Sunday, November 26, 2017

Spencer and Percy Wiggins at the 100 Club

Anyone who loves deep soul will have been spellbound by the Wiggins brothers - Spencer and Percy - at the 100 Club last night. It was a great night, featuring Spencer's moody and hypnotic singing and Percy's lighter, almost pop, vocal style, well supported by a seven piece band. The brothers were brought up in Memphis and began their long careers in gospel, something which was very evident, particularly in Spencer's performance. Now in their mid seventies (Spencer is 75, while Percy is 74) they showed that a dynamic stage act is not the only way to hold an audience's attention. Vocal purity is just as effective, perhaps even more so.
First up was Percy Wiggins, dressed in a bright red jacket and matching shoes, looking all the world like a retired bank manager on his day off. He began with the funky Can't Find Nobody (To Take Your Place), the B side of his only original UK release on Atlantic in 1967, and followed up with the deep soul of Look What I've Done from 1969. Next up was the Northern soul favourite It Didn't Take Much (For Me To Fall In Love), which was beautifully sung, and the A side of his Atco single Book Of Memories, another beauty. That was it in terms of original numbers, but he made an excellent job of Eddie Floyd's Never Found Me A Girl, which merged into Groovin' and brought about some audience participation. Sam Cooke's Bring It On Home To Me followed, and Percy finished with Al Green's Love and Happiness. 
After a break it was the turn of older brother Spencer Wiggins to take the stage. Wearing a broad check suit and looking well,  his face was sombre and unsmiling - not once did he even hint at a grin. His voice, though, was magical as he tackled some of his wonderful Goldwax sides recorded under the guidance of Quinton Claunch. The enigmatic Lonely Man was followed by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham's Up Tight Good Woman. At Porretta, where Spencer has performed on a couple of occasions, along with his brother, he has been known to climax the song with up to ten false endings - 'Downright, Uptight Good Woman'. This time he contented himself with just five, but the effect was still sensational. Next up was the B side of his first recording, the upbeat What Do You Think About My Baby, which he followed with one of his most intense and powerful soul ballads, Old Friend. The serious face and the concentration he focused on the song reminded me of the performance by his label mate James Carr  at Blackheath back in the nineties. Just mesmerising. He followed with another song about age - He's Too Old, but upped the tempo with his next song, The Kind Of Woman's Who's Got No Heart. Spencer finished off his solo set with B B King's Sweet Sixteen and an excellent version of The Breaking Point, a Tyrone Davis influenced song he recorded for Fame. 
Spencer was then joined on stage by brother Percy as the band left them to sing James Carr's Dark End Of The Street to a backing track. Another spine tingling moment I thought as their voices harmonised perfectly. Percy said he was glad to be here in the UK for a fourth time (having appeared at Northern soul festivals in the past). Spencer said that he was just glad to be here at all. Finally, the band returned to the stage and the pair sang Double Loving, a song which Spencer recorded for Fame in 1970 and which was used in a Citi Bank TV commercial.
That was it, but it was a fine end to a double set which reached the heights at times and which was much appreciated by the fair sized audience. Apparently Graziano is hoping to include the brothers in next year's Porretta Soul Festival line up. I look forward to it as they are very much the real deal when it comes to Memphis soul.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Some more music deaths

Sadly there are a couple more music deaths to report.
Warren 'Pete'Moore not only sang bass in the Miracles as a founder member from 1955 onwards, but also co-wrote some of the group's best known records, including  Ooh Baby Baby, The Tracks Of My Tears, My Girl Has Gone and Going To A Gogo. He also co-wrote, with Smokey Robinson, It's Growing and Since I Lost My Baby for the Temptations, and Ain't That Peculiar and I'll Be Doggone for Marvin Gaye. He sang co-lead on several Miracles songs, including I Love Your Baby and Doggone Right, was the group's vocal arranger and also produced records for several Motown artists including the Miracles (Choosey Beggar and  and Here I Go Again), Marvin Gaye and the Supremes. Moore (pictured second from right above) died on his 78th birthday in Las Vegas, where he was CEO of an entertainment company and co-owner, with fellow Miracles member Billy Griffin, of a music publishing company.
Another death is that of country singer and songwriter Mel Tillis, at the age of 85, who first recorded in the 1950s. His songwriting credits include Ruby Don't Take Your Love To Town, Life Turned Her That Way and Detroit City, whilst successful recordings include These Lonely Hands Of Mine, She'll Be Hanging Around Somewhere, I Ain't Never and Neon Rose. He became a mainstay of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and my photo, above, shows him at the Ryman Auditorium in 2013.
** The latest addition to the growing list is Della Reese, who has died aged 86. Discovered by
Mahalia Jackson, Della had a long career as a jazz and pop singer, with early hits such as Don't You Know, Not One Minute More and Some Day. Later she became a major US TV star and starred in the drama Touched By An Angel.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Two more soul men pass on

