By Sam Bleazard
At some point near the start of this musical millennium I was in a club called Cargo in London’s Hoxton and a young UK female soul singer burst onto the stage. Terri Walker was the first act on a bill that included more established American acts such as Jazzyfatnastees and The Roots. The Roots as always brought their unique energy to proceedings but it was Terri’s performance I remembered.
She had an instant rapport with a restless audience, who were packed in under the brick archways of the club, was cheeky, spunky, soulful and lots of fun having just recorded her first album, the much underrated Untitled. I then saw her a couple of years later at the Pizza Express jazz club, but lost touch with her music after her album L.O.V.E.
Omar Lye-Fook has achieved something that a number of British acts haven’t been able to, both longevity in the music industry and critical acclaim stateside, where he’s much loved by artists such as Erkyah Badu and Stevie Wonder (both of whom he’s recorded with). After his enormous breakthrough hit in 1991 “There’s nothing like this” Omar has continued to produce great music across a variety of genres for the last twenty five years. His Best By Far album released in 2001 is exactly as described, a multi instrumentalist singer songwriter at his peak, it should rightly be talked about as a classic album.
When I heard about their joint concert in Kensington Roof Gardens, it felt like an opportunity too good to miss to catch up with these two talents…
On arrival at the venue, frustratingly the security team took an age to scan tickets and IDs, which meant that the time spent queueing ate into the start of the show. After being asked if I was there for the M&S party, we were told speed dating was to the left but the music was straight ahead! Curiouser and curiouser.
A mixed crowd of Londoners of a certain age were out in their finery, some nibbling on high end fish finger sandwiches or teetering alongside an open grill. And faintly in the background I could hear Terri Walker’s “I guess you didn’t love me”, the highlight of which was the singer taking on the Mos Def rap section.
On a small stage in front of an intimate crowd she was performing solo with an acoustic guitarist, chatting to the crowd about some of the tough times she’s experienced and the highs and lows of the music industry. There’s no doubt that her cheeky energy is still there, as is the mischievous sense of humour, joking at one point that she wanted to be the new Millie Jackson.
The intimacy of the setting with the crowd so close to the stage really lent itself to a solo acoustic set and on one song she dropped reference to Jill Scott’s “slowly, surely, I walk away from…”. A jazzy rearrangement of her song Drawing Board followed with female members of the audience singing along with the chorus “if something doesn’t fit, it’s back to the Drawing Board”.
More recent fare such as the song Bad Boys was introduced with Ms Walker questioning close friends who’ve made bad choices before launching into Feel It In The Water – which turned out to be the final song of her short set. Essentially a piece about good people, inspired by recording in Sheffield, it engaged the crowd in a singalong and the first set was over in the blink of an eye.
Various old skool cuts were played in the brief interlude including the Ohio Players Fire and Positive Force’s We Got The Funk, but we didn’t have long to wait until Omar took the stage. The set up consisted of only a microphone and a keyboard with a Mac resting on top of it.
The introduction was something of a warning to the crowd – “I came out with three (keyboard) leads, but none were the right ones…!” For those us who are more seasoned in terms of the live experience it wasn’t explained at any point that effectively the whole night was more personal appearance to a backing track than a concert. And it was short at that, only clocking 25-30 mins. It started after 9 but was finished shortly after quarter to ten.
A series of, albeit well produced, backing tracks were queued up on the Mac before Omar launched into song. The good news is that the man is still in great form vocally and has lost none of the soulful swagger of old. The bad news is that he had a keyboard onstage and never touched it. Some wag in the crowd suggested it was like middle aged karaoke, but fortunately it wasn’t, and there was real energy to be found in the club bangers which drew on dancehall. This also meant we got to see some of the man’s moves, party style!
The highlight of the performance was when Terri Walker was invited back up to sing on the classic “Be thankful for what you’ve got”, second only to the crowd singing along to his own Something Special. There’s nothing like this was played of course and while the majority of the crowd seemed to have enjoyed the night, having seen Omar captivate an audience in Camden’s Jazz Cafe previously, I couldn’t help feeling short changed. And yes I love UK soul, having supported it all my life, maybe it’s a sign of the times that a ticket doesn’t say, short PA, no live band in tonight’s performance.
Omar joked with the crowd just before he jumped offstage that, “mine’s a brandy and lemonade for anyone’s who’s interested…”, before announcing that he’d be posing for photos and signing CDs.
Well mine’s a concert that lasts more than twenty five minutes if you’re interested. In summary great artists but painfully short, nice to see the reemergence of Terri Walker but this will have done nothing to either enlighten those new to Omar or enhance his considerable reputation.