Saturday, March 28, 2015

Sharon Tandy RIP

It's been some time since I did an update on musicians who have died recently, but as ever the Grim Reaper has been busy.
Sharon Tandy, who was 71, was a South African blue eyed soul singer who made some decent
records during the sixties but never had a hit. She was discovered by Frank Fenter when she appeared in a movie called Africa Shakes and he brought her to the UK, where she recorded for Pye and Mercury. Fenter became UK head of Atlantic and it was for that label that she recorded her best work at a time when there were few UK-based artists on the label. She even recorded at Stax with Booker T and the MGs and opened the bill on the 1967 Stax/Volt European tour. Her best known 45s included Toe Hold, produced by Tom Dowd, Hold On, Fool On The Hill, You've Gotta Believe It and The Way She Looks At You. She also recorded with freakbeat group the Fleur De Lys and as Tony and Tandy with the band's lead singer Tony Head on the excellent The Bitter And The Sweet. Having split with Fenter she returned to South Africa where she enjoyed local success.

Another female UK singer to have died is Jackie Trent at the age of 75. She recorded numerous records for Oriole, Piccadilly and Pye in the mid sixties and enjoyed a big hit with Where Are You Now My Love, but is best known for her songwriting partnership with future husband Tony Hatch. Together they had songwriting success with Petula Clark and Scott Walker and their songs were also recorded by Frank Sinatra, Jack Jones, Nancy Wilson, Shirley Bassey and Dean Martin.
A final word too for Michael Brown, former member of US group The Left Banke, who wrote the Four Tops smash Walk Away Renee. Also Andy Fraser, bass player with Free, Daevid Allen, guitarist and original member of Soft Machine, and Jimmy Greenspoon , a member of Three Dog Night. Also John Redbourn, founder of folk group Pentangle. And let's not forget the great Leonard Nimoy, who lived long and prospered.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Linda Gail rocks on Dave Travis's big day

You'd better hold on to your hats when Linda Gail Lewis breezes into town. She attacks her piano with all the fire and energy of her older brother Jerry Lee in days gone by. So it was, last night at the Spice of Life in central London, when she produced an excellent set of rock and roll and country music which set this packed little venue alight. The occasion was a special celebration of the 50 years that another country and rock and roll artist, Dave Travis, has spent in the music business, both as a recording artist and as a record man discovering and releasing music by American greats of the 50s and 60s.
Linda Gail was in superb form as she ran through a selection of songs that differed from her usual set by including several associated with Elvis, as well as giving her own take on some made famous by Jerry Lee and other Memphis rockabilly artists. Backed by Newcastle rockabilly band Some Like It Hot she kicked off with Boppin' The Blues and Cadillac Rock before ripping through a storming Rockin' My Life Away. Then it was in to Elvis territory with One Night, All Shook Up, A Fool Such As I and Shake Rattle and Roll, interspersed with a slower number in the form of From A Jack To A King.
Linda was superb on her brother's I'll Sail My Ship Alone, George Jones's I'll Be There and a tribute to Wanda Jackson with Let's Have A Party. The slower You Were Always On My Mind (another Elvis cover) was followed by a storming version of High School Confidential which got the crowd on its feet and Patsy Cline's Pick Me Up On Your Way Down (she changed the line in the last verse to 'Kiss my ass on your way down' - at least that's what I think I heard!
More rock and roll followed with Ubangi Stomp and a great version of Old Black Joe, written by Stephen Foster but made even more famous by Jerry Lee. She reminisced about the day in 1957 when Sam Phillips gave her brother a cheque for $40,000 which allowed her family to move to Ferriday, Louisiana, and then to Memphis. She was just ten years old then and much in awe of her big bother, to such an extent that she became as good a boogie wooogie player as he was, and still is. Finally, with rocking versions of Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On and Great Balls Of Fire, she threw caution to the wind and put her feet on the keyboard, just as Jerry Lee would have done.
Earlier, on this night of rock and roll, Some Like It Hot gave the crowd a highly proficient set of rockabilly which included Big River, Sixteen Chicks, I Like Your Kind Of Love, Pat Cupp's Baby Come Back, Lee Dresser's El Camino Real, Money Honey and Fulsom Prison Blues.
Introducing Linda Gail to the stage, Dave Travis paid tribute to Keith Woods, who promoted this show to add to his other successes in recent years, and to the Woodies roots music network, of which I am pleased to be a member. He made the point that what unites its members is music and underlined how important music is the world over with a story about how, in a remote village in Burma many years ago, his guitar playing had attracted a big crowd who wanted to listen. This show was a demonstration of how much enjoyment genuine live music can create. Congratulations to Dave on his 50 years in the music biz, and to Keith Woods for organising the show. And to Linda Gail for a fantastic set.
My photo below shows Dave with Linda Gail Lewis.
Here are a couple of crowd shots, with Dave looking on as three ladies boogie to the beat, while Woodie Lee Wilkinson gets up close.

