Saturday, October 12, 2013

Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires @ The Hare and Hounds, Friday 11th October 2013

If you’ve not heard Charles Bradley’s life story let’s just say that his first 50 years or so (he’s 65-ish now) can best be summarised as ‘pretty grim’ (homelessness, drudgery, heartbreak, murder...short of a plague of locusts the dude went through it all). Happily things took a turn for the better when he began performing as a James Brown tribute act known as Black Velvet back in the 90s. This brought him to the attention of soul saviour and Daptone Records co-founder Gabriel Roth eventually leading to an acclaimed debut album No Time For Dreaming (2011) and the moving documentary Soul Of America (2012). On the back of all this unsurprisingly tonight’s gig in the Hare and Hounds sold out faster than Royal Mail shares...

No support this evening but Charles’ band, The Extraordinaires, warmed things up nicely with a couple of instrumentals including a sublimely funky take on The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer In The City. And then, resplendent in a bright red embroidered jumpsuit, ladies and gentlemen, the man himself, the Screaming Eagle of Soul, CB, Mr Charles Bradley mounts the stage (not for the first time this evening, literally and metaphorically) and takes off with Love Bug Blues.

There’s a crackle and rawness to the voice that you just can’t fake. Shaped by a thousand and one lonely nights, endless dawn to dusk shifts in dead end jobs and perhaps the primal pain that came out of his brother’s murder just as life seemed to be getting good. As you’d expect there are remnants of the Godfather of Soul in there, the odd ‘Huh’, that scream (part JB/part CB) and (especially as the gig progresses) the sense of showmanship. Like JB in his later years Charles makes for an unlikely sex symbol but each groin thrust (and there are many) elicits whoops of delight from the ladies. Strip away the jump suits, dance moves, finger lickin’ and groin thrusts though and what ultimately comes through is that voice perhaps best heard this evening on Crying In The Chapel. There’s a sorrow there that could make granite weep. If this was the only track he’d ever recorded it would be enough to earn him a place at the table of soul greats (right next to Otis, just across from Sam and Dave). 

He’d just got started though, The World (Is Going Up In Flames) saw the Eagle soar again, the voice cracking like peeling paint on a porch door. Powerful stuff. It’s not all sorrow and pain though, You Put The Flame On It (off new album Victim Of Love) had a neat up beat doo wop feel courtesy of the Extraordinaires’ backing vocals leaving the crowd nicely pumped as the Eagle took off for a quick costume change. He returns clad in black this time for part II with Hurricane coming across as the eco cousin of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. Lovin’ You Baby saw the Eagle tear off his jacket and fall to the floor earning possibly the biggest round of applause of the evening and a chorus of “We love you” from the crowd earning a simple but heartfelt “I love you too” in return. If Lovin’ You Baby was the highlight of the night Confusion was the maddest, giving CB the chance to break out his nuttiest dance moves (the robot, then into the eagle wing pose and finally a bit of kung fu for good measure) and his theramin. Gurning wildly he stick (good grief, that came out wrong) conjuring up some truly out of this world sounds. It’s all good fun though and a little light relief even if it does veer close to that Ricky Gervais’ dance in the office at times. He ends the night by dedicating “My favourite song” Let Love Stand a Chance, to us, his audience. Stick this on the stereo when you get home and...let’s face’ve scored. There’ll be some kids conceived to this one over the years.

And then he was gone. Despite calls for an encore, including one from a particularly enthusiastic Welsh lady who made it up onto the stage, the Eagle had flown. Always leave ‘em wanting more eh?  

At his best Bradley’s as good as the name of his backing band suggests. Like fellow Daptone Records stable mate Sharon Jones he’s old school, an increasingly rare link to the true soul greats. He grew up watching them perform, not on old film clips but actually right there in front of him. Who knows, on the strength of tonight’s performance if life had given him some decent breaks back in the 60s he just might have joined them...

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