Northern Soul Weekender - Butlins, Skegness
Seamus McGarvey reports on the Northern Soul Weekender on September 26 to 29.
This was an exciting musical event with eight 'live' performances across the three-day Weekender including two up-and-coming acts alongside six legendary ones. Opening things up on Friday evening, Judy Street hit the stage with a stomping 'Ready Or Not Here I Come' showing both strong vocals and good stage presence before a driving 'Tainted Love'. Across a 45-minute set she dipped into the Northern Soul songbook for numbers like the beaty 'Moonlight, Music And You' delivered in a confident manner, plus the stepping 'Hit And Run' and a more mid-tempo 'It’ll Never Be Over For Me'. The four-piece horn section (from Diane Shaw's excellent band who backed six of the acts) were well to the fore on 'More Today Than Yesterday' before she went back to the first song her Dad taught her at the piano, 'Sunny', bringing the hand-clapping crowd along with her. 'What Are You Waiting For' from her new CD proved popular, before her biggest success 'What', with its catchy feel and 'hooks', plus her natural verve, won the audience over yet again. With an encore of 'Long After Tonight Is All Over' Judy was a strong opening act.
Archie Bell proved a whirlwind performer, taking the stage by storm from the outset, not least in his eye-catching yellow suit. Early numbers included 'Everybody Have a Good Time' with 70-year-old Archie stepping and spinning like a 25-year-old, his humour and hip-swivelling coming to the fore on numbers like the medium-tempo dancer 'Strategy'. Support throughout came from a tight band of musicians, with sharp vocal harmonies from The Drells, three young singers from London who had worked with Archie for the past two years, and moved and sang with style and confidence. 'There's Gonna Be A Showdown' proved a fine funky workout with the crowd singing along, 'Don't Let Love Get You Down' featured full-power high-flying vocals, and the stepping 'The Soul City Walk' showed his energy as an entertainer. The crowd sang along with 'Here I Go Again', clapping and chanting, before Archie said he was 'gonna show [us] how to do the 'Tighten Up'', which he did with plenty of hip-shaking fervour before he was joined on-stage by his dancing grand-daughter, Heaven. He had worked hard, vocally and physically: an excellent entertainer and a great set.
Over two lunchtime sessions on Saturday and Sunday, we were introduced to two newer acts. On Saturday a young singer called Johnny Boy proved he was gifted with a terrific voice showing both R&B edge and an extensive range. Admitting to a touch of stage nerves, there's time for him to develop more confidence, and this was a good introduction to his strengths as a vocalist. The opening 'It's A Man's Man's Man's World' revealed both edgy vocals and an ability to testify, while 'I'm Gonna Make You Love Me' and 'It's A Shame' rang the changes in terms of material and showed what he was capable of. Progressively he became more at ease on-stage, and numbers like 'Uptight' and 'Higher And Higher' showed his wide vocal range, as did the encore 'I Get the Sweetest Feeling', with 'Long After Tonight Is All Over' adding a change of tempo. A talent in the making.
On Sunday lunchtime Diane Shaw (above), twenty years in the business, opened with the stepping 'Two Can Have A Party' showing both vocal prowess and a strong stage personality. She also fronted an extremely talented nine-piece band, with a four-piece brass section (trumpet, trombone, tenor and baritone saxes), and a backing vocal trio. A 'journey to Motown' brought a driving 'Helpless' before she transitioned neatly into the stepping 'I Got A Feeling'. Just about to have her first album released, she introduced from it the mid-tempo 'Good Lovin' Man' and, later, 'Leave A Little Love', each adding to the set's balance of material. Throughout, Diane worked well with the band and singers, and was at ease with the audience, adding some nice touches of humorous asides and glances, with numbers like 'Heaven Must Have Sent You' and the beat ballad 'I Go To Pieces (Everytime)' varying the mood. She ended with 'That's When The Tears Start' and, by way of an encore, 'Time Will Pass You By', a strong conclusion to an excellent act from a performer with positive potential.
The Flirtations (Ernestine and Shirley Pearce, and Viola Billups) opened Saturday night with a flourish in the form of 'Sweet Soul Music' and after a snatch of 'It's A Woman's World (You'd Better Believe It)' from the group's previous incarnation as The Gypsies, their vocal interplays came to the fore on 'Need Your Loving' and the hand-clapping 'Stronger Than Her Love', with some neatly linked movement. Viola recalled her childhood in Tuskegee, Alabama where she 'couldn't hear the music you love so much', setting the scene for the beautiful soul ballad 'Can't Stop Loving You' featuring Ernestine's excellent lead and some impassioned pleading. Junior Walker's 'Shotgun' raised the pace again, prompting some more animated stepping leading to numbers like the medium-tempo 'Nothing But A Heartache' and the pacier 'Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)'. By the end, many in the audience were 'Dancing In The Street' (from their new CD) right along with them, and appropriately so. A powerhouse group, with strong harmonies and easy-going stage personalities, plus a well-balanced set of songs - what more could you want!