Nick Cobban

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Prestatyn Soul Weekender - 5th - 8th March 2015

Here's another review by Seamus McGarvey - this time featuring some great Northern soul. 
I've been attending the Prestatyn Soul Weekender at Pontins for over 15 years  and this visit was yet another memorable one. Richard Searling had managed to bring together an R&B hit-maker from 1965 who, almost unbelievably, was making his UK debut - Mitch Ryder - plus as The New York Northern Soul Revue, original members of two key soul vocal groups from the 1960s - Bobby Shivers from The Spellbinders and Gary Gant from The Invitations - plus Bob Blanding (a member of The Invitations since the 1970s) and newest member and M.D., Terry Roberts.
The New York Northern Soul Revue opened the 'live' music roster on the Friday night with a neat collection of Invitations and Spellbinders classics. Sharply suited, the first half of their set focused on The Invitations and largely the Dyno Voice, MGM and Silver Blue labels with a well-balanced set of six including Bob Blanding's lead on the medium-stepping 'Look On The Good Side' supported by strong backing harmonies, while Terry picked up the pace with 'Watch Out Little Girl', coming across as a confident stage performer. Gary introduced the medium-tempo 'Isn't It Just A Shame' which he had co-written with Gary Knight for Kenny Wells, before the classic 'Skiing In The Snow', a neat stepper with some well-crafted choreography. 
He also introduced former member of the Velours, Fantastics and Invitations Richie Pitts and his son Johnny in the audience (pictured below), before 'They Say the Girl's Crazy', co-written by Gary and O'Neil Johnson, once again capably led by Terry who also led the hand-clapping closer 'What's Wrong With Me Baby?' through an extended finish for The Invitations part of the set.
With a quick turnaround during which the excellent backing band, Snake Davis (pictured below) and The Suspicions, entertained us with The Contours' 'Just A Little Misunderstanding' and more,  they re-emerged in new outfits for a Spellbinders set, with Bobby Shivers out  front, sporting a red jacket and launching into 'We're Acting Like Lovers' and 'That's The Way You Make Me Feel', a couple of melodic, mid-tempo steppers out of a half-dozen numbers they would feature, mainly from The Spellbinders' great 1966 Columbia LP, 'The Magic Of... '. With some emotional words from Bobby about former members who had passed recently including Danny Austin (also of The Ad Libs) on February 22nd, Bobby took us into 'Baby, I Miss You' and the stepping 'Chain Reaction'. Telling a story about UK Northern Soul fans he met in the States wondering why they hadn't sung 'A Little On the Blue Side', for the first time ever on stage Bobby led the group into this fine number and - with an 'Are you ready to party?' - on through the stepping 'Help Me (Get Myself Back Together Again)' which brought a tight set to an exciting conclusion. A memorable start to the weekend from a group who looked sharp throughout, not least in terms of choreography, and sounded good, with all four capable and entertaining lead vocalists. They had worked hard rehearsing and putting the set together, they connected with the fans, and they deserved all the plaudits they received. Excellent!
Late on Saturday night I managed to catch part of a PA by Louise Mehan of Newcastle R&B duo SouLutions who had been together about 18 years and came to prominence thanks to their first single 'Listen' being re-mixed by dance music ensemble, Drizabone. Louise seemed at ease on stage and came across well, with good vocals plus some catchy songs, particularly 'Philly Line'.
An hour or so earlier came Mitch Ryder who admitted that, at age 70, since it had taken him 50 years to get here, 'you may never see me again... so let's make the most of it!' - and he did! Decked out in black shirt and jeans, plus cap and dark glasses, he hit us with a rocking opener, 'Little Latin Lupe Lu', and then with a wild rasping roar ('I don't know where that came from!') led into 'Sock It To Me Baby' which was banned from U.S. radio – in addition to which, he told us, his late father-in-law, a preacher, 'used to burn my records'! The set developed into what was virtually straight-ahead rock 'n' roll, and won a great reception from the audience when he sang his first Top Ten hit, 'Jenny Take A Ride', the number which, as he put it, made him 'a rock 'n' roll star'. His voice held out well and though there was no leaping about on stage (Mitch put this down to hip replacement surgery in the past), he did keep the pace up, and kept the fans onside with his humour and between songs chatter. The material was driving up-tempo stuff, including 'Too Many Fish In The Sea' and, after a few words about dance crazes, adding 'this next one was plain filthy', a hectic take on 'Shake A Tail Feather', plus another of his big hits, 'Devil With A Blue Dress On' seguing into 'Good Golly Miss Molly', complete with ear-shredding screams. Having earlier performed one of his Northern Soul hits, the driving 'You Get Your Kicks' with the fans really singing along, and having said this was the first time he'd 'ever performed that song in public', he closed his set with yet another number he'd never sung on stage before, and another stepper, 'Break Out'... for an encore he repeated it so he could say 'at least I sang it twice!' A friend from the U.S. who was also at the show told me that seeing Mitch with Snake Davis's excellent band was much better than seeing him in the States where he tended to work with a four-piece band with heavy rock leanings. I found the set highly enjoyable and entertaining: with the band in top form, a set of punchy numbers, Mitch in good voice and with a good smattering of humour thrown in, it all came together nicely. Maybe we will see him again!
And next year (3rd - 6th March 2016) it'll be The Volcanos ('Storm Warning' on Arctic) and legendary Philly producer Bobby Eli. One for the diary – and another visit to Prestatyn. 
Seamus McGarvey, with thanks to Richard Searling

