Sunday, July 10, 2016

William Bell superb at the Union Chapel

Back in 1961 William Bell became the first solo male singer at Stax records when he recorded You Don't Miss Your Water - the first of many great tracks recorded for the label. Now, over 50 years later, he is back with the reformed Stax label and promoting a new album This Is Where I Live, which features a majority of tracks written by him and John Leventhal. From what I've heard so far, it's well up to the standard of his back catalogue which is quite an achievement, given that most artists fail to live up to the quality of their earlier work.
Last night at the Union Chapel in London William showed that he is still a great singer and perfomer. Looking dapper in a smart suit and tie, white hat and dark glasses, and much younger than his years (he will be 77 on Saturday), he began not with a Stax song but Easy Comin' Out, Hard Goin' In, a track on his 1977 Mercury album It's Time You Took Another Listen. It was obvious that we were in for a treat in this intimate, rather austere, former church, as William looked and sounded superb, well supported by an eight piece UK band who, it seems, he had rehearsed with only once.
Next up it was one of William's early Stax tracks, the excellent Any Other Way (see Youtube clip below), before he moved on to three numbers from the new album - The Three Of Me, reminiscent of his I Forgot To be Your Lover, the upbeat Poison In The Well, and Mississippi Arkansas Bridge, a true story, he said, about blues clubs he visited in West Memphis when he was a young man. After a great version of Trying To Love Two, another Mercury cut, with Stand By Me thrown in, he returned to the This Is Where I Live album with the deeply soulful I Will Take Care Of You and the title track - he had gone 'back home to Stax', he said.
From there on it was wall to wall Stax numbers. He cruised through Everybody Loves A Winner, with some testifying thrown in, and lit the place up with a duet with his female backing singer on Private Number. By this time he had the audience in the palm of his hand and he continued with Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday and Eloise, a 1967 song which I don't think I've heard him do before, at the Ponderosa Stomp, Porretta or at Stax nights.Then it was his very first record and a hit for Stax in the very early days, You Don't Miss Your Water, and I Forgot To be Your Lover, which included some phrases from You Send Me.
William left the stage, but soon returned to sing a song that he wrote for Albert King and also sang himself - Born Under A Bad Sign. It's a song that that has been attempted by everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Homer Simpson, but it's great to hear it from the lips of the man who wrote it, along with Booker T Jones. It's also a track on his new album incidentally.
I don't think anyone can have left William's show without feeling a warm glow of happiness. He was, without any doubt, superb. A living legend, and the world's greatest living soul singer in my opinion now that Otis Clay has gone.
Nick Cobban


At 11:27 am , Blogger Dave C said...

Excellent gig, excellent review. It was a masterclass in soul singing. Judging by the reactions of the musicians on stage, they were impressed too.


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