We have just spent the weekend with some old friends at their lovely home in South East London. They have plenty of room now, as like us, their offspring have largely left. They had put a lot of effort in to ensure we had a good time and had arranged a dinner and concert in town for our visit.
More about our dinner at Skylon in the Royal Festival hall another time but our table must have had one of the best views in London looking out over the river. Perhaps the organisers of the Lord Mayor’s Show fireworks could be a bit more considerate next time. We could only see half of them!
After dinner , we moved next door to the Queen Elizabeth Hall for a concert featuring Ben L’Oncle Soul as part of the London Jazz Festival. Ben (he changed his surname from Duterde, as you would , to Uncle Ben’s rice ) is a French soul singer signed to French Motown. Here is a man who has studied the Stax, Atlantic and Motown catalogue from Sixties really well, found himself some great musicians, decided on a bizarre “Preppy” stage look and brought it all together in an admirably energetic and slick show.
This guy is a master of the old style revue. You could not deny he has a good voice, able to mimic Wilson Pickett, Ray Charles even Stevie Wonder at times and many others, that the band were very tight and he gave full value for money. His encores lasted longer than his show. The bulk of the audience loved it but then they were either under 40 and thus perhaps not familiar with the finer points of this music from the first time around or they were French. If you are French, then your musical heritage is what? Charles Aznavour, Johnny Halliday, Vanessa Paradis and Daft Punk……L’Oncle Ben is therefore a genius.
What I personally found somewhat off putting were the blatant “borrowings”. Long stretches of James Brown’s Live at The Apollo, for instance. One song started as a rip off of Ray Charles’s “Drowning in my own tears”, moved into a thinly disguised Moses & Joshua Dillard’s ” My Elusive Dreams” and finished uptempo as theft of “Can’t turn you loose” by Otis. This particular song was not a first offence, echoes of many more continued throughout the show.
He was better at the points in his concert where he sang in his “own voice”. I also found the whole “put your hands together and get on your feet” a bit much, especially as it was right from the start. His original dress sense was just a little too camp and the back up vocalists started to grate after a while. The finale with lots of middle class white people being brought on stage from their seats in the front row, to dance self consciously with fixed smiles and taking videos of each other on their smartphones was unfortunately all a bit cringe-worthy. As the lights went up and we left, almost exhausted, Ben and his Bro’s were still there doing an acapella “Barbie Girl”…I got my coat.