Friday, February 27, 2009

Candi Staton Birmingham Town Hall 21st Feb

Young Hearts Run Free is the song that defines her in England. It was the soundtrack to Candi Staton's 70's domestic turmoil and over the years it's also been the dance floor mood uplifter, the Hen Party Staple and karaoke hell. The Source used her vocal on You've Got The Love which has been a hit 3 times over the last 18 years. It's as seasonal as Slade! She's spent the last 20 years banging out a Gospel album a year and then there's her peerless and genre defining Southern Soul recordings from the late 60's. So who is exactly her audience? Actually where are her audience? The Town Hall is 2 thirds empty and one of the 2 backing singers has just introduced her as Candi STAYton and told us that he's heard that Birmingham is one of the loudest audiences anywhere. Ouch! This could be painful.

She opened with Nights on Broadway (well that's one hit out of the way) and it's immediately apparent that her voice is absolutely still intact and the band is sympathetic. Bass, drums, guitar, keyboards , 2 backing vocalists, sax and trumpet. It all sounds right, authentic and uncluttered. Whenever I watch old singers I always think of Paul McGrath's knees and wonder if the vocal veteran is using an old pros tricks and anticipation to keep themselves out of trouble (or in the right place) like the knackered knee knock 'em backer did at the end of his career. Well, not in Staton's case. Her voice still has the quality of those early recordings. There's a bruised, hurt quality which is incongruous coming from the smiling 65 year old woman walking round the stage with her arm outstretched as if carrying an invisible tray. And even better, she's going to talk. I always enjoy between song chat and Staton is talking her way though each song, explaining bits of musical history, who recorded the song and lots of talking to the ladies about men.

I Feel The Same is a Bonnie Rait song from Staton's new album and has the swampy Blues feel and the rising horns and backing vocals of her classic Muscle Shoals period. Towards the end Staton ad-libs that “You try and pick up the pieces, but there ain't no pieces left”.

I'm Just A Prisoner (Of Your Good Loving) is just such a Muscle Shoals classic. Staton finishes the song with the line “Sometimes it's worth being being a prisoner, if he loves you all night. Am I right ladies?” Considering that her interviews always go back to the failed and abusive marriages and Young Heats Run Free, it's the first of many often contradictory but usually entertaining statements.

I'll Sing A Love Song To You is mercifully brief but Elton John in cheesiness. She's singing it for those who have stayed with her since 1969

Later she talks about how in the 60's and 70's women singers could only sing songs about being hurt by love and begging men to stay and suggests that the record company must have spent a lot of money to make Jean Knights Mr Big Stuff a hit. Sexism and payola? What? In the Music Industry?

She lets slip that covers of In The Ghetto (she actually did perch on a stool to sing that one) and Stand By Your Man were both nominated for Grammys but my favourite line was when she talked about her first single I'd Rather Be An Old Man's Sweetheart (Than A Young Man's Fool) selling 750 000 copies “Before they realised it wasn't Aretha. But I got over it. Like a fat rat!”

The Town hall is a seated venue and she encouraged people to get their shoulders working but of course what the audience was really waiting for and what brought them to their feet was stretched out versions of Young Hearts Run Free and You've Got The Love. The band introductions brought the welcome revelation that the keyboard player was in fact former Style Councillor Mick Talbot, which of course shouldn't be that much of a surprise. His subtle keyboards had been a big part of why Staton's band sounded so good. On first listen Southern Soul seems to be just about the brass and a guitar that can either sting or twang. But the keyboard is crucial. Just think of the ghostly organ in Aretha Franklin's Do Right Woman Do Right Man and that piano. It's churchy and runs the rhythm, missing notes and paddling away like a syncopated seal. And of course Mick Talbot knows that stuff and indeed, his stuff.

She encored with the dancey and upbeat Hallelujah Anyway (so that covered the Gospel segment) and left with the announcement that Gods got a plan and that we should hang in there... and something about the President.

Shameful turnout aside, it was a really good gig and a treat to see a singer who's not only still got it but looked like she was still interested. You should have been there.

Nights On Broadway
I Feel The Same
I'm Just A Prisoner (Of Your Good Loving)
I'll Sing A Love Song To You
Breaking Down Slow
Suspicious Minds
Who's Hurting Now
I'd Rather Be An Old Man's Sweetheart (Than A Young Man's Fool)
Stand By Your Man
In The Ghetto
Young Hearts Run Free
You've Got The Love

Hallelujah Anyway