Monday, November 06, 2006
Midnight Hour UK Soul Weekender -- 2003
The weather was fine, the location admirable and with 2000 other like minded soul fans also in attendance, this weekender promised much. Proceedings kicked off in the main northern soul room at 7pm Friday and went non-stop through till 2am Monday morning. With 4 different music rooms on offer plus a 24 hr radio station, finding time to eat and sleep was no easy task.
The atmosphere soon built up as Friday evening ebbed away but the night’s big event took place just after 1am in the modern soul room. Ann Nesby, the ex lead singer of the Sounds of Blackness now pursuing a solo career, hit the stage with backing from a select band of UK musicians and singers. This lady, with her long apprenticeship in the gospel world, has all the vocal power & skill anyone could need and then some. She knew what was expected of her as she delighted the appreciative crowd with old favourites such as “Pressure” and “I’m Goin All The Way”. Moving on to songs included on her recent solo album, she was joined on stage by her husband who, taking the part of Al Green, helped her perform “Put It On Paper”. “Let Your Will Be Done”, "Tonight’s the Night", "Let It Be" (?) then followed before she finished off with "In The Spirit". All too soon the performance was over, but not before Ann had abandoned the stage to roam around amongst her ecstatic audience on the dance floor.
So live performance wise, Friday’s show had truly got the proceedings off to be a brilliant start. Responsibilities were now passed to an earlier generation as the 60’s singers were handed the batten for the main entertainment on Saturday. The scene was set around 4pm as Don Gardner, Gwen Owens and lastly Lou Pride joined me to undergo a verbal grilling on one of my weekender radio shows. All three seemed in good spirits and appeared to be fully charged up for their impending performances. With so much to do and so many old friends to catch up with, time just flew by and a number of important DJ spots were missed in both the main 60’s and modern soul rooms. However amongst the top sounds featured were Ralph Graham “She Just Sits There”, the Passions “If You See My Baby” and Arthur Willis & Soul Dynamics “Hurting Is Over” in the 60’s room, plus Dante Thomas "Never Give Up", R Kelly “Step In Name of Love" and Incognito "Can't Get You Out of My Head" in the modern room.
As midnight approached, the local backing band kicked proceedings off on the main room stage via an introductory instrumental number (“Tune Up”). With Andy Rix acting as MC, Lou Pride bounced onto stage. Now the stage area in Pontins main event room is truly massive and it takes a mighty big man to command it. Lou Pride is however such a big man, both physically, vocally and in terms of presence. With the crowd in the palm of his hand, he roamed the entire area available to him whilst delivering near perfect versions of “Your Love Is Fading”, “Love For My Baby“ and ”Bringing Me Back Home” (one of his 2002 recordings). The crowd were fully behind him in every way by now but as he broke into a monologue about being back home they got the message and simply erupted as the familiar opening notes of “I’m Comin Home In The Mornin” rang out. Lou is still a regular live performer back in the US and all his experience shone through as he carried everyone in the room with him to the end of his allotted numbers.
The show had been extremely well organised and even before the cheers for Lou had died away Don Gardner was centre stage commencing his opening number. Don is now in his seventies and so wasn’t able to pull off as mobile a performance as Lou had just delivered. He was however still equipped with all the necessary vocal ability to do his 30 year old numbers full justice. He opened with his rare 45 anthem Cheatin Kind” and followed this with “Is This Really Love”. Next came “My Baby Likes To Boogaloo”, a song that recreates just about the best of the 60’s dance crazes. Don seemed extremely happy as the audience fully surrendered to him. Next up was ex-Detroiter Gwen Owens who had fetched her son and daughter along to provide backing vocals. I had met Gwen earlier in the day and she had appeared to be a quiet and thoughtful lady. On stage she was simply transformed and dressed to the nines came across as a true diva. She opened with her 1973 recording “You Better Watch Out” and followed this with a un-issued 60’s Golden World track “Hit & Run”. The crowd had been waiting in anticipation for a particular track and as the band and Gwen broke into “Say You're Wanted & Needed” the mass soul clapping signalled that the wait was over.
Lou Pride and Don Gardner now returned to the stage and performed a duet on Lou’s “I’m Comin Home In Morning”, then it was time for Gwen to repeat “...Wanted and Needed”. She then surprised the assembled horde by breaking into a version of the old northern soul anthem “Time Will Pass You By” and to say she did the song full justice is an understatement. It was now finale time and with all three artists on stage they improvised lyrics over the refrain of “Tune Up” (the entire line-up on stage even included a few of the DJ’s, helping out with vocal duties). An extremely slick show, due in large measure to the expertise of the backing band, was thus concluded and the crowd gradually thinned in the main room.
A quick recovery was however necessary, as was a change of scenery. People migrated down to the modern soul room and at 2am live proceedings kicked off there. First up was FER recording group Headquarters and to say that their Anjelai Anuford is extremely pleasing on the eye is just stating the obvious. Luckily for those devotees of vocal prowess in the audience, the ladies vocal skills match her physical beauty. Thus we were treated to renditions of “I Want U”, “Set Your Spirit Free”, “Come To My World” and “Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me”. Label-mate Gary Des-Etages was up next and although a bit constrained by the use of backing tapes, he treated us to “Dance With Me”, “U Don’t Try To Change Me”, “No Compromise”, “Too Much To Loose” and finished off with a rousing version of “Glow of Love”.
By now my energy had completely ebbed away and so I retired to the tranquillity of my bed. Sunday dawned much too soon and in no time at all it was time to head back into the modern soul room for a PA from Lou Pride. Lou’s Sunday show was set-up to showcase his recent recordings. Thus he opened with the title track of his most recent album, “Words of Caution”. The deep soul gem “You Are My Rainbow” was executed in perfect fashion, so much so that DJ Ivor Jones was moved to jump onto the stage to shake Lou’s hand as he finished the song. “It’s A Good Thing” came next and then Lou once again sang “Bringin Me Back Home”. Even though the crowd was much smaller than that which had witnessed him render it on Saturday, the reaction was still warm enough to prompt a repeat interpretation.
The weekend was now winding down towards its end, so what overall impressions had I been left with. Firstly Pontins great organisational efforts, together with the friendliness of their staff and security personnel. Some great live performances, good music on disc and the camaraderie of all the soul fans in attendance. Heck, you even get served decent food in the site restaurant and the chalets are warm and inviting. Roll on next year, but it will be a big challenge for them to equal the success of this year’s event.
J R Smith