Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Rock Island Line 65th anniversary concert

Alan Lloyd has kindly contributed a review of this recent event. 
When Lonnie Donegan stepped into the studio to record an old Lead Belly song in July 1954, he couldn't have guessed that he was creating a new genre in music that would inspire the next generation of British musicians. But the Rock Island Line 65th Anniversary Concert at a sold-out Cadogan Hall, showed that the King of Skiffle and his breakthrough recording has not been forgotten. The show featured Lonnie's two sons, Peter and Anthony and a number of the sixties stars for whom Lonnie was an inspiration and influence, and all proceeds go to treatment for autism for Peter Donegan's son Eric. 
The show opened with a film of Lonnie’s sons unveiling a plaque at the building which had housed the Decca studios where the famous recording was made. The big screen was used throughout the night for tributes from musicians who couldn't be present, including Albert Lee and Jimmy Page. The music began with Peter performing “Battle Of New Orleans” with a band that included three of Lonnie's final band, Chris Hunt (drums), Sticky Wicket (percussion) and Paul Henry (guitar), plus Wayne Lee, son of Albert (piano), and Anthony Donegan (guitar). Controversial right-wing DJ Mike Read joined on occasional guitar and compered the show. 
The first guest was Lonnie's fellow-skiffler Chas McDevitt (pictured above), who performed “Freight Train” and “Worried Man”. Leo Sayer, who had been one of the all-star guests on Lonnie's Adam Faith produced 1978 comeback album, performed “Midnight Special” followed by his own hit, “When I  Need You”. Dave Peacock teamed up with guitarist Joe Brown to perform Chas and Dave's tribute song “Lonnie D” and folk song “Darlin' Corey”, with Chas's son Nik Hodges on drums. 
Peter Donegan returned to the stage to perform “Little Man”, dedicated to his son Eric, and “I'll Never Fall In Love Again” which he had played with Tom Jones on TV show “The Voice”
After a short intermission, Billy Bragg came onto the stage, highlighting Woodie Guthrie's influence on skiffle with “Grand Coulee Dam”, and giving an interesting history of his next song, Lead Belly's “Stewball”, tracing it back to an Irish antecedent. He finished his segment with a rousing version of his own “New England”. Downton Abbey actor Jim Carter contributed a humorous monologue, followed by Anthony Donegan (aka Lonnie Donegan Jr) with “Gamblin' Man”. 
Two 60's R&B singers who started off in skiffle bands, Chris Farlowe (John Henry Skiffle Group) and Paul Jones (Louisiana Four) joined forces for “Pick A Bale Of Cotton”, encouraging the audience to sing along. Chris followed with one of his hits, Mike D'Abo's “Handbags and Gladrags”, with superb harp from Paul Jones. 
The final guest was Van Morrison, who re-created with Peter Donegan the collaborations he had done on stage with Lonnie 20 years earlier on “Lost John” and “Muleskinner Blues”.  Tuning problems led Van to abandon his guitar on what was nevertheless a great version of “Into The Mystic”. Chris Farlowe joined Van for “Gloria”. 
The entire musical cast, except Leo Sayer who had left the building, returned to the stage for the finale, “Rock Island Line”. This feel-good show was a fitting tribute to the singer and song which began it all.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Photos from Porretta 2

Here's another group of music photos from days three and four of the Porretta Soul Festival.
 This Wee Willie Walker.
Making a good impression, here is Wendy Moten.
Another excellent performer, this is Curtis Salgado.
Here is Sandy Griffith, one of the backing singers in Anthony Paule's band.
And here is Anthony Paule himself..
This is another of the backing singers, Larry Batiste.
Here's one of Curtis Salgado and Wee Willie Walker.
Making a return visit to Porretta, this is LaRhonda Steele.
This is Georgia Van Etten, once a member of the Sweethearts.
Here are Tony Wilson and Khylah B.
Here's Khylah B with Judy Lei.
The horn section from Anthony Paule's band.
During the finale, Tony Wilson handed his sparkly jacket and hat to Graziano Uliani, the man who makes Porretta possible every year. 
Here are Jerry Jones and Chilly Bill Rankin.
Violinist Judy Lei.
Finally, here are some pix of me with the artists. Here with Wendy Moten.
With Annika Chambers.
With Curtis Salgado.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Photos from Porretta 1