Saturday, March 07, 2015

The Chi-Lites at the Clapham Grand

It's over 40 years since their heyday, but the Chi-Lites continue to bring their sweet soul harmonies to audiences around the world, even though there is now only one original, Marshall Thompson - the 'Last Man Standing', the name of his recent autobiography - still in the group. Last night they appeared at the Clapham Grand and the newer members, including Fred Simon and Tara Thompson, sounded exactly like their hit-making forebears. Dressed in snazzy lime green suits, contrasting with Marshall's darker green suit, and white hats, they looked the part as well.
Marshall, whose career goes back to 1959 with the formation of the Hi-Lites, as they were then called before changing their name to reflect their home town of Chicago, suffered a stroke last year and sat throughout the set, but his voice is still strong, as he showed when he took the lead on Homely Girl and in the spoken intro to Have You Seen Her. The other members shared vocal duties on most of the other numbers in this short, but enjoyable set.
The group began with the rousing (For God's Sake) Give More Power To the People, and continued with It's Time For Love, I Found Sunshine, Stoned Out Of My Mind and Hold On To Your Dreams, before getting the audience going with Homely Girl. Next it was their big hit from 1972 Oh Girl, before tackling their biggest hit Have You Seen Her with some beautiful harmonies. The show then disintegrated somewhat when they invited four men to come on stage. About eight did so, plus a couple of women, and their strangled singing attempts were pretty pathetic and really rather a waste of time - but the crowd enjoyed it.
Finally, the group sang their 1974 UK hit Too Good To Be Forgotten - as indeed the Chi-Lites are, even if their line up has changed many times over the years, with only Marshall Thompson, literally the last man standing (or sitting) given them a link to past glories. In terms of value for money the show did not rate highly, as they were on stage for less than an hour (part of which was taken up with the audience participation section), but they certainly looked and sounded the part.
Words and photos by Nick Cobban

