Sunday, June 18, 2017

2nd Blackpool International Soul Festival

The Impressions have always been my favourite soul group, so it's sad that they have now played their last ever UK show. But what a show it was. They headlined on day one of the 2nd Blackpool International Soul Festival at the Winter Gardens and were on superlative form. Long time members Fred Cash and Sam Gooden were joined by a new young lead singer Jermaine Purifory (pictured below), who has replaced Reggie Torian, who died last year. He has the looks of a young Sam Cooke or Eddie Kendricks and a voice that fits in perfectly with the traditional smooth harmonies at which the Impressions have always excelled.
Backed by the excellent Snake Davis Band, they ran through many of their back catalogue from the Curtis Mayfield era, including I Can't Satisfy, Woman's Got Soul and Nothing Can Stop Me. Fred took the lead on You've Been Cheating, but mostly it was the new boy who took that role with strong support from Fred and Sam, and fulfilled it to perfection. The inspirational Choice of Colors was included, along with This Is My Country, I Need You, I've Been Trying, Stay Close To Me and You Ought To Be In Heaven. There was no It's Alright, Amen or People Get Ready, but the encore, inevitably, was Move On Up, which brought a tremendous response from the large soul loving audience in the Empress Ballroom. The group members seemed to be enjoying themselves throughout, which makes it all the sadder that this final show should also be Jermaine's first in the UK. With his looks and voice he will surely go on to big things as a solo artist. All three of them spent several minutes after their set shaking hand with anyone they could, their faces beaming with huge smiles. The end of an era, but a great way to go out
As soul shows goes this was among the very best, but it was equalled the following night by Little Anthony, performing a full set for the first time in the UK apparently. Sounding very much as he did when his career began in the fifties, with a light but strong voice and a range which is still very much intact, his set was short but excellent. All his major hits with the Imperials were included, beginning with Tears On My Pillow, from 1958. His set was nicely balanced with up tempo numbers such as Gonna Fix You Good, doowop with Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop, classics such as I'm On The Outside Looking In, dramatic ballads such as It Hurts So Bad and It's Not The Same and the beautiful Going Out Of My Head. He left the stage, just 30 minutes after arriving, but returned to sing the Northern Soul favourite Better Use Your Head. So, only eight numbers in total, but all performed brilliantly and I don't think anyone felt short changed. This was a class act and a real pleasure.
One of the attractions at this year's festival was a chance to hear from Georgia-born George Kerr (pictured below with US music fan Noah Schaffer on his latest UK visit), an arranger and producer who was the man behind many Northern soul favourites by the likes of Linda Jones, the Shirelles. the O'Jays, Edwin Starr and many others. Interviewed by Kev Roberts, he proved to be an interesting interviewee, with detailed recall of his origins in New Jersey, time at Motown in the sixties, work with Jerry Ragavoy, prison recordings with the Escorts, a vocal group comprising long term inmates, and brushes with gangsters such as Maurice Levy and Joe Robinson of All Platinum. He came across as an engaging guy, who did everything wrong from a musical point of view but somehow made records that sounded great. Afterwards he signed copies of a typescript memoir which was also available as an audio book.
This festival looks destined to become a regular feature of the soul calendar and a star studded line up has already been announced for next year, including Patti Austin, Margie Joseph and Ann Sexton. The Winter Gardens is a perfect venue, with six rooms specialising in different types of soul, including crossover, modern and mod, ska and reggae. The attraction for many is the dancing, and there are many fine exponents of the Northern soul style, including a couple of guys in sleeveless T shirts and loon pants, who constantly spun round at excessive speed. Very dizzying. This year's festival sold out several weeks ago, so don't leave it too late to get your tickets for 2018.


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