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Most briefly spoke to at weekend who had caught Bobby Womacks shows over the weekend says they were good ones, anyone like to pass on views?

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Guest Johnny One Trout

Appologies to the people that have read this elsewhere but here's what my missus had to say about things at Brum

Note. Modern soul alert for those of you easily offended on the Northern lists

Just surfaced from a fine weekend of soul and one of the best live performances I have seen in a long while, and wasn't Bobby Womack (who was very good but in the vein of some big name artists neglected to perform some of the tunes the British soul crowd expected and wanted to hear.)

As we live relatively close to Birmingham we had decided not to stay at the Hilton this time, but travel to and from the venue. Saved us a few hundred quid although my credit card is still reeling from the bar prices. (A tenner for a double brandy, almost £3 for a bottle of mineral water, £8 for a hair of the dog Bloody Mary, £12.50 for a cheeseburger and get the picture. I am far from tight with money but its bloody extortionate !)

The promotion itself isn't bad value when you consider what you get, 5 dance rooms, 24 hour service, discounted drinks, good quality accommodation etc. It's what the Hilton take off you when you get there that stings a bit so my gripe is with their pricing policy, not with the promoters.

Decided to miss the Friday night when the live performance was from Snowboy, respected DJ, producer, performer with the Latin Section blah blah blah. I would have like to have seen him (adore his version of Lucky Fellow with Noel McKoy) but 3 days at the Hilton plus spendies costs more than a week in the Med so something had to give. I also had to attend my sons speech day on Saturday and as I already have a rep as a hard living mutha I thought I had better not turn up bleary eyed and knackered from an up all night session.

As usual, the JazzFM weekenders offer 5 rooms with a variety of soul from an eclectic range of DJ's including Richard Searling, Colin Curtis, Neil Rushton, Ralph Tee, Mike Stephens, Bigger, Roger Williams, Ged Lunt, Bob Jeffries, Barry Maleady etc.

We could choose from the vibe in The Lounge (mellow old and new), The Pavilion for Jazz Funk & Soulful dance, Westminster offered Nu school and Old School, The Colonial - alternative flavas and last but not least The Terrace for Collectors soul and Rare Groove which was where we ensconced ourselves for most of the weekend with fellow reprobates (and our best man) Paul Clarke & Duchess Jo Bomber Harris.

There was also a record room and The Monarch suite which was home to the live acts, Bobby Womack on Saturday night and Impromp2 on Sunday afternoon. So whilst the cost of the weekend is definitely on the high side, you can't say that they don't offer you plenty of choice from Jamaican soul and reggae and 60's soul through all the spectrums of modern soul...and of course top quality acts.

However the purpose of this review was to report on Bobby Womack (and get my mag articles written whilst still fresh in my mind), a hero of mine since I was a young soul fan in the seventies. He arrived on stage and gave an intro arrangement to warm up those treacle vocals and launched into Across 110th of my favourites (non Bobby fans will recognise this from the soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown). Oh yes, he still has the voice alright. Stand out moments were ballads such as Wish he didn't trust me so much and anything where the stunning voice of Altrina Grayson, his backing singer on the tour, was allowed to shine. But...what slightly disappointed many of us was there was NO Home is where the heart is, NO So many sides of you, NO How could you break my heart etc. I know that Richard has specifically told BW which songs the crowd would go wild for, and it seems a little churlish that he chose not to include them in his repertoire however the show was slick, the backing band tight, Ms Grayson an absolute superstar, and overall I loved the show. Mind you, Womack has a bit of a rep for being a prima donna so maybe he was just being true to type.

