Nick Morgan and crew
Review by Nick Morgan
THE FUNK BROTHERS Ronnie Scott’s, London,
January 18th 2007
Scott’s was closed for much of last year for
refurbishment, but I’m delighted to report
that although the red and white checked tablecloths
are sadly no more, and a smoking ban is now in place
and the lavatories have been brought into the twentieth
(or should that be twenty-first century?) little
has been lost by way of atmosphere or intimacy.
Tonight is apparently the quietest night in London
of the year – it’s the day when everyone
feels the Christmas pinch on their bank-balance
the most. London (like the rest of the UK and much
of Europe) has also been battered by storms. So
it isn’t that much of a surprise that the
place is not more than two thirds full despite the
presence of one of the legends of sixties soul.
legends are the
Funk Brothers, the Tamla
Motown studio band who between them played on
more hits than the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones,
Elvis Presley and the Beatles (as we’re reminded
at rather frequent intervals), creating a unique
mix of jazz, blues and rock that simply defined
the term ‘soul music’. Until recently
they were relatively unknown and uncelebrated, but
a book followed by a 2002 film, Standing
in the Shadows of Motown, changed all of that.
And I have to say that the award winning movie makes
compelling viewing, made up of interviews and live
performances from a group of eight or so of the
surviving original musicians (perhaps the most regarded,
bassist James Jamerson, died in 1983, fortunately
the much admired drummer Richard “Pistol”
Allen lived just long enough to make the film) and
guest vocalists. A good number of these made it
across to the UK for a memorable (I’m told)
concert series in 2004.
tonight we have only two Funk Brothers on stage.
There’s band leader, percussionist Jack Ashford
(“Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the tambourine
that defined the Tamla Motown sound”), who
also plays vibraphone, and keyboard player Joe Hunter.
Hunter’s an old man (he was the first musician
to join Berry Gordy at Hitsville USA, and had left
by the early 1960s before the most famous hits were
recorded). He’s frail and takes an age to
get to his Hammond B3 – and when he does there’s
not a great deal to show for it – in fact
I half suspected it had been switched off, or at
least turned down a few notches. There are some
‘names’ in the line up – drummer
Derek Organ is a veteran session-man who played
regularly with Janet Jackson, Gregory
Wright on keyboards is a retained producer for
Tamla Motown, guitarist Angelo Earl is a Memphis-based
performer and producer.
and lead front man Larry Johnson was plucked from
Bar-Keys. But really it’s no more than a very
high-quality Tamla Motown tribute band, and it’s
hard not to think that there’s a bit of going-through-the-motions
in the phoney Soul Revue style enthusiasm that Johnson
keeps on trying to pump up through the night.
would blame Ashford or Hunter for wanting to cash
in, somewhat belatedly, on work that accumulated
vast fortunes for some, but not for them? Not me.
Particularly as they were dumped, like Detroit,
in 1972 when the label moved lock stock and barrel
to Los Angeles, losing as many would say, their
groove in the process. But really it’s the
sort of night that might make you want to reach
for a copy of the Trades Description Act and read
on ‘passing off’ very closely.
yes – and to compound our misery it took
us hours to get home in the rain and wind, not
helped by a glimpse of what could have been the
Funk Brothers’ Bentley parked outside the
club as we left. - Nick Morgan (photographs
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