Music

Charles Bradley Live

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The night is already kicking, thanks to a soundtrack of should be hits from the Daptone label and its subsidiaries. If you’re fortunate, an opening band (say, The Junk Yard Dogs for instance) that knows how to cook primes you up. The seconds tick by as the crowd grows larger and larger, standing room only around the stage.

The Extraordinaires roll out first. Wide eyed and bushy tailed, they look like kids, but one could venture to guess every last one of them could be called an “old soul.” Two man brass section, a drummer, a bassist, a guitar, another guitar, a drummer, a keyboardist. They play a couple of numbers all on their own to set the mood.

Only then does the keyboardist step up to the mic and start hyping The Man You Came To See in the style of M.C.s of yesteryear. “Are you ready to ROCK? Are you ready to ROLL? Are you ready to PARTY?” Everyone who came indeed came to do all 3, but they also came to look cool. Composure is kept.

When the band starts blowing up and Charles Bradley struts out, you know you’re witnessing something. Mr.Bradley looks like he’s going to cry as he looks out over the packed to capacity audience of wide eyes, smiling faces, white people doing white people dances. He starts to move. He starts to groove. He screeches tonally, his voice an astounding instrument of destruction to your mind, connection to your soul, a beat to your heart.

He sings about love, he sings about sex, he sings about God. Sacred and profane, one tune he’s into lust, the next he’s into saving the world. He licks his finger and gyrates, he holds his hands in prayer. He’s sleazy, he’s sanctified, he’s an emotional explosive dynamo. You’ve read about this kind of thing. You’ve heard 50 year old live albums. You thought you missed it all. Turns out, you didn’t.

A couple of hours and costume changes whirl by in a blur of sound and motion. Mr.Bradley’s sweat and tears mix, his majestic, somewhat haphazard afro glistens. He tells the audience that he loves them, and they are his brothers and sisters. He goes to the lip of the stage, shakes hands, kisses hands. The band vamps. Someone gives him a framed portrait of him that they drew.He finally leaps into the audience and goes deep. People swirl around him. The band keeps playing. Strangers embrace.

Finally, the music stops. The show is over. You hope you get a next time. For Charles Bradley and the Extraordinaires, it’s just another night. They ride away in their bus.

See Charles Bradley and the Extraordinaires on tour. Photo by Shawn Coots.

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Music

Billy Fury

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British Bopper Billy Fury would’ve been 73 today, if he was still around. He was about as prefab as prefab could be, so if that’s not your bag, Billy’s not for you. Or is he?

Part of a stable of British blokes given corny aliases by impresario, Svengali, and promoter’s promoter Larry Parnes, Billy Fury joined such lusty and rebellious teenaged men as Tommy Steele, Vince Eager, Georgie Fame, Lance Fortune, Duffy Power, and Johnny Gentle in crooning, twitching, and shaking to the best of their abilities for the benefit of girls and certain boys of a susceptible generation. Designed to imitate and recreate the spark of Rock & Roll of the United StatesĀ  for the United Kingdom, the Parnes stable made a splash and, for a brief late 50’s moment, loomed large, defining the British scene…until Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran showed up.

I read about Billy Fury in Jon Savage’s excellent and life changing book (for the 16 year old me, anyway) England’s Dreaming, in which a straight line was drawn from Larry Parnes’ tactics to Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren’s antics. Billy Fury, Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten…doesn’t seem like such a stretch.

My only encounter with Billy Fury was finding an odd compilation called Rough Diamonds And Pure Gems at C’s Records. Shades of how things worked the other way around foe decades past, when any American record was a hit record if it came off a merchant’s ship in Liverpool, there wasn’t much way of knowing which tunes were popular tunes in their native land.

It turns out that there were no hits on the disc, and in fact, they were recorded at a time well past any but the truly devoted cared about Billy Fury. The somewhat bitter liner notes at what point state that the songs included were “simply too good” to make the charts. I was a bit embarrassed at how much I found that I liked songs like In My Room. Billy had no problem flying his sissy flag high, and he didn’t seem to give a damn who his audience was intended to be, at least by this point in his life and career. He was content with watching birds. the beauty of his work is there for you to appreciate or not.

Billy died suddenly at age 43, returning home from a recording session. Forget Him was his last hit, issued posthumously. The name of the title perhaps held a twist of cruel irony.

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