From the moment Eddie Holman hit the stage he looked sharp in his 3/4 length silk jacket and black trousers and shoes, spinning and strutting despite his 68 years of age, 58 of them in the music business. Telling us that we had all helped send his 'eldest son to college', he opened with the affirmative 'Eddie's My Name' from 1965, setting the pace for the act from the 'off'. He stayed with his Cameo-Parkway days for 'This Can't Be True' which made him a 'legend … at age 18' and the neatly stepping 'Stay Mine For Heaven's Sake' which reinforced his approach to the set from stepping, turning and spinning, through fine vocals, to a positive rapport with the audience. He danced on through 'This Will Be A Night To Remember', leading him to recall his debut at age ten at New York's Apollo Theatre, before the ballad 'It's All In The Game' followed by 'She's Wanted (In Three States)' which he co-wrote for Larry Clinton. A songwriter who'd managed to retain ownership of 65% of everything he'd ever written (quite an achievement in the difficult world of song publishing), he delivered the beautiful ballad 'I Love You', co-written with his wife, the band rising to the occasion, and on 'I Surrender' he hit some really high notes, and engaged in more vigorous and energetic dancing. Eddie ended on his signature hit, 'Hey There Lonely Girl': a consummate and rounded entertainer, he closed Saturday night with a superb 75-minute set.
On the Sunday night, no one could have anticipated that they might witness one of the most emotional shows they had ever experienced, but that's what Sunday night became. After Fiona Smith's Dance Competition, the stage was set for a performance by the legendary Tommy Hunt, an artist I had first interviewed 29 years ago and here he was tonight opening with a stunning, strutting version of Solomon Burke's 'Cry To Me'. Walking slowly on stage and largely remaining seated throughout the song, Tommy nonetheless exuded a soulful eminence in his sharp orange jacket and shoes, and with many in the audience transfixed by his presence. Paying tribute to the other acts, he gave us 'Keep On Keeping On', in good voice throughout the R&B groover, and took a seat because 'the old bones ain't what they used to be' before a nod to the late Lou Rawls led him into 'Tobacco Road', adding that it was 'a little different, but I still classify it as Northern Soul'. His vocals worked well, the band hit a nice groove, and Tommy brought it to a tight conclusion before 'Loving On The Losing Side' had taken us to his UK Spark recordings. The band was tight on the rhythm, the number pointing up a well-balanced set in terms of material, when suddenly (and thankfully quickly spotted by Diane Shaw) Tommy slumped sideways on his stool and had to be helped off-stage by Diane and others.
There was news in due course that Tommy was feeling better though no one really knew what to expect when Dean Parrish hit the stage for his set, but he brought the good news that 'Tommy's fine' and, at that moment, Tommy was led back on stage by Diane. In an emotional few moments which saw him – and many in the audience – reduced to tears, he told us himself he was feeling better, and as it turned out, he'd be back later. Dean opened his set with the rocking 'Tell Her', driven by the excellent band, and from there he introduced his next song by reminiscing about a 1966 Dick Clark Caravan Of Stars and the reaction he'd received when he told Clark that, against expectations, he would sing 'Determination'. Here he showed himself a strong vocalist and stage performer, moving and stepping across the whole stage, before the distinctly New York '60s feel of 'Bricks, Broken Bottles And Sticks', with its near-Latin rhythms. Gradually developing a rapport with the audience, they were fully onside by the time he launched into 'I'm On My Way' from 1967, getting everyone involved via his active stage personality and ease with the fans The band were again positively behind him on the mid-tempo strutter 'Left Right And Centre' before his version of Ray Charles' 'Unchain My Heart' brought out some fine soulful vocals and led once more into 'I'm On My Way'.
With the crowd chanting 'Dean-o!' repeatedly for an encore, he responded with the hand-clapping 'Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)' which whipped the crowd up once more as the finale brought back on stage Tommy Hunt, Diane Shaw, Eddie Holman, Johnny Boy and Judy Street to join him. With Tommy enthroned on a tall stool centre stage, singing along, there were sighs of relief all round and a 'Happy Birthday' for dee-jay-cum-organiser Russ Winstanley (pictured above with Dean Parrish).as Tommy said 'let's all celebrate that we're living to enjoy what we love'. With some numbers reprised from earlier in the show, this was a wonderful finale to a memorable and exciting weekender.
(Seamus McGarvey, Juke Blues magazine UK, with thanks to Robyn Smith)