FiL Straughan – Live @ Shaka Zulu

FiL Straughan – Live @ Shaka Zulu, London 21-08-14

Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

FiL Straughan has been a mainstay on the UK and world live music circuit for over ten years, thrilling audiences with his highly emotive ‘Spirit of Luther Vandross’ performances, interspersed with his own quality and insightfully written compositions. Back in London at one of his favourite haunts, Shaka Zulu, Mr Straughan didn’t disappoint. He kept his audience enthralled with a selection of tracks from his recently released a double album ‘Conversations with Myself Pt 1 & 2’, as well as a some of his favourite (and the audience’s) Luther Vandross covers.

In fact the set started off with FiL paying homage to the late legend Luther via a jaunty version of ‘Stop to Love’. Entering the lavishly decorated venue stage left, the Soul man engaged with his audience immediately, wearing a shimmering grey sports jacket, black trousers and a light purple satin shirt. With the crowd warmed up, the Luther Vandross love in continued, with a stunning interpretation of ‘Can I Take You Out Tonight,’ with the Soul crooner mingling freely with his audience, and radiating his warm, interpersonal charm.

Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

We were then treated to the first track from his ‘Conversations with Myself’ double album, the thoughtfully written and beautifully interpreted, ‘Who Are You Meant to Be’. It is indeed a track his idol Mr Vandross would have been pleased to perform if he were still with us. In introducing the song, Mr Straughan succinctly outlined the concept behind the entire album, i.e. one of self-reflection, self-discovery and self-love – “We all get to a point in life, if we’re lucky, you know it’s kind of like a crossroads, where we start to question who we are?; why we are where we are? And who we would be if we were able to be free? So we have these conversations and as a result this album was born.

Asha Elfenbein – keyboard
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

After expressing his inner soul in the spirit of Luther, our protagonist carried on the show with a passionate re-working of his mentor’s ‘House Is Not A Home.’ During the introduction FiL gave some well-deserved props to his esteemed keyboard player and co-writer of ‘Conversations with Myself’, Asha Elfenbein. Asha’s CV indeed reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the music Industry having been an integral part of PWL. A second tune ‘Good Mood’ from his introspective new album was followed swiftly by two more Vandross favourites, ‘Any Love’ and ‘See Me,’ taking time out beforehand to edify one of his talented backing singers, Rietta Austin, who it transpires was the first person to sing at the O2 Arena, London. The writing depth of this talented vocalist and stage performer were again showcased via the mid-tempo groove of ‘TLC’, whose lyrical sentiments could be likened to that of the aforementioned ‘Any Love’. The tune was melded towards the end with Michael Jackson’s similar paced ballad ‘Lady In My Life.’

Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

‘I’m Not Giving Up’, another Straughan original album track followed before we were treated to a five track Luther Vandross bonanza – ‘So Amazing,’ ‘Give Me the Reason,’ ‘Wait for a Love,’ ‘Dance with My Father,’ and ‘I Really Didn’t Mean It’. On both ‘Give Me the Reason’ and ‘I Really Didn’t Mean It’ our ring-master for the evening circumnavigated the room working the audience to maximum effect in his own inimitable style; even encouraging some members to exercise their vocal chords. Before launching into ‘Give Me the Reason’ FiL Straughan had introduced an exceptional young percussionist named Javier Ginarte from Havana, Cuba (The Lokki Terra Band). His fluid manipulating of his instruments subtly underpinned each tune with Cuban essence.

Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Big FiL returned for his second set, not only with a fresh and even more strikingly designed shirt, he also introduced us to a fresh track, ‘Discovery,’ a song with the most refined, uplifting and encouraging message of self-appreciation, self-discovery and self-love, wrapped up within a wholesome two-step groove. He kept his the audience guessing by incorporating two more Luther stompers in the guise of ‘Never Too Much’ and ‘Searching.’ This marathon evening of sophisticated Soul tunes continued as FiL Straughan segued into another self penned song from his ‘Conversations with Myself’ CD.

Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

FiL Straughan, his band and his backing singers showed their versatility when an audience member bellowed a special request ‘Bad Boys (Having a Party)’. Instantaneously the band laid down the ‘Bad Boy’ beats of this evergreen Luther Vandross classic as FiL and the backing singers sang two extremely warmly received versus which more than appeased the gentleman who requested it. It was then on with the scheduled program in the form of ‘Black Velvet Jacket’. Our protagonist went on to explain that just as with women (little black dress); every man should have that one special jacket that makes him feel $1 million before he goes out on the town. The infectious guitar riffs and quirky keyboard combination meshed perfectly with Mr Straughan’s vocals, before we were treated to an extra ordinary vocal performance from one of his backing vocalists, Rietta Austin. Her stunning four octave range was showcased to maximum effect, elevating the song to the next level, before the entire band brought the song to a powerhouse close.

Verna Francis & Rietta Austin (BV’s)
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

“So we’re going to sing a song that we’ve been working on; it’s the first time it’s ever been heard anywhere. So I hope you like it!” That was FiL Straughan’s introduction to the lovely lilting ballad entitled ‘Lazy Sunday Morning’. The vibe was induced immediately with Javier Ginarte’s soft bongo rhythms meshing sweetly with Asha Elfenbein’s keyboard tinkling, before our master of ceremonies set the scene “Grab the morning paper, curl up a with you; breakfast in bed babe, feels so good.” Such a beautiful tune and such beautiful lyrics, I truly believe that this is a single which could be the catalysts to aid FiL Straughan’s breakthrough to a much broader audience on both sides of the Atlantic and worldwide. The vocal control, pitch, stamina and range of notes – both high and low – that he revealed during the course of this one song was a joy to behold.

Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

The final two songs, ‘My Symphony’ and ‘Sunshine after the Rain’ reflected the two ends of the spectrum with regards to the differing tempo’s and lyrics found on of FiL Straughan’s ‘Conversations with Myself album. My Symphony being the more melancholy, reflective of the two, yet deeply entrancing, with a stylish guitar solo offered up by Allan Salmon and Mr Straughan bringing an opera style, theatrical approach to his vocal delivery and stage presence.

‘Sunshine after the Rain’ by contrast was a full on disco meets funk, high-octane, feel good, jam session with each and every member of the band vigorously participating. Asha Elfenbein showed why he is such a key individual for music industry heavyweights such as Simon Cowell and PWL by off-loading a mesmerising keyboard solo. The driving incessant groove created by Darren Ormsby (bass), John Fisher (drums), Allan Salmon (guitar) and Javier Ginarte (percussion) seemed to stimulate FiL and backing vocalists Verna Francis and Rietta Austin to take their vocal gymnastics to another stratosphere; each taking turns to up the ante before all three combined to lift the roof of London’s Shaka Zulu.

Javier Ginarte – percussion
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

All those present, including the anniversary couples and birthday people were treated to a Soul show of epic proportions. FiL Straughan is a master entertainer, supreme live vocalists, and gifted lyricist, who has in turn surrounded himself with gifted musicians, vocalists and lyricists. His latest album ‘Conversations with Myself’ twinned with this live performance are proof positive that FiL Straughan’s time to ‘Shine’ (as Luther once sang) is long overdue. Spread the word – spread the love – FiL Straughan is here to stay.

Michael J Edwards

Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Essential Albums:
Conversations with myself – Monologue & Dialogue (CD 2014 – Out Now)
Throwback (CD – June 2014)
FiL the Power (2012)
FiL the SouL (2011)
My Music Pt 1 (2008)

Essential Websites:

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