Here are a few pictures taken during the first two days of this year's Porretta Soul Festival.
Here is the undoubted star of the first evening, Don Bryant.
This is James Brown's tenor say player Pee Wee Ellis with the Sweethearts from Australia.
Here's another photo of Pee Wee.
This is Scott Sharrard, formerly with Gregg Allman's band.
Here is Rick Hutton, who has been MC at Porretta since the beginning. His catchword is One More Time.
Opening up on day two was J P Bimeni, a refugee from Burundi now making his name in London.
This is Sax Gordon, who appeared with the Luca Giordano band.
Also performing with the band was Leon Beal, who made an excellent impression.
This is Khylah B.
Here is Willie West, once with the Meters.
Annika Chambers did an excellent set.
This is Chilly Bill Rankin.
One of the stars of the Anthony Paule band was the extrovert D-Mar.
Billed as the Young James Brown, here is Tony Wilson.
Finally, in this set of photos here's one of me with Judy Lei, the classically trained violinist who supported Tony Wilson.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Art Neville RIP

As I returned from Porretta today, I learned the sad news that Art Neville has died at the age of 81. Coming so soon after the deaths of Dr John, Dave Bartholomew and Lil Buck, not to mention others in recent years such as his brother Charles Neville, Frankie Ford and Allen Toussaint, it feels as though that wonderful era of New Orleans music has reached its end.

Art recorded 'Mardi Gras Mambo' with the Hawketts for Chess in the mid fifties and went on to record some great rock and roll records for Specialty including 'Ooh Wee Baby', 'Cha Dooky Do' and 'What's Going On', Then came some wonderful New Orleans R and B records for Instant, including one of my favourites, 'All These Things'. He formed the Neville Sounds with Aaron and Cyril Neville, George Porter, Leo Nocentelli and Ziggy Modeliste, and, minus Aaron and Cyril, the band became the Meters in the late sixties, more or less creating New Orleans funk.
Joining up with Aaron and Cyril and older brother Charles in 1978, he formed the Neville Brothers, whose body of work, and great musicianship, made them one of the really great bands from the 1980s to the early 2000s. It was their seminal album 'Yellow Moon' that was the soundtrack of my first visit to New Orleans in 1989. Art continued to play both with the Meters, now known as the Funky Meters, and the Neville Brothers and I never missed an opportunity to see them, whether at Jazzfest in New Orleans, in London and at Porretta in 2006.
It's sad to think that the Neville Brothers will never perform again, but the memories, oh the memories. 'Poppa Funk' will be missed. The photo below shows Art at Porretta in 2006 with my late girlfriend Maxine.
Above is a photo of Art when the Neville Brothers played Jazzfest in 2010.

Porretta Soul Festival : Final.day

The final day at Porretta traditionally features short sets by the performers. Several artists had already left town this year but the final session was still great, with some artists coming across more strongly than in their main sets earlier in the weekend.
The Sweethearts from Australia set things off and their exuberance and enthusiasm was catching. Tony Wilson joined them for 'Papa's Got a Brand New Bag' and there were short contributions from fellow Aussie Georgia Van Etten and violinist Judy Lei.
Anthony Paule's band took over from there on  with a jazzy vocal by Anthony himself and short stints from backing singer Larry Batiste and the somewhat screechy Khylah B. Willie West came across more strongly this time with 'Never Found A Girl Like You' and an Allen Toussaint song. Georgia Van Etten returned with some more mouth trumpet on a jazzy number and LaRhonda Steele, who had sung gospel in the local church that morning, was effective on 'Rock Me Baby' and 'Spirit In The Dark'.
Things really took off with the arrival on stage of Curtis Delgado who shared  a blistering duet with Wee Willie Walker on 'Soothe Me' and possibly the most soulful version of 'Help' ever performed. Willie continued on stupendous form on a new song, 'Let's Talk About It' and a brilliant rendition of Mable John's 'Your Good Thing Is About To End'. Sheer magic for half an hour or so.
After a break Chilly Bill Rankin returned with   'Slip Away' and Jerry Jones reprised 'If Loving You Is  Wrong' before the two of them combined on 'When Something Is Wrong With My Baby'. Wendy Moten,  one of the finds of the weekend, did a couple of Aretha numbers before Tony Wilson returned to the stage, glittery and energetic as ever. His version of 'Good Foot' involved brief solos from the four horn men in the band plus six horn players from the Sweethearts but as he moved into 'Sex Machine', with violin accompaniment, he was forgiven his excesses by the excited audience. Finally it was finale time and most of the artists gathered on stage for a lively version of 'I Can't Turn You Loose',  led by MC Rick Hutton, doing a sterling job as usual, and the man who makes it all possible year after year Graziano Uliani, who was dressed briefly in Tony Wilson's sparkly jacket and hat. A great send off to another tremendous festival.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Porretta Soul Festival Day three

