Bunny Sigler - Philly Soul Played Manchester
PHILLY PLAYED MANCHESTER
I wrote a feature prior to the New Century Soul 10th Anniversary Allnighter which related the story of the build up to the gig and thought it might be fun to relate a kinda Part 2. For many fans, it's the hour on stage that lingers in the memory banks and that's just how it should be. But I thought people might enjoy a behind the scenes kind of take of events too.
In the build up to The New Century Soul 10th Anniversary Allnighter there was a lot of 'cloak and dagger' needed to be undertaken. The reason for this was that Chris Waterman intended to surprise Marcelle with a hush hush appearance from her favourite singer Mr Ronnie Walker.
Although quite a few people needed to know about Ronnie's appearance it was to be kept under wraps until he actually appeared on stage. Not an easy task. In the months building up to the event, the band, (The Casino All-Stars from Stockport), practiced the playlist that Chris and I had selected for the event and once happy they sent me the recorded versions that I then forwarded to Philly for Bunny and Ronnie to peruse and comment on.
All went pretty slick and the arrangements for hotels, flights, rehearsals, transport etc were all put in place despite not being able to leave any messages on Chris' phone or an email trail and we all managed to keep everything under wraps until the night. On the Tuesday before the gig I called Bunny and Ronnie and ensured they were happy with all the arrangements, had their airline tickets in their hands and Bev and I flew to UK as the “Advance Party”.
The Wednesday night, we again phoned Philly to ensure the guys were airport bound, which they confirmed they were and settled down to a fantastic dinner at Dave and Janet Ferguson's Burnley home, where we were staying for the night.
A couple of other long time friends/couples completed our party and lots of wine later we retired with the laughter of our close friends still ringing in our ears. Many thanks to The Ferguson's, The Parkers and The Comers for what was a great night.
Up at the crack of dawn, Dave F, Bev and I set off to meet the Philly contingent at Manchester Airport. UK traffic being what it is and USAirways arriving a little early meant that we didn't get the chance to see them arrive which was a shame, as I'd have loved to have seen Bunny swoop through arrivals in his full length fur coat and matching hat! Ever the showman, Top boke!
A quick run to the hotel we were all staying at in Leigh, our esteemed visitors were soon 'tucked up in bed' whilst Bev and I retrieved another car from Burnley and after a dash back to Leigh in order to escort them to dinner we were all esconced in a good old English pub by 6pm. Fish, Chips, Pies and the obligatory mushy peas later, (accompanied by Marguerita in Martha's case bet that was a first for “The Singing Wren” hostelry!) we embarked on the ring road to Pear Studios in Stockport where we were to meet the band and run through the programme for the upcoming Saturday nightshow .
Now I'm gonna be totally honest here and admit that when Chris told me that the band was a local group called the Casino All-Stars that I had my reservations. (Although I'd previously met Paul Kidd in Valencia at the Allnighters there). A quick wander round Google and Youtube gave me an idea as to their skills but I was still a little apprehensive about whether a local combo of limited exposure to the material would be able to do it justice. I needn't have worried. During that first rehearsal it was clear that they'd worked extremely hard in the build up and were more than capable of recreating the music of Madara/White/Huff/Wisner and Len Barry.
By 9pm that evening I was completely confident that The Casino All-Stars would do us (and Stockport), proud. Ronnie ran through his two numbers first and only needed the odd tweak, mainly in relation to how the songs would finish before declaring himself happy with the proceedings and handing over to Bunny. A couple of hours later Bunny was also happy with the edits he and the band made and at the final run through of the session they all sounded great together.
We all retired to Paul and Tina Kidd's place for a bite to eat, a quick drink and then made our way back to Leigh for a well earned night's sleep!
