Saturday, September 02, 2017

Stax Prom at the Albert Hall

London's short Memphis soul season continued last night with the Stax Prom at the Royal Albert Hall celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Stax/Volt tour - a show that I was lucky enough to see and review for my local paper in Croydon. I didn't go to the Prom - it started late and its advertised length seemed rather short - so I watched it live on BBC4. Staying at home proved to be the right decision, as it was all rather unsatisfactory.
Booker T Jones and Steve Cropper sat in with Jools Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra throughout giving the band some authenticity. But the opening act consisted of three British acts with no connection with Stax - Sir Tom Jones, Beverley Knight and someone called James Morrison, who murdered Sweet Soul Music. To be fair, Tom still has a decent voice, as does Beverley, and his version of Hard To Handle wasn't bad. but the following duet with Sam Moore on I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down (an odd choice of Sam and Dave number I thought) was mediocre. Sam, the man who sang at Donald Trump's inauguration, seemed doddery and later asked Jools if he was seeing the prince - he didn't say which one and Jools was clearly baffled. Sam made a decent stab at Soul Man however.
Next up was Beverley Knight who did a tribute to Carla Thomas with B-A-B-Y. Why not have Carla herself, as those of us who were at Porretta know that she's still in fine voice? The highlight of the evening followed with William Bell (who wasn't on the 1967 tour) smoothly singing I Forgot To Be Your Lover, and then dueting with Beverley on Private Number. Excellent stuff. Eddie Floyd appeared next, not in the greatest of voice, but adequate on Knock On Wood, but James Morrison, despite his best efforts, couldn't match the excitement of Otis Redding on Try A Little Tenderness. After Booker T and Steve Cropper reprised Green Onions yet another British act appeared in the form of Ruby Turner, who sang I'll Take You There. She has a good voice, but this seemed a little out of place, given that the Staples Singers didn't record it until several years after the tour. Even more out of place was Blues For New Orleans, featuring Booker T and Jools's orchestra. Not much connection with Stax there.
Rather better was Tom Jones singing Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay, with Steve Cropper in support, but then the worst act of the night - by far - appeared. A rap duo called, I think, Sweetie Irie and Nadia Rose - made a complete dog's breakfast of Walking The Dog. Truly awful. Whoever invited them onto the show should be fired. Finally we had rather second rate duets by Beverley and Sam on Hold On I'm Coming, and Eddie and James Morrison on Wilson Pickett's 634-5789, before all the acts joined in on another attempt at Sweet Soul Music.
The BBC has to be congratulated on including soul music in this year's Proms, but this was all a bit of a mess and lasted barely more than a hour. Admittedly there aren't many original Stax artists left, but they could have done better.


At 12:00 pm , Blogger Nick said...

Garth Cartwright commented (on FB): Agreed. William Bell was so head and shoulders above everyone else they simply should have turned the evening over to him. Tom had his usual subtlety ie none and Sam looked like he should be back in an Arizona rest home reflecting on his glory days. Eddie? He flew all the way here just to go thru the motions with KOW one more time? Only disagreement I have with you is the rap duo - tho i couldn't recognise WTD I thought there youth and vitality bought a spark sadly lacking elsewhere (except WB who was timeless). Thank god I didn't buy a ticket

At 4:30 pm , Blogger Nick said...

Tony Rounce commented (also on FB): An honest and completely accurate summary of a show that I have already described elsewhere (again, completely accurately if a little pointedly) as a debacle. William Bell was, as ever, beyond criticism and you will never hear me say a bad word (or even a bad syllable) about Crop and Booker. While I didn't hate Tom, Beverly and Ruby. I question their participation in a show celebrating Stax when there are still genuine Stax acts around who can sing and could have given this celebration greater authenticity. I don't wish to comment on any of the other acts, for any number of reasons, other than to say that none of them should have been there whether they had the right to be or not.. As you say, the show had its moments - but for me, the best moment was when when it finished.

At 4:37 pm , Anonymous Dick Taylor said...

I had a ticket but slept through departure time, so resigned to live TV. Agree mostly with all sentiments, far too British oriented and sadly, artists struggling to perform but age has to be their defence. I thought Mf Morrison had a good voice and I can see why he was invited to guest. Would have liked to see Booker T & Steve Cropper take more of a lead. 7/10.

At 8:49 pm , Blogger Will Porter said...

The biggest selling release on the Stax label (in the States) was MR BIG STUFF (Jean Knight). Out sold every other artist and release, 3 million copies BEFORE digital. Yes, it was leased to the label, and was cut in Jackson, Ms . arranged (and actually produced) by Wardell Quezergue, it had new Orleans and Mississippi musicians. Jean is in fine voice, but never invited to the Stax shows; though in Memphis they've used an IMPERSONATOR!! I mean, wassup? Wardell cut "Groove Me" on King Floyd in the same hour.


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