I’ve not experienced emotion like it at a gig before. After a stunning rendition of ‘Choice of Colors’, a song banned by radio stations for daring to challenge racial prejudice, the audience rose as one for a standing ovation so long and heartfelt it reduced Impressions Fred Cash and then Sam Gooden to tears.
After 59 years “the most iconic soul group all time”, as described in their introduction and with no argument for me, are calling it a day and played London last night for the final time. It’ll be an evening no one in attendance will ever forget.
There is something truly magical about The Impressions. Not only the life-affirming, galvanising nature of their music but in the personalities of the group. Curtis Mayfield quite rightly takes the bulk of the plaudits but even without him on lead vocals, wingmen Fred and Sam amply demonstrated their vital contributions.
Young Jermaine Purifory was entrusted with the Curtis role, after long time Impression Reggie Torian died last year, and did it well but from the opening number, ‘It’s All Right’, the way Fred and Sam exuded sheer uncontrollable joy quite literally brought a tear to the eye. With their kind, beaming faces, gently rocking their shoulders and clapping their hands they looked like the two happiest men on earth, as if they’d hit the jackpot of life. Matched with Mayfield’s songs of comfort and hope and the result was soul stirring. Even the way the pair provided the gentle harmonies on ‘Gypsy Woman’, not even needing words, was spine tingling.
The set was packed with the irresistible dancers: ‘Woman’s Got Soul’, ‘I Need You’, ‘Can’t Satisfy’ ‘You Ought To Be In Heaven’ and ‘Stay Close To Me’ all sounding more Motownesque than on record while ‘You’ve Been Cheatin’’, with Fred handling the lead, brought the house down and another standing ovation, an occurrence which punctuated the show at regular intervals. The ballads including ‘I’ve Been Trying’ were no less affecting and let Purifory showcase his talent; there was a touch of Marvin Gaye about the way he soared on ‘I’m So Proud’.
The venue, the Union Chapel, was the perfect setting and the way a single purple spotlight shone down on Fred Cash at close of ‘People Get Ready’, when he sang the closing line “You just thank the Lord”, with his finger pointing skyward, moved even the sternness nonbeliever.
Before the close, on a count of one-two-three led by Purifory, another thunderous ovation. Grown men and women were weeping - on stage and, heaven help them, standing on the chapel pews. The finale of ‘Move On Up’ caught the band and group out of synch but it was understandable with emotions running so high.
“No more tears do we cry and we have finally dried our eyes” they sang on ‘We’re A Winner’. I’m not sure that’s true yet, I’m welling up again just writing this. The Impressions - with your inspirational music, your message, your soul, your spirit - you’re winners. We might not see you again but you’ll live on forever. Thank you for everything.
Thanks to Glen Manners @Mamaroux78 for the photo.