The following day Bunny, Ronnie and I met up in the hotel restaurant, ordered a large pot of coffee and spent a few hours running over details about their careers in the new book I'm working on, whilst Bev and Martha went to spend the afternoon together at a Christmas Market nearby. It's these sessions with the artists, that have for me at least, given me the most pleasure over recent years. Sure, the 45s are still important and the collector gene will always be there but spending time with the creators of our music has now become the focus for me. It was a great few hours listening to them reminiscing about their time in Philadelphia in the sixties and seventies. Their tales littered with legendary names like Buddy Caldwell, John Madara, David White, Jimmy Wisner, Phil Gaber, Clarence Williams, Morris Bailey, Bobby Martin and Leon Huff. Fantastic stuff.
Later that evening John Kane, local collector and the BBC Radio Leeds DJ arrived to conduct an interview with the guys which took place in a quiet corner before we headed off into Manchester City centre for dinner with John and his partner Tracy at PapaG's, which tumed out to be a great choice by John. Great food, great surroundings and even greater company made for a great way to finish off the day. Bunny, ever the showman, latched into a group of young ladies out celebrating one of their birthdays and, after a great meal he entertained them with his acapella version of 'Love Train' surrounded by youngsters who weren't even born when the song was written! Great stuff! We all slept soundly that night before an early breakfast prior to returning to Pear Studios for a final run through of the entire show.
People who know me well will know that it's these rehearsals that really get me tingling. Watching musicians and singers create the sound, layer by layer, is a great experience for me and this session was electrifying. Aware of every nuance of the songs, and of who played the instruments I feel I can actually sense how it must have been back in the day when the early incarnations of MFSB and other musical craftsmen first lifted the notes from the charts and breathed that vibrant life into the music.
Now fully rested, Bunny and Ronnie were full on, the band had now been give a confidence boost from the earlier session and were also now 'going for it'. They had that small room absolutely rockin'! Myself, Bev and Martha were clapping and cheering them on after every number and the end result was a band and their singers all in harmony! Perfect. It was now time to get back to Leigh, shower, change and make our way to the Zinc Bar and Grill in Manchester City centre's Triangle to meet up with fellow 'Hitsviller's' who were hosting a 'Pre Match Dinner' for our guests before the gig.
Somehow 14 of us managed to squeeze into the meagre space the restaurant had allocated us and everyone managed to chat to our guests despite a long oblong table not being an ideal seating arrangement. Bev Parker did eventually lean over and whisper to Bunny “Girl, Promise Me, That One Day You'll Be....” and Bunny being Bunny needed no more encouragement to start singing and the whole table joined in “Girl Don't Make Me Wait Too Long”, much to the puzzlement but pleasure of the rest of the restaurant!
A great moment, that is stored alongside many others that this particular group of friends have enjoyed together over the years. Towards the end of the dinner, Bunny and Ronnie signed some vintage photos for us that I'd put together and everyone took away a couple of signed photos as a momento on the evening. It was now time to get on the road to Radciffe...
The cloak and dagger mission to hide Ronnie from Marcelle continued as Sean Haydon and I drew the cars up outside, met up with Chris and continued round the back entrance. A quick shuftie around to make sure no one was about and we were in. Straight up the stairs and into the dressing rooms and bingo! So far so good. The place was filling up nicely and the band were already there, soundchecked and ready to go. All we needed now was an hour more of secrecy and ít would be mission accomplished. Once I got Bunny and Ronnie settled I took Martha down onto the dance-floor area, hooked her up with Bev Parker and Janet Ferguson and left an excited Mrs Sigler to check out her very first Northern Soul Event! Complete with a glass of British beer! A hectic spin round the bar area and foyer to say hello to a few people I hadn't seen for a while and it was almost showtime!
