Having gone back in time each night, the third night of the Barbican’s Soul Britannia festival of soul music in Britain celebrated the links between American and British artists from the 1960s.
Three giant video screens featured moving and still images from the period on both sides of the Atlantic, capturing the performers in their heyday and provided a socio-historical context. As the show illustrated, American soul music had a huge influence on the British music scene in the 60s, with the beating heart being the Flamingo Club in Soho, a place where black and white artists and audiences could mix and move together.
First up was Sam Moore, best known of course as one half of the dynamic duo Sam and Dave, one of Staxs main acts. As soon as he uttered the opening words of I Thank You, “I want everybody to get up off your seat,” people were happy to oblige – yes, dancing is allowed at the Barbican.
This was followed by another Sam and Dave number, Soul Man, one of the defining songs of Memphis soul, and the Elvis Costello song I Can’t Stand up For Falling Down. Moore’s voice seems in good shape, though not surprisingly the intensity is nothing like it was four decades ago.
Next on was Jimmy James, who with his backing band the Vagabonds became mod idols in the 60s with their mixture of Jamaican ska and soul. James gave a good account of the Whitfield and Holland Motown song Ain’t Too Proud to Beg made famous by The Temptations, then the less well-known Ain’t Love Good, Ain’t Love Proud. But the duet version of Neil Diamond’s Red Red Wine he performed with Madeline Bell (once backing singer to Dusty Springfield and later darling of Northern Soul) proved disappointingly mushy.
The sprightly Stax veteran Eddie Floyd launched into Sam Cookes Bring It On Home to Me, and then Otis Redding’s 6345789 Soulsville USA, with plenty of spirit, rounding it off with a rousing performance of his biggest hit Knock On Wood.
Geno Washington, an American GI who came to Britain in the 60s and decided to stay, has always been known as a great live performer of cover songs rather than an original recording artist. He showed he still knows how to work an audience, building up a sweat singing Arthur Conley’s Sweet Soul Music and Van Morrison’s Gloria, with his Ram Jam Band replacing the solid if unspectacular house band.
The only white and British-born star on the bill, Eric Burdon, lead singer of The Animals, of course, always claimed that, as a working-class teenager from the North East, he felt an immediate affinity with black American soul music. Though The Animals were influenced as much by R&B as soul, his voice certainly had a raw power that came from the gut.
His performance of two of the bands hits, Baby Let Me Take You Home and Dont Let Me Be Misunderstood (a cover of Nina Simone’s song), followed by King Size Jones, still showed plenty of passion but sadly the voice is now strained with age.
Geno came back to inject some high energy into three more songs (including Wilson Pickett’s In the Midnight Hour), then was joined by the rest of the night’s performers in the closing number, Solomon Burke’s Everybody Needs Somebody to Love. The air may have been thick with nostalgia but the classic soul music on offer still sounded full of youthful zest.