Porretta Soul Festival 2019


32nd Porretta Soul Festival  (Tribute to Otis Redding),

18-21 July, 2019

Rufus Thomas Park, Porretta Terme, Italy

Porretta Terme is a lovely charming small Italian town set in the Apennines Mountains, just inside the Emilia-Romagna Region and very close to the Tuscany region.  Porretta is also famous for its hot thermal springs and beautiful picturesque setting on the Rio Maggiore and Reno Rivers.

The years seem to roll past so fast these days, both the artists and the audience are ageing, so it is a blessing that we still have some artists from the Stax and southern soul music's glory years still with us and these, combined with newer artists, continue to perform for us each year in Porretta.  Artistic Director, Graziano Uliani gave birth to the whole thing on a shoestring with a concert by Solomon Burke in Porretta before starting the Sweet Soul Music Festival - Rufus Thomas and the Memphis Horns were the big names on the very first - which was renamed the Porretta Soul Festival in 1997.  It has come a long way over the now thirty-two years - we have had some of the cream of the crop of Stax and southern soul artists - and, as ever, I happily thank Graziano and his dedicated team who managed to stage and surprise us yet again this year with another great musical event. 

Thursday 18th July 2019

The Festival got underway with the Sweethearts from Australia giving us, ‘(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher’, which then led into ‘I Can't Turn You Loose’.  The Sweethearts are an ever-changing group of girls from down under who add a younger edge to the Festival.  With their enthusiastic playing, they always go down well with the audience.  Pee Wee Ellis joined the Sweethearts on stage to perform ‘Cold Sweat’, a song he wrote whilst part of the James Brown Band in 1967.  (The song has was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2016.)  Pee Wee and the Sweethearts seemed to really enjoy the collaboration and it was definitely the highlight of the Sweethearts’ set, which also included ‘Rufus Thomas Is Back In Town’ and ‘Soul Finger’.

Re:Funk featuring Pee Wee Ellis followed.  The band with their singer failed to impress me as they were more like a rock outfit than a funk band but when Pee Wee came on they delivered ‘Funky Good Time’ and upped their game.  Better-sounding too were Pee Wee’s ‘Cold Sweat’ and ‘I Got You’, their set’s closer.  Scott Sharrard - one-time lead guitarist and leader of the Gregg Allman Band - and the Bo-Keys followed, Scott opening with ‘Love Like Kerosene’, a lively rocking tune and a likeable ‘High Cost Of Loving You’, which included an excellent sax solo from Kirk Smothers.  Scott’s final song was ta creditable version of Dave Crawford/Jackie Moore’s ‘Precious Precious’.

Don Bryant came on to give us a brilliant show and lay down a very high standard of performance, opening his fabulous set with ‘A Nickle & A Nail’.  Don has been regularly appearing with the Bo-Keys of late and the group was fired up as they launched into ‘Something About You’, Don’s voice equally ablaze.  For a small unit, the Bo-Keys have certainly nailed the Hi Records’ sound into their playing.  Don slowed it down to give us a wonderful interpretation of ‘I’ll Go Crazy’ and carried on with ‘I Got To Know’, ‘Everything's Gonna Be Alright’, ‘One Ain't Enough’, ‘99 Pounds’ and also ‘What Kind of Love’, with lots of Howlin’ Wolf impressions in it.  ‘That Driving Beat’, the man’s supreme dance tune, sadly brought Don’s set to an ‘official’ end but, his having then been presented with a painting of himself, there was time for one more, so it had to be the world-wide hit he wrote with and for his wife Ann Pebbles, ‘I Can't Stand The Rain’.  Superb!

Friday 19th July 2019

Burundian-born, London-based J.P. Bimeni and his group, the Black Belts were first up.  Bimeni started his set with ‘Honesty Is A Luxury’, ‘Don’t Fade Away’ being another of his songs.  The band played well enough but I felt the songs were a bit weak and, although J.P. has a style which is soulful, I had a problem understanding what he was singing at times.  His best song was the Jackie Edwards’ number, ‘Keep On Running’ - ironically the only song he performed not on his album, ‘Free Me’- and ‘Stupid’ was better too, while his final two songs were ‘Pain Is The Name of Your Game’ and ‘Better Place’.

The Luca Giodano Band featuring Sax Gordon and his son, Martino, followed, starting their set with a 10-minute soulful instrumental medley of many big-name soul numbers.  Leon Beal, who lives in Boston, USA, came on stage and started with a Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s ‘Don’t Cry No More’, which was quickly followed with Mel Waiters’ ‘Hole In The Wall’, with short bursts of other songs done very well in a talking/singing voice.  ‘Keep On Pushing’, the title track of his 2010 album, followed; ‘The Glory Of Love’ was very good but even better followed in the shape of ‘Cry To Me’.  Curtis Salgado came on stage to entertain with a superb version of Sam Cooke's ‘Ain't That Good News’, Leon providing backing support and both men engaged in call-and-response from both men.  As Curtis left the stage, Leon continued with ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ - very passionate and heartfelt - and a final piece of great stuff, ‘Live The Life’, another track from his 2010 album.

After a break to change the band around we had the house band, the Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra.  After a warm up instrumental, Sandy Grifiths, one of the backing singers, stepped up to give us ‘Kiss Me Like You Mean It’ and ‘Neither One of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)’.  Khylah B, a promising new artist, also did a short set of two songs: a very good version of ‘Until You Come Back To Me’, plus ‘Proud Mary’.