A quick change into the Monkey Suit for the MC duties whilst DJ Tim Brown introduced the band allowed them to open up with the Van McCoy classic, “You Gonna Make Me Love You”, before delivering their own renditions of “You Shook Me Up” and a solid version of Rose Batiste's “Hit And Run”, on which the group's lead female Sarah Dickens did a more than credible job. The plan was, once the opening numbers were done the band would introduce Chris as a surprise member singing one of Marcelle's favourite songs by Ronnie Walker “You're The One” before substituting Chris for the real thing performed by the man himself. It worked a treat as Marcelle hadn't a clue that her musical hero was in town. As the band struck the opening chords Chris stopped the show and introduced the evening's special guest. Ronnie Walker showed why he's so popular with the UK soul crowd as he opened up his superb high tenor based song with complete aplomb. Marcelle's surprise was complete!
Ronnie then treated us to his Impact Sound Studio classic “Trouble”, a song which of course he wrote and also demo'd up in the famous Castor Avenue studio.
As the applause faded it was time to introduce Mr Sigler. He strutted out on stage, resplendent in his famous all white suit, to the uptempo and raucus “Let The Good Time Roll”. And roll they certainly did. His repertoire of songs first recorded in New York and Philly whilst with John Madara's Double Diamond set up and we enjoyed a great arrangement of “Comparitively Speaking”, a superb, playful interpretation of “For Cryin'Out Loud” and of course the ever popular, “Follow Your Heart”. In between these Northern favourites Bunny also interplayed with the crowd on an acapella version of the Goffin and King standard “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” which of course is the flip to “Comparitively Speaking” and is a song that Bunny is quite well known for in his US homeland.
There was only ever going to be one song that he could finish with and I have to admit to a small smile of satisfaction when the keyboard and sax player opened up that brilliant intro by Leon Huff that I've loved for over 35 years and Bunny milked “Girl, Don't Make Me wait To Long” before leaving the stage, waiting a moment or two and then returning to treat us to one more verse. As the band finished the song Dave Raistrick took up the mantle of DJ and, as the night returned to vinyl formats, it was great to show Bunny the dance floor reaction to a song he'd written that was recorded by his late brother. Benny Sigler “Who You Gonna Turn To” - Phil LA of Soul 314. (This 45 was then given to Bunny by Steve Frear which was a great gesture on Steve's part). I allowed myself another small smile as Bunny and I watched from the stage-wings as the dancefloor filled up to his brother's 45.
Once regrouped Bev and Martha established a point in the foyer where the guys could sign photos, memorabilia and have their photos taken with people although it took me a full 15 minutes to get through the foyer with them as people grabbed the opportunity for a pic and chat. Both Bunny and Ronnie were overwhelmed with people's reaction to their performances and by 3am it was obvious that they needed to get some rest. Martha and I went back to the dressing room and packed everything up (including fellow 'Hitsviller' Denny Johnson's jacket and newly purchased 45!) and by 0330 we were en route back to the hotel in Leigh. On the journey, it was great to hear Bunny and Ronnie talking about the reception they'd received, the respect they had for UK fans and how they'd like to do gigs like NCSC every weekend! By 5am the artists were in their rooms and Bev and I sat having a final coffee before heading off to our room to catch some shuteye too.
A restful Sunday than slipped by until Chris and Marcelle arrived around 530pm, booked in and we all met up in the foyer ready for an early dinner just up the road at a local pub. That evening's dinner was a chance for us all to relax, job done and the conversation reflected this. With no Margueritas available Martha resorted to UK beer and I enjoyed a couple of scoops myself having been the designated driver for the week! As Bunny, Ronnie and I talked about the heyday days of Philadelphia, the conversation meandered to the Chitlin' Circuit and the subject of Southern Soul food after which the string of theatres was nicknamed came up. At this stage things like pig's feet, grits, scrabble and chicken's feet were mentioned and Bunny delivered the quote of the trip with the quip: “Man... I didn't know chickens had bodies 'til I was almost fully growed!” Fantastic and it ranks alongside a number of others that the Hitsvillers have experienced on our trips.