As  ever, the Saturday at Porretta was the busiest of the weekend. Fortunately the line up did not disappoint, despite a lack of really big names on the bill.
Kicking off proceedings was the Curtis Salgado band  and very good they were too. Portland based Curtis was once in Robert Cray band and that showed in his soul/blues style, not least with 'Walk a Mile In My Blues'. He began with 'I'm Trying', putting his harmonica to good use and well supported by guitarist Anthony Stelmaszack. Other numbers were equally good  including 'Blues Get Off My Shoulder', 'Nobody But You' (A duet with LaRhonda Steele), the self-penned ' How To Feel The Same About Love', the Oregon themed 'Driving Rain' and, a song I could relate to, 'The Older I Live The Older I Want To Get'. O V Wright's 'I Wanna Forget About You' was good, as was a further duet 'Both Sorry Over Nothing'. Curtis ended his excellent set with a rocking "Slow Down'.
After an interval and the appearance on stage of Anthony Paule's band things did indeed slow down somewhat with a couple of numbers by backing singer Omega Brooks and Aussie singer Georgia Van Etten, who livened up 'Sugar' with some impressive mouth trumpet work. Next up was LaRhonda Steele whose set was a tribute to Aretha Franklin with 'Rock Steady',  'Respect', "Chain Of Fools', and 'Love The One You're With'. Other songs in her set included 'Imagine", 'Take Me To The River', 'Rock Mr Baby' and a good version of 'Spirit In The Dark".
One of the stars of recent Porrettas, Wee Willie Walker, came next and once again his beautiful soulful voice shone through. There were some new songs and some old ones  including 'Breaking Up Somebody's Home' and a 1965 track ' From Warm To Cool To Cold'. Other numbers included 'I Don't Want To Take a Chance' and 'Read Between The Lines', all exquisitely delivered, but it was an extended 'After A While', with great tenor sax work by Charles McNeal, that lit up his set.
After a short break we were treated to a sparkling Memphis styled set by Wendy Moten, a lady new to me, who mixed Rufus Thomas numbers such as 'All Night Worker" and 'Breakdown' with some Aretha, including 'Since You've Been Gone' , 'Baby I Love You' and "Think'. 'Ain't No Way' was a stand out number, as was a duet with Jerry Jones on 'Raise Your Hand'. But it was anothet duet  this time with Wee Willie on 'True Love', that sealed the deal. I enjoyed Wendy a lot and will look out for her in future.
What can you say about the final act Tony Wilson? Billed as the Young James Brown  he bounded onto the stage in a sparkly suit and set about gyrating and dancing his way through JB numbers such as 'Get Off Your Thang', 'Cold Sweat' and 'Soul Power ', performing somersaults and Michael Jackson steps along the way. He brought on a violinist named Judy Lei for 'This is a Man's World'  which was interesting and unusual, but eventually his antics became a little tedious.  A showman he undoubtedly is, but he is a novelty act and comparisons to James Brown are a bit kind. Loads of energy on show however.
Altogether this was a good, if not a great night and very entertaining.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Porretta Soul Festival Day two

