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12,399 (and counting) posts since we started blogging 12 years ago. 118 of them this year alone and, so far, 118 this month (Jan. 25).

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Mavis Staples @ The Boiler Shop, Newcastle - July 13

Mavis Staples (vocals); Rick Holmstrom (guitar, vocals); Jeff Turmes (bass guitar); Stephen Hodges (drums); Vicki Randle (vocals); Donny Gerrard (vocals) + Benjamin Booker (vocals) 
(Review by Russell)
The Boiler Shop on South Street, the historic site of Stephenson's Works, the workshop in which George and Robert Stephenson built the first locomotives - Locomotion and Rocket - has been lovingly restored to its former glory.  

On a sweltering Friday evening, Sage Gateshead's concert promotion across the Tyne in Newcastle attracted a near capacity crowd to hear a set of blues, gospel and r 'n' b by one of the enduring figures in popular music. 

The Staples Singers first came to public attention in 1949 and since then the family, for many years guided by Pops Staples, has continued to preach the gospel, the book of good music. Mavis Staples, seventy-nine years young last Tuesday, took to the stage to a heroic reception from an adoring crowd. Backed by her long-serving trio - Rick Holmstrom, guitar, Jeff Turmes, bass and drummer Stephen Hodges - and friends Vicki Randle and Donny Gerrard supplying sublime backing vocals, Staples worked the crowd for seventy-five minutes, later returning to the stage to deliver a fifteen-minute encore. 
The voice as strong as ever, Staples exuded love and warmth in a non-stop set of classic material and songs from her current album If All I Was Was Black. 1972's Billboard chart-topping I'll Take You There espoused love and togetherness but before that Staples revived memories of Dr Martin Luther King and the civil rights marches, singing Who Told You That? - an admonishment of those who have failed to stand up and challenge the pernicious political forces of our times. We Go High took as its inspiration the words of Michelle Obama in seeking to empower the young. Yes, Staples was in no mood to take anymore BS. Preaching to the converted in an historic, converted engineering workshop, Staples said she could feel the love. 
Civil rights, Black Lives Matter, Staples was only too well aware of how some things have changed very little and her invitation to Benjamin Booker to join her on stage to sing the eponymous song Witness from his 2017 album further illustrated that generations apart - the age difference between Staples and Booker is 50 years - there is still much work to be done. 

Earlier Benjamin Booker played a half hour support set. Benjamin Booker, vocals and guitar accompanied by Sam Coles, guitar and vocals won new friends here on Tyneside. Booker's vocal style is unusually husky, husky rather than hoarse, at times wrought, the voice of a singer-songwriter. His occasional guitar playing was just that, occasional and for accompaniment only. Sam Coles played the guitar parts, themselves pared down contributions with minimal vocal backing. Booker's Witness - think Can I Get a Witness? (Marvin Gaye) - spoke to the Black Lives Matter campaign. Pertinently, poignantly, Mavis Staples would later invite Booker to join her in reprising his timely composition. 

An evening of blues, gospel and r 'n' b with as much soul as you could possibly wish for. Staples said she'd be back. Let's hold her to that.  

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