After a great meal, served by some great people who Bunny cemented a relationship with, especially Laura the young waitress, we all retired back to the hotel to pack for an early move to Manchester Airport the following morning. Despite a 3 hour delay and our guests being sad to leave, they were all looking forward to getting home to Philly. Martha and Bunny had only moved house a couple of days before arriving and were still half unpacked! Bags checked in, boarding passes in hand, final group-shot photos taken and it was time to say farewell. As the three of then went up the escalator to the departure lounge and dropped out of sight, I couldn't help but feel a glow that they'd had such a wonderful time. I couldn't help but think of my old Mates Alan Pollard, Dave Pointon and Glenn Hunter and how they'd have enjoyed it all. It was great week for me. It's really what I still find exciting about the souls scene. It's a regular comment I make but it gets stronger for me as the years pass, even as an avid record collector for over 35 years. The records are still important, but it's the people who created the music that are REALLY important.
Of course these events can't be conducted by only a few people, not only would it be logistically impossible but financially it would be too much of a strain and so to the following people I offer our (Chris, Bev and mine), heartfelt thanks. For helping to making two of our heroes feel so special, without you it simply couldn't have happened. From lending your car to a simple phone call it was all very much appreciated: Janet and Dave Ferguson, Bev and Kev Parker, Sean Haydon and Jayne Hope, Paul and Tina Kidd, Billy Foster, Denny Johnson , Chris Dalton, Keith Money, Steve Frear, John Kane, Rob Wigley and of course The Casino AllStars.
For next year? Who knows......but I have got one or two things up my sleeve if Chris and Marcelle are up for it ;-)
Dave Moore : Dec '13
added by site
Dave's earlier article
Soul Legend Bunny Sigler En Route to Manchester Allnighter 30th Nov 2013
Chalky posted videos from the above via this thread in the Video Forum
Jerry HipkissDec 16 2013 05:16 PM
Great article Dave - well done!
pk 22djDec 16 2013 06:47 PM
Thanks Dave for bringing back the memories of a fantastic night for me and the band. Hope to meet up in Spain next year mate.
jockoDec 16 2013 06:55 PM
Top write up, top sentiments and just plain dogs bollocks of an experience.
stevie frearDec 17 2013 03:36 PM
Brilliant review Dave,Thanks for sharing those magnifico memories.It was a great pleasure and honner for me to be apart of that fantastac story and meeting Bunny himself.... handing over the 45 give me great pleasure and was nothing compared to to joy Bunny as given me and many of us over the bygone years !
jerrioDec 17 2013 03:40 PM
Well done to all concerned,A brilliant Night,Many Thanks.Wrighty.
Keep the Boy HappyDec 17 2013 09:11 PM
Great article as usual Mr M, and a pleasure to be invited along to join in. Great stuff x Bev & Kevin
chalkyDec 18 2013 08:00 AM
Great article Dave and a great night.
Here are his other videos of his performance. I have "Comparatively Speaking" to convert and upload when I get some time.
His first track of the night....
stevie frear likes this Like
Dave MooreDec 18 2013 10:01 AM
Great videos Chalky, thanks for adding them Mate.
souldivawaxDec 18 2013 05:22 PM
Loved it. Was right next to Marcelle when Ronnie Walker came on. Her face was a picture.
Keith MoneyDec 18 2013 10:06 PM
Thanks for a very special night, it was brilliant meeting up for the meal and having some great conversations about our favourite subject soul music.
If you had said to me when I was younger I would be having a meal with Bunny Sigler sitting next to me I would never have believed it.
A truly brilliant night from beginning to end so thanks again to you and Mr Waterman for arranging it.
Thanks also for the pictures of Bunny and Ronnie it is very much appreciated,
Hope to see you soon
dennyjDec 19 2013 03:16 PM
Great read as usual Dave. Easily one of the most memorable nights I've ever had, with the added bonus of catching up with the Hitsville mob again and meeting Keith M - see you all in September if not before. Chris W deserves a special mention for his 50 mile round trip to deliver my cashmere overcoat that you "looked after" for me .... 8-)
chalkyDec 21 2013 06:40 PM
Here is the final video...