Monday, June 17, 2019

4th Blackpool International Soul Festival

The annual International Soul Festival in Blackpool has rapidly developed into Northern Soul's premier event with many hundreds of people dancing and otherwise enjoying all forms of soul music in the many bars and ballrooms at Blackpool's Winter Gardens. This year's festival - the fourth - was probably the best yet, with four excellent acts, each doing shortish sets on the Friday and Saturday nights in the huge Empress Ballroom, a screening of a film about legendary producer Bert Berns and an interview session with long time record producer H B Barnum.
Friday's live session began with Randy Brown, a Memphis born singer with a smooth and quite beautiful voice. Randy was once in the Stax group The Newcomers, as was his brother Bertram, who joined two other backing singers and the Snake Davis band in providing solid support. Dressed in a smart light purple suit, Randy's sang just four numbers, but his voice caressed each of them in a quite sublime way. These included 'I Was Blessed (the Day I Found You)', the Teddy Pendergrass-like 'I Would Rather Hurt Myself Than Hurt You' and the uptempo 'I'm Always In the Mood'. Not long enough, it must be said, but a highly enjoyable set. 
He was followed on stage by Motown star Brenda Holloway, who was a vision to behold in a flowing peach coloured gown. Brenda, who I've seen several times in recent years and who never disappoints, despite a slightly wavery voice at times, gave it her all with a dynamic performance. She included 'How Many Times Did You Mean It' - a song requested by festival organiser Richard Searling (recently awarded a British Empire Medal) which she had not performed live before. Other numbers included 'I'll Be Available', 'When I'm Gone', 'He's My Kind of Fella', her first big hit 'Every Little Bit Hurts', 'Starting The Hurt All Over' and 'Reconsider'. She ended with a song she wrote herself and which has been recorded by many other singers, 'You Make Me So Very Happy'.
Saturday morning saw the screening of 'Bang', a film about legendary Sixties record producer Bert Berns who died tragically young aged 38. The film was fascinating, although the sound was so bad that I could only understand about one word in five. This was followed by an interview by producer H B Barnum with Kev Roberts, which covered his varied career in a fair amount of detail and which I found very interesting. He was worked with such artists as Martha Reeves, Gladys Knight, Irma Thomas ('Time Is On My Side'), Al Wilson, Johnny Bristol and Nancy Wilson and was the 'go to' man for people like Frank Sinatra and Count Basie. He was also a member of the Robins vocal group. He said he had hundreds of unissued tapes in his possession: what a treasure house there must be there.
Saturday night's live show began with Ronnie McNeir, who I've never seen before and who surprised me with a very proficient, slick and thoroughly enjoyable Northern Soul set, which included some good moves too. He began with 'Isn't She A Pretty Girl' and continued with the Four Tops song 'Ask The Lonely' (Ronnie had a spell with Motown in the seventies and still sings with the Four Tops ), 'You're My Lucky Number' and the Northern flavoured 'Sitting In My Class'. He moved to the keyboard for one final number, his best known record 'Wendy Is Gone'. A good and highly enjoyable set. 
Next up was supposed to have been Prince Philip Mitchell, who backed out due to illness, so instead we had a couple of Prince Philip related numbers from the Snake Davis band, including Bobby Womack's 'Home Is Where The Heart Is', followed by a reprise of a couple of numbers by Brenda Holloway, this time wearing a tight fitting white trouser suit, ('When I'm Gone and 'You Make Me So Very Happy') and Randy Brown (I'm Always In The Mood') who showed some pretty good dance steps.
Final act of what was a brilliant evening was Eddie Holman, looking extremely dapper in a shiny red suit. Eddie is hardly the most modest of men, bragging about how young he looked and how sexy he was in his red suit. But his description of himself as 'the greatest falsetto of all time' was hard to dispute, as his voice, even in his seventies, remains incredibly pure on the impossible top notes that he reaches. His highly enjoyable set included 'She's Wanted (In Three States), a stunning 'I Surrender', a fantastic 'Hey There Lonely Girl' and 'This Will Be A Night To Remember'. I can't remember a more enjoyable set at Blackpool and it truly was a night to remember. Thanks go to everyone who made it possible, not least Simon White, who helped with my VIP pass and the many fans who danced the nights away and who clearly love this very distinct and obsessive music style.
Finally, here are some shots of me with some of the stars: Brenda Holloway, Randy Brown and Eddie Holman.

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