Photo credit: Andy Teo of Photocillin
Soul Family Sunday with Guests Hattie Whitehead and Beardyman (Ronnie Scott’s Debut)
(Ronnie Scott’s. 18 February 2018. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
Natalie Williams has just clocked up 11 years of Soul Family Sundays at Ronnie Scott’s. This show has therefore been running as a regular and successful fixture for almost all the time since the club changed hands in 2005. And yes, successful it is. The March session is already sold out, even taking into account that the club expands its capacity by removing the tables and the bar stools in front of the bar for a couple of dozen hardy folk to stand throughout the show.
There is the regularity and consistency of a residency – I don’t believe the show has been reviewed for a year, since THIS – but the surprise of the night, the Ronnie Scott’s debut of Beardyman (Darren Foreman), felt like a major, newsworthy event, particularly considering his particularly compelling brand of nowhere-to-hide authenticity.
Soul Family Sundays have a party vibe -– and a birthday vibe too. The tight pews in Ronnies don’t allow many people to get up and dance, but towards the end a couple of bar staff who had served their seated customers and cashed in were starting to move to the music in an aisle, both brandishing their brightly lit remote credit card terminals and making circles in the air to the music with them.
Birthdays. There seemed to be no end of them in the audience to be celebrated last night, and from 18-year-olds to people in their 70s. And there were also birthdays on stage. Pianist Phil Peskett was celebrating one, and Natalie Williams will also be celebrating a significant one this week, which gave her cause to remimisce that when she started Soul Family (in her late 20s – do the math), “the point was to play my original music monthly”.
The format is soul originals, soul covers, and guests. Both with the material and with the band there is a happy mixture of the tried, tested and trusted, and the completely new. “That’s the way we roll,” she said in her very own welcoming and utterly friendly way.
The soul covers started to emerge later on, and the ones that stay in mind are Sharleen Hector’s infectiously driving versions of Otis Redding’s classic Hard to Handle and Whitney Houston’s I’m You’re Baby Tonight. All of the members of the vocal quartet move seamlessly from lead to backing vocals. Nick Sherm was replacing Soul Family regular Brendan Reilly, but had clearly put in the hours to learn the repertoire, and was thoroughly impressive.
The band was a constant reminder of how high the bar in professionalism is set in London. Jamie Cullum’s saxophonist Tom Richards is known in the role of arranger/composer, but last night was adding instantly composed backing figures and with trumpeter Tom Walsh was adding at the end of numbers to the inexorable sense of build, of letting the arrangements progressively grow in volume and intensity. Among the rhythm players there is a formidable tightness and springiness. I found my ear being caught again and again by the solid underpinning supplied by drummer Martyn Kaine. All I can say is the last drummer I heard playing with that same air of being in command was Peter Erskine in Germany a couple of weeks ago.
The guests brought different styles and vistas. Hattie Whitehead is a highly original singer/songwriter, Nick Sherm was joined by his brother and Goldsmoke co-conspirator Tom, but the main event was the Ronnie Scott’s debut in the form of a mini-set from Beardyman. His set began with impressive beatboxing, and then he proceeded to show a far wider musical range. His original song Hindsight was like a cousin of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Daydream. When he switched to piano for Nobody Does It Better, he gave a performance which revealed a musical, vocal and stage presence which will definitely stay in the mind for a long time.
Vocals: Vula Malinga, Sharlene Hector, Nick Sherm
Trumpet: Tom Walsh
Tenor sax: Tom, Richards
Guitar: Al Cherry
Piano: Phil Peskett
Bass: Rob Mullarkey
Drums: Martyn Kaine
Vocals / Direction: Natalie Williams
Hattie Whitehead and Laura Jane Hunter
My Oh My
Little Did We Know
GUEST: Hattie Whitehead with Laura Jane Hunter
Nothing Compares to You (feature for Vula and Phi; Peskett)
Would You Do That? **( feature for Sharleen Hector)
Rocketship **(Feature for Nick Sherm)
GUEST : Beardyman
(Loop / Jam)
So Long Now
Nobody Does it Better
I’m Your Baby Tonight (Whitney)
Someone Like You (Goldsmoke / Nick Sherm)
Hard to Handle (featur for Shaleen Hector
When You Come To Me
NOTE: (**) Tracks included in Soul Family’s most recent EP