By the Time I Get A Phoenix, Closer To Me, a great version of the Mad Lads song Don't Have To Shop Around, finishing off with I Believe The Whole Damn World Has Gone Crazy. He's right. It was crazy to limit him to just five numbers, as he was worth a whole lot more.
Finishing off the evening, backed by the Bo-Keys, was David Hudson, dressed in a bright yellow suit, who set the evening alight with some classic Memphis soul, some of it taken from the Al Green songbook. Starting with Let's Stay Together, he moved on to a blistering version of God Blessed Our Love, through Love and Happiness, A Rainy Night In Georgia and Honey Honey, before climaxing with Try A Little Tenderness. David has great stage presence and a voice that has not been damaged by the years and was a joy.
Altogether, not bad for day one. Next it's Otis Clay, Syl Johnson and the Bar-Kays. Photos will follow when I get home.


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