Soul shows in Stockport and Rochester
Intrepid US music fan Noah Schaffer has been turning up at gigs all over the place recently. Here is his report on two recent UK soul shows: the Tribute to David Gest, Stockport, July 11, and the Soul Party at Rochester Castle, July 15. Thanks Noah.
Two events this week highlighted the more commercial side of classic soul, and showed that there is no shortage of R&B vocalists who can still draw a large audience.Monday's revue was originally planned to be hosted by ex-Liza Manelli husband and reality show staple David Gest. While Gest was an easy target for his tabloid exploits, the former Al Green publicist had organized numerous UK tours of classic soul artists that featured the likes of Candi Staton, Percy Sledge and Little Anthony. Gest's summer tour, unfortunately named "David Gest is Not Dead But is Alive With Soul," was kept as a tribute after Gest died this spring.
Thankfully the midgets that were part of past Gest soul tours were not present. Instead Freda Payne opened the show with "Band of Gold" and then hosted the night, offering plenty of anecdotes about Gest's bizarre antics and love of childish jokes. 80's UK singer Junior Giscombe was tapped to replace Billy Paul who also passed shortly after Gest. (Another scheduled act, "Ring My Bell" singer Anita Ward, was an unexplained no-show.) Giscombe offered Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" and his own "Mama Used to Say." Frustratingly the wonderful harmonies of the Tymes were only heard on "Miss Grace" and as a tribute to Paul "Me and Mrs. Jones." Fern Kinney sang one of Malaco Records' biggest hits, "Together We Are Beautiful," before being honored with a birthday cake.
Melba Moore, now sporting a short haircut, belting out her disco hit "This is It." The first half concluded with the night's highlight, as original Stylistics singer Russell Thompkins Jr ([ictured above). Opening with "Rockin' Roll Baby," Thompkins showed that his classic falsetto is still intact. Full versions of "Betcha By Golly Wow" and "You Make Me Feel Brand New" followed as well as a lengthy medley of other Stylistics hits. After an intermission Payne returned with a cover of "I Will Survive." Deniece Williams showed off her strong pipes on "Free" and "Let's Hear It For the Boy" and invited back Thompkins for an ideal duet on "Too Much Too Little Too Late."
While Dina Carroll is not a name known to this American soul fan, it was clear that much of the audience had turned out for what was a comeback tour after several years of inactivity. She opened a surprisingly short set with "Son of a Preacher Man" before singing her hit ballad "The Perfect Year" and finishing with "Ain't No Man," a dance number which benefited from the excellent house band's horn section. Peabo Bryson finished the night, and while some might dismiss him for his Disney soft-rock hits like "Beauty and the Beast" and "A Whole New World" there's no disputing that Bryson's voice remains a powerful instrument. His polished presence enlivened his 80's ballad "If Ever You're in My Arms Again." Backup singer Desrinea Ramus did a good job replacing Roberta Flack on "Tonight I Celebrate My Love," and Bryson dug deep on Leon Russell's "Song for You" offered in tribute to Gest. The night ended up an upbeat note with Bryson bringing out the entire cast for Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody." Gest bodyguard-turned-tour producer Imad Handi appeared at the end of the three hour show to promise that another edition will be mounted next year.
Friday night saw a sold-out crowd of 5,000 packed onto the beautiful grounds of the Rochester Castle in Kent. The night opened with Angelo Starr (pictured above) and the A-Team, a hard-touring ensemble that brings together the late Edwin Starr's brother and former backing band. Angelo has a terrific voice, a winning stage presence and avoids trying to clone his brother's vocal sound. At its best the set highlighted Edwin's hits like "25 Miles From Home", "War" and "H.A.P.P.Y. Radio." But like most of the artists on the bill this act frequently appears at Butlins and other seaside resorts, so much of the set was devoted to energetic and well-received covers of Motown, Jackie Wilson and Cameo.
After a set break original Rose Royce lead singer Gwen Dickey appeared with the 8-piece Soul Legends band. Dickey has long lived in the UK while a different version of the band tours in the US. Although a recent spinal injury has left her confined to a wheelchair, age had only made her voice richer on the oft-sampled "Ooh Boy," the ballad "Wishing on a Star" and of course a lengthy singalong for "Car Wash." The next 45 minutes were devoted to the six talented singers who appear in the Soul Legends revue, a touring production which plays theaters all around the UK hinterlands. While I'd never pay to see such a jukebox musical, the tight choreography which few vintage singers could match showed why such productions do good box office around the world. The selections were the expected mix of Motown, Aretha and Wilson Pickett classics.
The remaining original recording stars resumed with Jimmy James, a Jamaican-born ska singer who became one of the first UK-based black rock and soul stars in the mid-60's. Despite a lengthy discography half his set were covers of the Detroit Emeralds' "Feel the Need" and the Temptations "The Way You Do the Things You Do," which were paired with his 70's hits I'll Go Where The Music Takes Me" and "Now Is The Time."
The final vintage artist was TK Records hitmaker George McCrae (pictured below), who will be one of the headliners of next week's Porretta Soul Festival. Italy-bound soul fans are in for a treat based on his fine set in Rochester, which consisted of "One Step Closer," "It's Been So Long" and "Rock Me Baby."