Paul Rodgers’ latest venture, ‘The ‘Royal Sessions’, is a collaboration with Memphis blues and soul musicians, an album that brings back the heady days of the late 60s when English musicians were the catalyst for bringing this music into the mainstream paving the way for the hard rock and Metal scene.
Words: Liz Medhurst
Photos: Noel Buckley
Paul listened to the classic R&B tracks growing up in Middlesbrough, the music having an affinity with northern industrial towns, and tonight was a chance to revisit these amazing tracks with some of the great session musicians from the famed Royal Studios.
The Royal Albert Hall was a fitting setting to be treated to an impressive performance that showed exactly how well the two fit together, in a fundraiser for the amazing Willows Animal Sanctuary.
First up was the striking Deborah Bonham, playing a sparse set of just vocals and piano which showed just how good her voice is.
Bonham wasn’t intimidated by the large venue at all. A warm hearty set where she totally impressed on the ballads, pouring all her heart and soul into ‘Duchess’ and ‘I Need Love’.
Ending her appreciative set with a story about how she and her brother John used to listen to vinyl records together including ‘Stay With Me Baby’ which got approving applause.
The main set began with introductions to the band by producer Perry Margouleff which brought home just how much a part of history they are. These guys were the original session players on classics by Al Green, Ike and Tina Turner, Ann Peebles and so many more.
The quality of these musicians was incredible and for me Charles Hodges schooling everyone on how to draw high-end tones from a Hammond B3 to perfection was the highlight.
After the first instrumental track, Paul Rodgers sauntered out on stage, Middlesbrough meeting Memphis in a blend that came right from the heart.
The first impression that strikes is That Voice. Rich, strong, sensual and full of soul. He can also move – really well. Paul knows how to command a stage, and he doesn’t need swagger or showmanship – a few twirls of the mike stand here and there but he owned that stage, taking over all of the considerable open space and being relaxed enough to shake hands with the audience when the mood took him, without missing a beat.
Soul songs dominated the most of the main set, his voice being incredibly well suited to this style. By the time we got to ‘Any Ole Way’ it was clear that this gig was going to be Paul and the band enjoying every moment, in celebratory mode.
Only two Free/Bad Company songs made the set, the first one being ‘Walk In My Shadow’ from the 1969 ‘Tons Of Sobs’ album which was given a treatment that suited it very well. It was the blues tracks, ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ and ‘The Hunter’- both originally done by Albert King and the latter being covered by Free in the past – that really shone however, adding some heat to proceedings.
The technical brilliance of the performance was outstanding, although by the time we had reached this point there was something slightly missing that I tried to put my finger on. It was so right and fitting that this was at the Albert Hall, the scene of so many historic rock performances… however this is not the sort of music that is best experienced sitting down. It gets right into your hips and you need to be up and dancing.
As soon as I’d twigged this was the thing that was bothering me, the band launched into ‘Can’t Get Enough’ and the whole hall was on its feet. This was more like it! Just as everyone was settling in to the groove though, the main set was over, and things quietened down again.
The string section came on stage for the first song of the encore, and the introduction sounded almost Pink Floyd-esque mixed with the backing vocals and vibey guitar, and then as the first verse started we were treated to a version of ‘Walk On By’ that was very far removed from the Dionne Warwick version. As good as the original was, this raised it to new heights and was stunning.
Following ‘Wonderful World’ and ‘I’ve Got Dreams To Remember’ the band left the stage and the house lights came on. Many people had already left when the band came back to the stage for a second encore of ‘Call It Stormy Monday’, a confusing state of affairs but rewarding for those of us who had delayed leaving their seats.
As Paul and the band took their final bow the overall feeling was that this has been an immensely satisfying and enjoyable evening, a privilege to be in the company of such talent, sheer class through and through.
Down Don’t Bother Me (Albert King cover)
Shake (Sam Cooke cover)
That’s How Strong My Love Is (O.V. Wright cover)
Any Ole Way (Otis Redding cover)
I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now) (Otis Redding cover)
I Can’t Stand the Rain (Ann Peebles cover)
It’s Growing (The Temptations cover)
Champagne and Wine (Otis Redding cover)
Walk In My Shadow (Free song)
I Thank You (Sam & Dave cover)
Born Under a Bad Sign (Albert King cover) (with Perry Margouleff)
The Hunter (Albert King cover) (with Perry Margouleff)
Can’t Get Enough (Bad Company song) (with Perry Margouleff)
Walk On By (Dionne Warwick cover)
Wonderful World (Sam Cooke cover)
I’ve Got Dreams to Remember (Otis Redding cover)
Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just as Bad) (T-Bone Walker cover)
Paul Rodgers – Vocals
Reverend Charles Hodges Sr. – Hammond B3
Leroy Hodges Jr. – Bass Guitar
Archie “Hubby” Turner – Wurlitzer
Michael Toles – Guitar
Steve Potts – Drums
The Royal Horns: Marc Franklin – Trumpet, James L. Spake – Baritone Sax, Gary Topper – Tenor Sax, Lannie “The Party” McMillan Jr. – Tenor Sax.
The Royal Singers: Shontelle and Sharisse Norman