I had seen Bobby back in the 80's at Hammersmith Odeon and would say that IMO he was just as good vocally as he was back then and let's be honest, he's not a young man anymore. There was a hint of superstar attitude and he neglected to perform any encores (he has done two the previous night in London I had heard) but the tom-tom gossip drums of the soul scene tell me that he'd had allegedly had a row with his ex who had accompanied him on tour, which maybe put him on a bit of a downer. Unlike many artists that I see at weekenders (and in complete contrast to the fantastic friendly artists we met in LA) he stayed in his room, refused requests for autographs and kept away from the throbbing hoards. Shame, I always feel that soul fans as a rule are extremely respectful to our heroes, don't hassle them, just want to let them know how much we appreciate their talent. Colin Dilnot did manage to have a quick photo taken with him, and Bob Jeffries was sat at the next table during dinner last night and managed to get a civil word so he wasn't all tantrums and tiaras. (I'd suggested retrospectively that it might have been a good idea if Bob had managed to swipe Bobby's cutlery...wonder how much a Womack soup spoon would go for on e-bay ?)

In contrast to one of the all time greats, newer kids on the block are Impromp2 from LA, produced by the talented Scotsman Steve Harvey, who was the drummer as well for this performance. Their slogan and modus operendi is that they blend Hip Hop with jazz and old school funk. Sounds messy ? No not at all. Sounds too "In yer face" way; it amalgamates into a really smooth easy on the ear, happy sound. I'm not anti hip hop as long as it's subtle and this was understated to the extreme. The two front men of the band were very charismatic and had the crowd (a much smaller crowd than had turned up for Bobby - it was a bad move putting them on Sunday afternoon) eating out of the palm of their hand. Bobby Womacks vocalist Altrina Grayson hopped onto the stage for an "impromptu" duet and we came away really impressed. I'd heard good things about a PA they had performed at the King Georges Hall in Blackburn a few months back but together with their dead tight band these guys are bloody good. I am a convert and a fan, I love contemporary soul and jazz anyway but this twist on the genres sounded both classic and refreshing at the same time J The main vocalist is Sean Mac and his partner in the band Johnny Britt has more than a hint of Marvin Gaye about his voice. I closed my eyes a few times and it could have been the man himself. They threw in tributes to Earth Wind and Fire, Creative Source, Parliament, Anita Baker and Tom Browne, not as straight covers worked brilliantly. Soul Sam was stood near us and was so taken with the band that he spent the rest of the night wearing an Impromptu T shirt and using his mike talk time to tell everyone how brilliant they were. Everyone was raving, although a couple of mates didn't go for the Hip Hop vibe but overall if you like contemporary soul music these guys are great and offer up something a little different. There was a real and tangible connection with the audience that Superstar Bobby didn't choose to give us. There was very sexy quality to their performance that made a few of the audience hot under the collar; sounds cheesy but when that "girl I'm gonna give it to you REAL slow" routine is done well with an unsuspecting lady from the audience as their blushing victim ...well put it this way there were a few people rushing for the bedrooms after the show !

All in all a great weekend, as always the music offered in the Connoisseurs room suited me down to the ground and a DJ line up such as Bob Hinsley, Terry Jones, Gary Dennis, Dave Thorley, Snowboy, and Soul Sam is my kinda heaven.

The Saturday night in particularly was superb, when the dance rooms closed down for the night everyone convened in a massive lounge and bar, with the DJ's kicking off on the Technics again until about 6 in the morning. We crashed out in our mate Gary Fields room and I awoke the next day with a hangover that felt like it would kill me.

Still one of my favourite events of the year, wouldn't miss one of these now for all the tea in China. Richard Searling gets it almost exactly right every time, and when something doesn't quite work, he's the first to spot it and make it right next time round.

The Hilton facilities are second to none, the bar prices are criminal, but what is promised is always delivered (this was the 4th weekender) and improved upon from the previous event. There's a sense of a real "happening" and whilst there isn't the down to earth camaraderie of the traditional weekend by the seaside in a smelly caravan much beloved by the Northern Soul fraternity, there is music on offer to appeal to everyone except maybe the die hard R&B crowd. After I attended the first JazzFM weekender in January 2003, I decided that this kind of function was the way forward (for me personally) and I still believe that most of us are demanding higher standards as we get older. As long as the promotion team keep offering me acts the quality of Womack and Impromp2 they can keep me on their mailing list.

I rate it a 9/10.

Alison Nightingale (was Holden)

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