Thursday, August 07, 2008

Say it loud

My home town puts on a Harbour Festival every year. Increasingly it seems to be turning into a music festival, which is no bad thing – especially as it’s all free. On the bill last Friday were Still Black, Still Proud. Described as an African tribute to James Brown, the band leader is none other than Alfred “Pee Wee “ Ellis and he is more than ably assisted by Fred Wesley amongst others. I nearly fell off my chair when I saw them billed – and it was only 24 hours before they were due to play. I phoned a friend, alerted him, and told him to make sure he wore his Parliament Mothership Connection t-shirt!

We tried, but failed, to drag our ladies along – they preferred the sofa and a bottle of wine – but it was their loss. We caught the bus, fuelled up in the beer tent, and listened to Bristol legend DJ Derek build up the atmosphere with a selection of reggae, soul, and funk classics. Then two presenters from the local commercial radio station appeared and in the space of a couple of minutes managed, in the worst possible Smashy & Nicey way, to destroy that atmosphere AND make the heavens open.

No matter. The rain stopped and Still Black, Still Proud took the stage and treated us to nearly two hours of glorious funk, jazz and African grooves. Pee Wee and Fred were joined centre stage with local alto sax player James Morton. Their set built beautifully and included a mix of instrumentals and vocal numbers, most of which were James Brown classics. Fred Ross had the impossible task of ‘being’ James Brown but, probably helped by the fact that he looks nothing like James and didn’t try any of the moves, did a fine job. He has a great voice, as does Martha High who also pitched in with a few songs, including a great “Try Me”. We both really liked Martha. Fred and her evidently went back a long way but we had never heard of her. A subsequent bit of internet trawling revealed that she was also a long term member of James Brown’s backing bands, and was even for a time James’ hairdresser!

Still Black, Still Proud, with African guests Cheikh Lo and Vieux Farka Toure, are hitting a few cities in the States later this month – they’re well worth a trip.

In the 70s the JBs released records under their own name… and many others. With Fred Wesley in the band, that included The Last Word, The Devils, The First Family, and Fred & The New JBs (and possibly also the 1975 incarnations AABB (Above Average Black Band) and The Hustlers, although I’m not sure as Fred left the JBs for the P-Funk Mothership in 1975). Martha High will I’m sure have been on background vocals on some of these records too.

Here’s both sides of The Last Word single from 1974. The A side's title is topical all over again at the moment. On the B side Fred’s slidy thing is particularly evident!

The Last Word – Keep On Bumpin’ Before You Give Out Of Gas (mp3) 1974
The Last Word – Funky & Some (mp3) 1974

Both these tracks are on a CD compilation “Funky & Some” which was released in 1996. Good luck on tracking it down at a reasonable price!

1 comment:

Davy H said...

You lacky, lacky bastard - that sounds like it was a crackin' night out and, fan as I am myself of the sofa/wine combo, wish I'd been there. Gloria got heavy play in SW France by the way, and was generally acclaimed x