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Family Reunion Gospel Festival, Albany GA

Seamus McGarvey has travelled once again to the US for a star studded gospel festival. Here's his report.
Humility Records owner Glen Stevenson was the man behind this gospel program attracting a near-capacity crowd recently to the Albany Civic Center, with Emcee Bro. C. T. Taylor keeping things moving along. Elder Dennis Miller opened the event with the hand-clapping 'Ain't My God A Mighty Good God' before The Leonard Brothers invited everyone to 'Reach Out And Touch The Lord', their 71-year-old mother Gracie taking the stage for an easy-rocking 'Stay With The Lord'. Humility artists Shawn Jones and The Believers (pictured below) hit with The Pilgrim Jubilees' 'Me, My God and I' and The Jackson Southernaires' 'Thunder', Jones also revealing both showmanship and preaching on 'I'm Standing On The Promises Of God'. Extremely popular, an upcoming, exciting and energetic quartet.
Maurice Yancey and One Accord also pleased the congregation with numbers like 'Praise The Lord With Me'.  There was some strong testifying on show, bringing a touch of a church service to the program with their closing 'Satisfied'.
The Gospel Imperials led by Thomas Holman Sr. opened with the mid-paced 'Here I Am' plus a nice bluesy feel on 'God Will Change Things', before their closing 'I Wanna Go Higher' had everyone joining in.
The McDonald Sisters brought the fans rushing to the stage and impressed with the sheer force of their visual and vocal attack. They opened with 'Give It Up', the slow-stepping 'I Need Him' and the driving 'Praise Him', featuring Valerie McDonald's strong lead vocals. Great preaching and singing, plus a highly visual quartet, extending their already strong following among the congregation.
Roy And Revelation, with the soulful duo of Roy Ladson Jr. and 'Jo Jo' Leeth, demonstrated good vocal interaction and harmonies, plus some neat stepping, on numbers like 'My God Knows It All', coming across as a popular quartet with real potential. There was a great rocking feel for 'I Thank You Jesus', complete with touches of The Isley Brothers' old call-and-response workouts, before the hypnotic 'Dr. Jesus' brought some sanctified clapping, their closing 'Prayer Will Change Things' taking Roy down amongst the fans. A fine act, keeping quartet music alive and well!
The Bolton Brothers showed lots of edge and vocal power, and an extended testifying finish, on the hand-clapping 'One More Time', with strong harmonies and unison vocals on display on the mid-tempo 'Anybody Leaning And Depending'. By the concluding 'Lord Done Delivered Me' such was the level of excitement generated, they almost had to be ushered off the stage. An exciting trio!

Nashboro and AIR recording artist Troy Ramey and The Soul Searchers  opened with the mid-tempo 'Call Jesus' which had the congregation joining in, leading into the excitingly hypnotic 'By The Power Of God'. The second tenor handled most of the leads  including 'Prayer Changes Things' but Troy sang part of the closing 'Thank You Lord'. A gospel veteran, it was good to see him here. 
Although he has had some voice problems of late, Harvey Watkins Jr. led The Canton Spirituals through a number of songs, with the help of 27-year-old second tenor Keenan Nichols who sang the opening gospel ballad 'Morning Dove',  before Harvey took over for the mid-paced hand-clapping 'Clean Up'. With some reminiscing about the past, all with a humorous edge, other highlights included the hard-driving 'Show Me The Way' and the near-country feel of 'Fix It Jesus'. It was good to see Harvey back in fine voice on the closing 'Glad I've Got Jesus', bringing a great day of gospel and quartet music to an exciting finish.
Seamus McGarvey ('Juke Blues' magazine), with thanks to Henry Wesley, Willie Mitchell, Glen Stevenson and Darrell Luster.