Two more soul men have passed on in recent days, adding to the long list of those who have died in the last few years.
Chess recording artist Maurice McAlister was the leader singer of the Radiants, who made what in my opinion was one of the best records of 1965 (it made number one in my personal top ten), namely Voice Your Choice. He was also one half of the Chicago soul duo Maurice and Mac, who made a stunning version of You Left The Water Running at Muscle Shoals among other excellent recordings.
Maurice formed the Radiants in 1962 as Chicago's answer to Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, having previously sung in a gospel group. Their first record Father Knows Best showed Maurice's voice off to good effect and it was followed by other singles on Chess, including Shy Guy, I Got A
Girl and I Gotta Dance to Keep My Baby which failed to break through. Their first big hit Voice Your Choice reached number 16 in the Billboard chart and the follow up It Ain't No Big Thing did even better, reaching 14. The group's only other UK single release was Hold On in 1968.
Meanwhile Maurice had begun recording with Green 'Mac' McLauren, a former member of the Radiamts who had been drafted into the Army, as Maurice and Mac. The Chess brothers took them to Muscle Shoals where they recorded several tracks with Rick Hall, including You Left the Water Running, a minor hit, You're The One and Why Don't You Try Me. The duo's final record, very much in the Sam and Dave mould, was But You Know I Love You in 1970. It's clear from the Radiants and Maurice and Mac records that Maurice McAlister was a superb talent, but somehow he, and the groups he was in, never quite made it to the top level. RIP Maurice.
Another recent loss to the soul world is Robert Knight. Originally from Franklin, Tennessee, he recorded a version of Free Me in 1961 for Dot, a song better known by Johnny Preston. In 1967 he
recorded Everlasting Love for the Rising Sons label which made the US top 20. It was a huge UK hit
for the Love Affair reaching number one, preventing Robert's original from becoming a hit there. After a couple of relatively unsuccessful pop singles he hit the jackpot again in 1973 with Love On A Mountain Top which made the UK top ten. A reissued single of Everlasting Love also made the UK top 20 soon afterwards.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Woodies magazine reaches its century

The Tales From The Woods online magazine reaches its 100th issue this month, a landmark that few thought it would reach when it was first produced as a brief newsletter umpteen years ago. For those who aren't familiar with it, the mag is an eclectic mix of gig reports, record reviews, music obituaries. personal invective and loads of other stuff, all put together in a way that defies any kind of logic or editorial control. Somehow it works and attracts regular contributors issue after issue. It 'borrows' from The Vinyl Word in each issue and I'm more than happy for it to do so. I doubt if many people read it from cover to cover (impossible now that it's on line of course), but there's something there for everyone, including the regular 'Hold The Third Page' entry from the eponymous Keith Woods, John Howard's often inflammatory Mr Angry column, Dave Carroll's obscure but highly knowledgable insights into jazz in his Jazz Junction reviews and John 'Soulboy' Jolliffe's soul column.
The Woodies themselves all share a love of roots music, although their preferences vary - from rock and roll to blues, soul and jazz - and some of us have a monthly meet up when we have a few beers and a meal in London. Membership is quite wide geographically and the roots music shows put together by Keith a couple of times a year (or more), are attended by far flung Woodies who sometimes never see each other the rest of the year.
Until a couple of years ago many Woodies made an annual pilgrimage to the Rhythm Riot which is taking place at Camber Sands this weekend. Then the organisers decided to stop inviting 'heritage' acts (artists from the original rock and roll generation) to the shows and many of us decided not to go any more. I'm sure those who are there are having a good time, but unlike Keith's shows, or Hemsby, or some US festivals that I regularly go to, such as Viva Las Vegas and the Ponderosa Stomp, all the acts are relatively recent ones. I won't be going again unless they change their booking policy.
On my 2011 visit to the Rhythm Riot, when the stars included the Bobbettes and Jivin' Gene, I took some photos of Woodies regulars and here are a few of them. As you can see, most of us are of a certain age (six years older now of course) but we still love great music and get to as many live shows as we can. The top photo shows Keith Woods (centre) with Bill Haynes, whose main interests are old time music hall and Chelsea FC, and Darren Vidler, who recently revealed a talent for singing at one of Keith's shows. Below is John 'Soulboy' Jolliffe, who's recently moved to Worcester, in typical pose.
Here are John Spencely (centre), lead guitarist of the Tales From The Woods house band, with R and B expert Gordon Fleming and all round musicologist and Juke Blues contributor Dickie Tapp (right).
Two old school rock and rollers, Lee Wilkinson, now living in Burnley, and Tony Papard, who has often contributed memories of his youth, theories about Princess Diana speaking from beyond the grave, and political views somewhat to the left of Jeremy Corbyn, as well as stories about pantomime characters.
Standing outside the record shop in Rye, here are Arsenal fan and jazz expert Dave Carroll, Sutton United supporter Brian Jessup, and me (Nick Cobban).
Here are Hastings resident Martyn Harvey, Gordon Fleming and IT specialist Alan Lloyd, a regular companion on my US trips.
This dodgy looking group are Shrewsbury folk lover Ralph Edwards, record collector Ken Major, accomplished drummer Brian 'Bunter' Clark and John Spencely. Don't know who the lady at the back is.
International Woodies Jay McCaddin from Mobile, Alabama, and Paula, with Ralph looking on..
Finally, here are Ace record man Ian Saddler and his American friend Chris, with music photographer Paul Harris and Dickie Tapp.