There can be no more appropriate venue for the gospel styled soul of Mavis Staples than the Union Chapel in Islington, where she performed to great acclaim last night. This 19th century Gothic revival church, with its dome, stained glass windows, gallery, wooden pews and stone pulpit, provided the perfect back drop for Mavis and her band, drenched in gospel fervour as her voice still is. Backed by three background singers, including her sister and fellow former Staple Singers member Yvonne, drummer Stephen Hodges, guitarist Rick Holstrom with something of the Pops Staples sound about his playing, and a tall, bespectacled bass player named Jeff Turmes who could be a stand in for Richard Osman, Mavis showed that her gruff, exciting vocal style is undiminished by the years. She had the audience in the palm of her hand with her professionalism, showmanship and Southern gospel approach as she ran through a selection of Staples Singers hits, more recent solo numbers and some uplifting classics which suited her perfectly. It was her 75th birthday which was celebrated with an impromptu rendition of Happy Birthday To You by the audience and it was clear she was enjoying herself. 'I'm 16', she said.
Starting with the Staple Singers' Come Go With Me, she followed up with Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth, the gospel number He's Alright and I Like The Things About Me, from her recent album One True Vine. Next came another Staples classic Respect Yourself, You're Not Alone, from her 2010 album of the same name, and a truly stupendous version of the Band's The Weight. Absolutely glorious.
Next came March Up Freedom Highway, written by the patriarch of the Staple Singers Pops Staples in 1962 at the time of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, which Mavis took part in, and Little Milton's We're Gonna Make It. After an instrumental break, during which the two guitarists performed one number each (Summertime and Soul Serenade) Mavis and the other singers were back and pumped things up still further with the wonderful Let's Do It Again. Finally it was time for the Staples' classic I'll Take You There, with the audience on their feet repeating the phrase again and again as Mavis showed that even at 75 she can create more excitement than most performers half her age. A great evening's entertainment.
Words and photos by Nick Cobban.