Hi Rhythm at the Barbican 22nd April 2005
Friday night, 7.30 pm and it's showtime at the Barbican. First on stage is, naturally, the band Hi Rhythm, led by guitarist Teenie Hodges, with brother Leroy on bass. Teenie had on a black outfit covered in sequins, including the frames of his shades. Also present was organist Marvell Thomas, drummer Steve Potts [also the drummer for Booker T these days], another keyboard player whose name I didn't catch, and a trumpeter and tenor saxist.
After a couple of instrumentals - the second of which was 'Soul Serenade' - on came the first 'guest vocalist, the [fairly obscure] Percy Wiggans, who displayed a certain Sam Cooke/Johnnie Taylor influence as he delivered a set that was for the most part cover versions [of Al Green, and a particularly nice version of Shep & Limelites "Daddy's Home"] . Percy's best moment for me was when he launched into his 'big' tune, "Book Of Memories". Nice one Percy - I've had that record in my collection since 1968 on red UK Atalantic - and it was great to hear him do it live and direct.
After 6 tunes, Percy left the stage and there was a short intermission. When the band returned, Ann Peebles came on stage with an acoustic guitarist and electric piano player and did three selections in what she described as 'acoustic soul' style. Quite pleasant, but she never really got going until the full band returned and she did "Part Time Love". She looked and sang great - slim and well turned out in a black-on-black pants suit and high heels [she's quite short], and then did 'I Can't Stand The Rain", which got people up on their feet. After one more number, Ann went off and on came Syl Johnson. Apparently he's 69 [or 64] years old, but you'd never guess. He looked slick in a tan suit and silk tie, this latter being soon removed so Syl could get the 'high notes'.
He also played guitar and blew harmonica [notably on an excellent version of "Take Me To The River"]. Syl then took time out to display a couple of CDs [presumably his Twinight recordings] and lambast Ace Records, who he claimed '"haven't paid me a cent for 7 years". At that point Roger Armstrong of Ace Records got to his feet to remonstrate with Syl, but Syl wasn't having any, and went on to pose the question why he hadn't got any royalties: "Is It Because I'm Black?". To be honest, I felt a bit sorry for Roger, whose excellent label is known for its attention to issues of legitimacy. I notice Syl never displayed or mentioned the issue of his material by for example P-Vine in Japan - are those issues legit? Still, he went on to do a couple more numbers, including perhaps his biggest Hi label hit, "Back For A Taste of Your Love", and then left the stage with the band. The crowd got them back for an encore, which inexplicably turned out to be a rambling version of "Sweet Home Chicago", with all the vocalists getting a piece. The whole show ran for about two and a half hours. The sound could have been better - at times the voices were a bit buried in the overall mix which itself suffered from a slight lack of separation.
Overall, it was a good show, and great to see Ann and Syl, whose records I've enjoyed for over 30 years now. Percy Wiggans was a bonus ,a real journeyman of soul, and especially nice when he did "Book Of Memories". Next time, they should do it in a proper dancehall though - the concert hall is a bit confining, not necessarily for the artists but from the point of view of audience response.