Day two of Porretta really delivered with some good performances from some artists I hadn't seen before and the return of some old faces. There was some blues, a bit of New Soul and quite a lot of Memphis and New Orleans sounds,  making it a satisfactory evening overall.
First up was J P Bimeni  and the Black Belts. He's a refugee from Burundi who has made his home in London and who has joined up with a Spanish band and recently recorded an album called 'Free Me'. Most of his numbers were original - an exception being 'Keep On Running' - and not immediately memorable  but he is a good looking young man with a decent stage presence and a touch of the Otis Redding about him. One to watch I think and a great back story.
Next on stage was the Luca Giordano band with Boston resident Sax Gordon (and his son), who did a couple of crisp instrumentals, including 'Get Ready, before introducing another Boston resident Leon Beal to the stage. He was a revelation, and his anguished versions of Soul classics such as 'Don't Cry No More', Solomon Burke's 'None Of Us Are Free', 'Glory Of Love' 'Cry To Me' and 'A Change Is Gonna Come' were nothing short of sensational. So too were up tempo numbers such as 'Hole In The Wall, 'I'll Take You There' and a duet with Curtis Salgado on Sam Cooke's 'Aint That Good News'. Nothing original, but good old school soul delivered well and just what the festival needed.
The Anthony Paule Band has been a regular fixture at Porretta in recent years and they provided excellent backing for the rest of the evening, firstly to backing singer Sandra Griffith, who did a couple of songs including 'Kiss Me Like You Mean It', and then Khylah B, an attractive young singer whose short set included 'Proud Mary'. New Orleans based Willie West came next and was perhaps the weakest act of the night. I saw him at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2017 and was impressed but this time he failed to ignite a spark, looking slightly ill at ease with trousers threatening to fall down at any time. The former Meters singer brought a touch of NO funk to proceedings, but 'Wind Beneath My Wings' hardly qualified as soul. Rather better was Allen Toussaint's 'The Greatest Love' and 'Talking To Myself' but this was a slightly disappointing set.
The next artist, Annika Chambers  more than made up for it. She is a shapely lady with a powerful bluesy voice who came across strongly on such hard hitting numbers as 'Six Nights and a Day', 'Put It Where You Want It', Sweet Sensation'  (A duet with backing singer Larry Baptiste), an original song called 'Move', 'City In The Sky' and 'Jealous Kind'. Very enjoyable and I would like to see more, a lot more, of her.
The final acts of the night saw the return of two Memphis singers who are very much in the mould of Sam and Dave, Chilly Bill Rankin and Jerry Jones.  Both did some solo numbers, with Bill doing well on 'Hard To Handle' and 'Last Two Dollars' and Jerry contributing 'Got To Get You Off My Mind' and 'If Loving You Is Wrong ' before combining on a medley of Sam and Dave numbers including 'Hold On I'm Coming'  'I Thank You' and 'Soul Man'. It was an appropriate end to what was a varied and highly enjoyable evening. Well done Graziano for another triumph.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Porretta Soul Festival - day one

I'm back in Porretta Terme for the 32nd Porretta Soul Festival and once again it's delivering some top quality soul music. The only trouble is that it's going to be tough to beat the sublime performance on the first evening by Don Bryant and the Bo-Keys.
The first act of the evening was the Sweethearts from Geelong, Australia, a group of 26 teenage girls who show  passion for soul music and quite a bit of talent. Four singers alternated and the horn section came across strongly on soul favourites such as 'Higher and Higher', 'I Can't Turn You Loose', Shake' and 'Mr Pitiful'. Former James Brown sax player Pee Wee Ellis  now aged 78 and looking somewhat frail, came on for a version of 'Cold Sweat' to add some credibility to what was quite an enjoyable set. He also added credibility to the next act, a Swiss band called Re:Funk, performing four tenor sax numbers with them from his JB career. Other than that, they proved very disappointing and my attention wandered.
Things began to look up as the Bo-Keys took to the stage, but only up to a point  as they were backing former Gregg Allman music director and guitarist Scott Sharrard  who was a lot more rock than soul. He was adequate on some soul influenced songs from his recent 'Saving Grace' album, and his set included Otis Clay's 'Precious Precious', 'Everything a Good Man Needs' and 'The High Cost of Loving You' but this wasnt the real deal. The band was excellent however, with the wonderful Archie Turner on keyboards and Scott Bomar on bass  but Scott Sharrard didn't make much of an impact.
It was left to the star of the evening Don Bryant to turn what had been a below average night's entertainment into a great one. Wearing a snazzy jacket and what can only be described as a pith helmet, Don showed that his re-emergence as one of the premier soul performers around today is showing no sign of slowing down. He mixed excellent stage craft, regularly throwing kisses to the audience, with a superb mix of his songs from the sixties to the present day. His older numbers included 'Everything's Gonna Be Alright' and 'That Driving Beat' from his time as the uncredited singer on Willie Mitchell's hits, '99 Pounds', first recorded by his wife Ann Peebles, 'i Die a Little Each Day' and, as an encore, Ann's 'I Can't Stand The Rain'. From his 2017 album 'Don't Give Up On Love there was 'A Nickel and A Nail', 'What Kind Of Love', 'One Ain't Enough' and a stupendous version of 'I Got To Know' with vocal support from Bo-Keys members Kirk Smothers, Mark Franklin and Joe Restivo. By the end of this magnificent set the audience on this Thursday night had dwindled to just a relatively few and that was a shame, as Don Bryant is truly the dog's bollocks of Soul music. Apparently Re:Funk over-ran meaning both Don and Scott Sharrard had shortened sets. Personally I would have dispensed with Re:Funk altogether, but at least we saw some of Don's genius. More soon, and photos when I get home.