Wednesday, 3 August 2011
THE VINTAGE SOUL REVUE at VINTAGE
The Vintage Soul Revue, as part of the Vintage Festival within the Royal Festival Hall, was the live equivalent of purchasing a cheap soul compilation from a service station or corner shop: some popular hits to attract the passing punter; a bunch of middling filler tracks nobody really wants; the occasional unexpected highlight; and, most frightening, the small print tucked in the bottom corner reading “some of these songs have been re-recorded by at least one member of the original artists”.
Backed by a fourteen piece orchestra, a variety of acts trotted out to do a few numbers each. Joe Harris of The Undisputed Truth wasn’t a name to set many pulses racing but his version of The Impressions’ “I’ve Been Tryin’”, with sweeping strings and soaring vocals, and the Truth’s 1971 hit “Smiling Faces Sometimes” set the bar sufficiently high it wouldn’t be troubled too often for the rest of the night. Jimmy James was okay in a pedestrian, end of the pier, way. I hadn’t realised “I’ll Go Where Your Music Takes Me” was his. Hearing that, “Red, Red Wine”, and seeing mums and dads, boys and girls, half-heartedly clapping along only added to his Seaside Special vibe.
The audience was a strange mix and by the very nature of the event not a connoisseur crowd so many were unfamiliar with The Flirtations. Even curator of the event Wayne Hemingway forgot to mention them in his introduction. Having seen them a few times I’d say this was their best yet, thanks to the grand backing of the orchestra. From their out of synch dancing, to their out of key vocals, to their dodgy wigs, they’re ropey but there’s something endearing about the way they don’t take themselves too seriously. They knocked out half a dozen songs including “Nothing But A Heartache”, “Little Darling”, “Stronger Than Her Love” and threw in a new song. If I never hear any version of “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)” ever, ever, ever again I’ll be delighted, so to be trapped with their caterwauling was frankly torturous. Sorry ladies, not entirely your fault.
Gwen Dickey, of Rose Royce, had to be helped to the stage and her stool. Now, although I've watched The Royal I’m no doctor, but her legs/hips seemed right royally fucked. Obviously knowing everyone was wondering she explained it was due to falling from a ladder. “Ladies, when your man says he’ll do something tomorrow, let him, don’t do it yourself”. She sure could sing and got a rousing reception for “Is It Love You’re After”, “Wishing On A Star”, “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” and especially “Car Wash”. I’ve never thought of that song as anything other than hen night fodder, but it is pure unadulterated Norman Whitfield. Had the Temptations or the Undisputed Truth tucked it on a B-side in 1974 it’d be listened to totally differently. Again, a word about the orchestra who bought it to life in a way I’d not noticed before. Every bugger got out of their seats and started “dancing”, which forced me to stand uncomfortably and very slightly sway and bob my head. Arms folded.
Out next came Hamish Stuart from the Average White Band. Someone in the audience shouted for him to play something lively. He didn’t. After Dickey upping the atmosphere he came across as far too earnest and let’s face it, who wants a scary bearded Scotsman playing something from his 1980 Brazilian influenced album? Not me and not many others. I amused myself with the old game of thinking of different names for AWB. Acute Wanking Ballache was rubbish, technically a dubious entry, but still won and took my mind off the stage.
Percy Sledge entered the fray wearing a tuxedo and what looked like a scouse calm down-calm down wig. If Eddie Floyd earlier in the week made a mockery of his passing years, fellow Alabaman Sledge had no qualms about playing the elder Soul Man. “People ask me, Percy Sledge, how come you talk so much when you used to just burn it up on stage. Well, I tell ‘em, I need to get my breath back”. He flashes that famous gap toothed grin of his and gets away with anything, including a bizarre, and very funny, Ride Your Pony type dance to one song. I can’t believe though he ever burned it up on stage even as a young man. The churchy chord changes to his Muscle Shoals ballads had a different quality, dramatically described by Gerri Hirshey in Nowhere To Run as “his voice sliced through stone, bronze and petrochemical ages of human love”. Time has eroded some of the edge but he was sweet and “Take Time To Know Her” and “Dark End of The Street” were great to hear. “Nights in bloody White Satin” less so, but “When A Man Loves A Woman” was the big money shot and didn’t disappoint. Never have I seen a man fall so gingerly to his knees. He clambered up, did a false exit, milked the standing ovation, and was gone.
With Booker T scheduled next, the house lights suddenly came on. There was no announcement and confusion reigned. The stage crew began packing away. Was that it? The advertising more than eluded to Booker T performing with an orchestra, which was the draw for me, at considerable expense. The cheapest tickets, at the back of the circle, were £75, and went up to £100 (due to a kindly tip-off and a half-truth I paid half-price). That did give access to other things at Vintage, mainly lobbies in the Royal Festival Hall masquerading as themed clubs, but meant there were lots of empty seats. There were three people in my row. With the orchestra packed away Hemingway introduced “Booker T. & The MGs”. They were no such thing as the drummer pointedly remarked. They were his current touring band (drums, bass and guitar). With the earlier momentum killed and the stage in almost darkness, Booker and co set about their standard set which I’d seen last year (see here). In a way it was an admirable stance to stick to their guns and do their own thing but it sat awkwardly with the revivalist natural of what preceded it. “Green Onions” was the second song to get it over with and if I thought Steve Cropper had overplayed when I saw his Stax show on Wednesday then he was positively the model of restraint after the sub-Hendrix fiddley-diddley wankathon of this guitarist. I read somebody tried to steal his effects pedals after the show; pity he wasn’t successful beforehand. Also, on Wednesday I heard “Soul Limbo” with a lengthy drum solo, this time around not only did it have a drum solo but the drummer rapped through it too. Oh man. Admittedly not in the Bob Dylan Name That Tune league of reinvention but unwelcome nonetheless. The other two people in my row had gone by now, as had many others, and when Booker T swopped his organ for a guitar and started singing “Take Me To The River” I left him to it.