Wednesday, 16 October 2013


Review by Dara Yazdani

Sometimes I worry that I may be cursed by the Gods of Soul. I have a terrible track record of watching artists perform only for them to kick the bucket shortly after. James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Terry Callier: all dead within a year of my watching their shows. I am the human equivalent of that video in The Ring.

With this in mind I was slightly concerned when 65yr old Charles Bradley halted his performance after a handful of songs, mumbled complaints of tiredness into the microphone and sloped off stage. Could the curse have struck again?

Luckily, the interruption was only brought on by some sound gremlins that were bothering the sensitive Bradley and the need to change from one outlandish costume to another. 


You see, Bradley is an anachronism, a relic, a throwback.  Most importantly he is one hell of a character. In an era of detached cool his showmanship recalls a halcyon musical period where band members were fined for missing a beat and medallion-men with hairy chests bestrode the musical landscape unafraid to wear their hearts on their diamond encrusted sleeves.
Bradley’s quirks may be a result of his troubled past which is lengthy and well documented. Not knowing his father, abandoned by his mother at 8, homeless at 14, a life working in itinerant jobs, almost dying through illness and witnessing the aftermath of his brother's brutal murder.  With history this chequered he has surely earnt his PhD in heartache and pain.  

His turbulent past is evident in his impassioned delivery.  Together with his previous sideline as low budget James Brown impersonator "Black Velvet", at times you can close your eyes and hear the Godfather of Soul, right down to the same vocal tics and nuances. If you are going to steal, you may as well steal from the best.

It's not just in vocal delivery that Bradley echoes his musical hero. After a thumping horn-laden medley of Ike Turner’s Funky Mule and The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer In The City by his superb seven piece backing band The Extraordinaires,  Charles is grandiosely welcomed on stage by their keyboardist, and Zack Galifinakis lookalike, William Schalda Jr, in an echo the legendary introductions given by James Brown's personal MC, Danny Ray.

"Please welcome to the stage: The Screaming Eagle of Soul!  Chaaaaaarles Bradley!"

Dressed in an all white jumpsuit with gold embroidery you would be forgiven for thinking, as a tribute to Brighton, he was performing as the "Squawking Seagull of Soul" albeit for one night only.

Opener Love Bug Blues first introduces Bradley's trademark scream which is capable of pealing the enamel off your teeth. Rhodes keyboard and call and response backing vocals provide a soothing counterpoint to Bradley’s yelps.

Crying In The Chapel is an old smoocher in an Al Green/Van Morrison vein with its delightful horn swells reminding you of the golden era of Stax. It shows Bradley is not a one trick funk pony and can do the slow stuff when needed.

We up the tempo with the chugging funk of The World (Is Going Up in Flames) complete with its rhythmic guitar fills and staccato horns borrowed from James Brown’s The Payback.  This is a style that really suits Bradley’s gritty sand-paper screech.

It’s about this time that the big man has a costume change emerging from backstage dressed as a pimped out bullfighter in a spangled black bolero jacket. Bradley does have the air of a latter day James Brown about him, circa Living in America, with his strut, paunch and big hair. 

Only during the upbeat swing of You Put the Flame On It does Bradley’s lover man caricature venture into the ridiculous when he starts licking his finger and rubbing his nipples whilst gyrating against the mike stand.  It’s the sort of behaviour you expect from an over-excited account manager after he has had one too many beers at the office Christmas party.  Despite, or perhaps because of, this you cannot help but enjoy the spectacle of a pensioner behaving so disgracefully.

For me the highlight of the night is Confusion’s hard funk workout, its fuzz guitar a tribute to Curtis Mayfield’s Don’t Worry (If There's a Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go). It’s not every day you see a Theremin used in the flesh and Bradley plays it like he is landing aircraft. He even has time for a Peter Crouch endorsed robot dance moves during the musical freak out. 

For the obligatory encore we are encouraged "to get intimate" with the gorgeous doo wop harmonies and paired down sound of Victim of Love.  Bradley says the lyrics to this on are particularly personal to him.  The sparse arrangement and spoken work interludes recall Isaac Hayes on his confessional …To Be Continued album. Bradley’s proclamations to the audience to love their fellow man would sound cheesy coming from anyone else but from him you sense a sincerity.

Finally, Bradley goes to church on signature tune Why Is It So Hard? (To Make It In America). Thematically in the same ballpark as the socially conscious records What’s Going On? and Innervisions it brings shame on us all that the economic disparities and political corruption spotlighted in this song ring as true today as they did in the early 70’s. 

After this autobiographical tale about Bradley’s hardships he jumps into the audience while the band continues to play, on a one man hug mission. When you have had it as bad as Bradley only the stoniest of hearts would deny him this small indulgence.

There can be no doubting he’s paid the cost to be the boss.

Review by Dara Yazdani

Photos by Mike Burnell (all use to be agreed in writing)

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