It was back in April 2011 at a Jenigue Giscombe (daughter of Junior) benefit gig that I first became aware of FiL Straughan, when he was introduced on stage as FiL Strong! Following a quick chat after the gig, Mr Straughan subsequently invited me to come and check out his full ‘Spirit of Luther Vandross show’ later that year in July at Shaka Zulu, London. In between times, I had received a copy of his ‘FiL the SouL’ CD which was on constant rotation in my car. This heightened my anticipation of his forthcoming performance.
The day, hour and the minute came and I along with all those gathered were truly inspired and empowered by the man’s energy, passion and dedication to his art. Not only did he do justice to the spirit of Luther but he also opened my ears to his own unique lyrical and vocal prowess. Our subsequent interview backstage led inadvertently to the title of his follow-up album ‘FiL the Power.’ Though i was subsequently busy with other journalistic commitments, I was always keeping track of FiL’s career progression from afar; also thanks to his regular monthly newsletter. So when FiL reached out to me once more to attend as an invited guest to see him perform at Shaka Zulu, London, his now spiritual home, it was a no-brainer.
And so it was on Friday, 20 April 2012 at 8 PM, that the familiar strains of the Luther Vandross classic ‘Give Me the Reason’ focused all eyes on the intimate setting of the Shaka Zulu stage. With the band already in situ, we didn’t have to wait long before accomplished background vocalist Verna Francis appeared through the double doors, stage left. Strolling nonchalantly around and up onto the stage singing as she strolled. It was now time for the main protagonist to make his entrance. We could already hear the familiar, dulcet tones of FiL Straughan emanating throughout the venue and then the double doors stage left swung open once more, revealing a an extremely dapper gent, dressed head to toe in black topped by a sparkling jacket; pressed black trousers and shiny show shoes were the order of the day.
Mr Straughan knows how to engage with an audience! He exudes charm and charisma from every pore. And like a dynamo he seems to store up the energy he draws from his audience to and is able to give even more. And so now he had our attention, he proved he can change it up, with his very own soothing and emotive rendition of ‘So Amazing.’ Next up we were treated to the first track of the night from his newly released ‘FiL the LOVE’ CD; the beautifully paced ‘Special Place.’ FiL had preceded the song by enquiring of the audience if they have or ever have had that special place that they retreat/visit to by themselves or with a special person that evokes pleasant memories for them.
We were then transported back to the spirit of LV and FiL Straughan’s sensitive and most welcome cover of “A House Is Not a Home” He then segued into one of my favourite songs from the ‘FiL the LOVE’ set, the gorgeous and velvety smooth ‘Beautiful Love Affair.’ You NEED to hear this performed live to appreciate it fully. Wow! More Luther classics followed – ‘Any Love’ and ‘See Me,’ obviously two of FiL’s most favoured tracks as well this scribe’s. ‘See Me’ had the true Luther faithful singing along verbatim. Big props must go out at this point to John Matthews on bass; John Fisher on drums; Javier Ginarte and Abe Hampton who got down, deep and dirty on this one. A unique twist on Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ preceded ‘Darlin’ Darlin’ the third track of the evening from Mr Straughan’s new project. This sublime two-step ditty highlighted perfectly another team player in this tight and cohesive outfit – Igor Fejzula on guitar. Pure mellow niceness! The audience lapped it up!
Next up FiL went on to explain in some detail about the song he was about to sing ‘Dance with My Father.’ As fate would have it, although Luther had written the tune as the title track for his 2003 release, he never ever got to sing live! This said, FiL Straughan went on to perform one of the most moving and emotive renditions of the song I’ve heard, finishing with his customary look up to the heavens, sending out a silent blessing and sincere thanks to his mentor. The weight, pride and privilege that he feels when performing the song was evident for all to see, with FiL acknowledging how the song moves him from deep within his being. The first set was rounded out with an up-tempo, jaunty version of ‘Shine.
Set 2 – And our man came out dressed to impress yet again this time in shiny blue trousers and white patterned shirt. From the get go, Mr Vandross was the order of the day. And the late crooner’s enveloping ballad ‘Wait for Love’ was followed by a full on, pumping and at times reggae-fied version and of ‘Searching.’ This prompted those who were now imbued with the spirit of Luther Vandross to gravitate towards the dedicated dance floor space in front the stage and shake their moneymaker, young and old alike – this is the magnetic attraction of FiL Straughan singing Luther Vandross! FiL’s vocals are so versatile, whether high, low or mid-range and his able assistant, Verna Francis’ controlled power and subtlety is the perfect foil to FiL’s chocolaty heart warming and ear caressing delivery.
The already ‘must have’ album ‘FiL the LOVE’ was dipped into for the final time of the evening with two further tracks – firstly in the form of ‘To Be with You’ and secondly via the song simply titled ‘I Love You.’ By way of an introduction, FiL poignantly pointed out that men find it much easier to buy chocolates, flowers and such for their special lady as an alternative to reciting three simple words ‘I love You!’ When I told him after his performance I was guilty as charged, FiL simply said, “Michael, just play her track 17 from my album!” You know what? It worked! This guy should become a relationship counsellor!! Once again, Javier Ginarte, percussion, married with Igor Fejzula, guitar, worked so sweetly on this flamenco-esque ditty.
And so, no sooner had it seemed that the show had just begun, it was time to call time on our joyous evening of entertainment FiL Straughan style! But not before the dance floor was saturated with people once again, getting on the good foot to two all-time classic Luther tunes, ‘Never Too Much’and ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.’ This was the cue for FiL to go one of his now infamous roams around the audience, singing, gyrating and spreading the love to all corners of the venue. If you have any stress or baggage coming into a FiL Straughan concert, by the time you leave you will feel as if you are levitating! That is the magical effect and latent healing powers FiL Straughan has on all your senses. All I can say is thank you Mr Straughan for putting the ‘Feelgood Factor’ back into Friday night! And believe me whatever night you witness this musical tour de force in concert you WILL feel good! Just call him ‘Mr FiL Good!’
NB* Special mention must go to Award Winning guest saxophonist, Joe Leader, whose soothing and seductive horn playing complimented FiL’s voice and band supremely! He seemed to have a pair of mega-expandable lungs on all the tracks he graced! Splendid!
Michael J Edwards
The Band: Verna Francis – BV’s; John Fisher – Drums; John Matthews – Bass; Igor Fejzula – Guitar; Abe Hampton – Keys; Javier Ginarte – Percussion and Award Winner Joe Leader – Guest Saxophonist
FiL the LOVE (2012)
FiL the Power (2011)
FiL the SouL (2011)
My Music Part 1 (2008)
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NB* soon come FiL the Vibe
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