Pavillion Theatre, Manchester International Festival (MIF), 10 July 2011.
It was with the unexpected success of a song designed for a slimming video, ‘You got the love’ in 1991, that catapulted soul singer Candi Staton back into the hearts and minds of the wider UK public (soul fans had never forgotten her), yet as this evening was to amply illustrate, her back catalogue is just as impressive and the knowledgable crowd were out to have a party and simply lapped it all up.
From the outset Candi Staton entered into an evening long banter with the audience, ‘How ‘ya doin’ Manchester?’ and her ability to communicate the meaning of a given song added a genuine personal touch to proceedings that was greatly appreciated by the audience. Staton in fact came to prominence at the legendary FAME recording studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It was there that she cut a series of critically acclaimed albums between 1969 and 1973 including one of this evening’s first showcased songs, ‘I’d rather be an old man’s sweetheart than a young man’s fool’. This particular style came to be known as southern soul, fusing blues and even country elements (often the lyrics of country music songs are ideal terrain for soul musicians and vice-versa). Blessed with the tightest of rhythm sections featuring among others Mick Talbot, formerly of the Style Council, Staton and the band quickly created an atmosphere that was intimate and this on a swelteringly hot evening inside the Pavilion.
Lurking behind the friendly demeanour and inquiring tone of the songstress, ‘Any of you girls know what I’m talking about?’, however, was a more tragic personal history of broken and abusive relationships in her early years, though happily Candi has for some time now been in a long lasting and fulfilling one. Certainly the voice has remained remarkably intact and a healthy lifestyle has made her look a good decade younger than she actually is. As part of the MIF, Staton had performed at a nearby gospel church and on the Grammy nominated 1971 single ‘Stand by your man’ which went gold, gospel hues were all too evident with the groove-laden rendition. This then segued seamlessly into a version of the soul standard ‘Stand by me’ with the background male vocalist taking the lead and was well received. After a supremely crafted ballad, Staton entered into a new phase of her career from the mid-1970s onwards as disco took hold of the dancefloors. It was an inspired decision to cover ‘Nights on Broadway’ and, with an extended instrumental section showcasing the fine brass and guitar sections, both Candi and the band milked this song for all it’s worth. The well drilled eight piece band impressed especially on the seemingly more straightforward numbers such as ‘You’re breakin’ me down’ where the chorus was developed and embellished by the three background vocalists (one of whom was none other than one of Candi’s daughters) and by Candi’s own inimitable ad-libs.
An unexpected bonus was a lesser known song, originally on a mid-1970s compilation of the blues, and on this song Staton delivered a blistering soul-blues take on the standard ‘I’d rather be lonely than blue’. Just as the audience were beginning to settle into a more sedate groove, the tempo was taken all the way up again with Candi enquiring, ‘Are you feelin’ alright? This is a soul revival show’. The audience was then treated to a fabulous version of ‘Suspicious minds’ and even joined in the chorus with Candi remarking supportively, ‘Ah you’re sounding good’. Of course this is a song associated with one Elvis Presley and his presence was alluded to on the following song, another Grammy nominated number, ‘In the ghetto’, which was a favourite of the man and for which Staton expertly delivered a version akin to that from 1973. This tempo the song developed into a mid-tempo burner with full-on horns and funky guitar lines.
The best was yet to come, though with the anthemic intro to ‘Young hearts run free’ which set the tone for an entire era and a song that virtually defined all that is good about disco. On this latest take, the piece was transformed into a ten minute plus epic with gospel tinges added on vocals and even a funkalicious instrumental breakdown with Talbot, who was excellent all evening, excelling. Candi thereupon introduced the individual band members as the song progressed ad infinitum and offered, ‘How ’bout it for the band!’ Collectively the formation are known as Push and will shortly be relasing an album in their own right.
Much foot stomping and handclapping ensured a lengthy encore and this was to include the song that introduced Candi to a whole new audience, the dance classic ‘You got the love’. A mixed-age audience was as appreciative of the recent past as of the early years and relished some of the newer material. A gospel-infused ‘Praise him ’til your blessings fall down’ was the ideal way for Candi and the band to depart stage. Candi Staton is not merely a consumate performer, though she has talent and experience in abundance. She is also genuinely gifted at communicating her love both for her audience and her musical craft, and is clearly at one of the happiest stages in her eventful life. Candi could not have summed it up better herself when stating, ‘Love is a beautiful thing. Makes you feel good. It’s all about life’. On feel good criteria alone, this concert could not have been bettered. Staton overflowed with love for the ecstatic crowd and parted on, ‘God bless you Manchester, you’re beautiful. Just keep the vibe ’til I see you again’. We most certainly will.