Willie West was next, getting going with ‘Sweet Little Girl’, first aired as the b-side of his first (Rustone) single from 1960.  I have seen Willie a few times now and this most enjoyable performance was as good as any I have seen previously.  His set included Sam Cooke's ‘You Send Me’, Allen Toussaint’s ‘Greatest Love’, cut for Deesu in 1966, ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ and ‘Said To Myself’ - Warner Bros, 1975.  Willie also delivered a top-notch rendering of ‘Higher And Higher’ and ‘Nola My Home’, from his 2013 album’, ‘Can’t Help Myself’.  Born in Thibodaux, near New Orleans, Willie was the singer in the original funk band, the Meters after the departure of Cyril Neville.  Since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, he now resides in Minnesota.

Our next act was a lady from Houston, Texas, Annika Chambers.  The last time I had seen Annika was at the Lucerne Blues Festival where she naturally took the rôle of blues singer, so I was very interested to hear what her soul-market approach would be.  She did not disappoint!  Opening with ‘Six Nights And A Day’ (from her ‘Wild And Free’) album, she continued with a notable version of Joe Sample’s ‘Put It Where You Want It’, continuing with ‘Put The Sugar To Bed’, the Staple Singers’ ‘City In The Sky’ and my favourite Bobby Charles song, ‘The Jealous Kind’.  The evening continued with Chilly Bill Rankin and Jerry Jones, Rankin’s voice sounding so much better than the last time I saw him - and he looked real snazzy in his purple and white jacket! - as he delivered ‘Hard To Handle’, ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ and a great ‘Last Two Dollars’, the Johnnie Taylor classic.  Jerry Jones also did a three-song set, starting with ‘Got To Get You Off My Mind’ and continuing with Luther Ingram's ‘If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want To Be Right)’ and ‘You Got Me Humming’.  To close the second and another great night, Jerry and Chilly joined together for a Sam & Dave tribute…  ‘Hold On I'm Comin’’, ‘I Thank You’, slowing down with the excellent ‘When Something Is Wrong With My Baby’ and finishing with a raunchy version of ‘Soul Man’.

Saturday 20th July 2019

Curtis Salgado, who is from Portland, Oregon, was backed by a very good French band and commenced his excellent set with ‘Can't Get You Off My Mind’, before the Tower of Power number, ‘Both Sorry Over Nothing’ and one I particularly led, ‘Walk A Mile In My Blues’, a song he wrote wrote with keyboardist/singer, Mike Finnigan.  With a voice not dissimilar to the late O.V.Wright, it was perhaps no surprise he also gave us three Wright-associated songs: the Charles Hodges-penned’ Nobody But You’ - a duet with LaRhonda Steele - ‘Forget About You’ and ‘I Was Born All Over’ on which he dragged out every pent up, raw emotion within himself, giving a wonderful edge to the song.  A rhythmic version of Larry Williams’ ‘Slow Down’ proved a fine closer.

After a break to get the house band ready, the Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra started with a warm-up instrumental before Omega Brooks, from the backing singers, give us good versions of the Sharon Jones’ ‘Ain't Gonna Cry’ and Stevie Wonder's ‘I Wish].  Georgia Van Etten came on to sing a couple of items, the best being ‘Sugar’, which had the lady mimicking a trumpet at the end of the song.  (Jazzy-voiced Georgia, who is from Melbourne, Australia and was once part of the Sweethearts, now lives in London.)  LaRhonda Steele started her session with a tribute to Aretha Franklin which included ‘Rock Steady’ and ‘Respect’, her only low point overall being to include ‘Imagine’, performed as a rock song!  Much better were ‘Take Me To The River’ and ‘Spirit In The Dark’ and also did the blues standard, ‘Rock Me Baby’ - for Graziano.  (I am not sure if this was a joke.)

Wee Willie Walker got off to a great start with ‘Breaking Up Somebody's Home’ and carrying on with some new songs, the first being ‘Make Your Own Good News’, then ‘Let’s Talk About It’ and ‘Say Something Different’.  We were also treated to a song written by George Jackson, ‘I Don't Want To Take A Chance’, followed by ‘I’ve Been Watching You’ and the superb ‘After All’.  Truly another fabulous set from Willie, whose gritty, honey soul-drenched voice is always a joy to hear.  Wendy Moten started her very good set with Rufus Thomas’ 1964 ‘All Night Worker’.  Acknowledging that we were in Rufus Thomas Park, it was fitting to start with a Rufus song.  The excellent ‘(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone’ came next and I loved her sublime version of ‘Ain't No Way’ as well as nice duets with Jerry Jones - Eddie Floyd’s ‘Raise Your Hand’ - and with Wee Willie Walker, ‘True Love’.  Continuing with a storming version of ‘Think’, Wendy concluded with ‘Oh La De Da’.  Tony Wilson - The Young James Brown - brought the night to an end as he started frantically with ‘Cold Sweat’.  Tony looks like James Brown and certainly tries to be him, his routine including plenty of dancing and back-flips in a very high energy set which contained ‘Get Up Off That Thang’ and ‘Sex Machine’. T, a very high energy set which brought the night to an end.

Sunday 21st July 2019

Sunday Night is always a review show from the previous nights at the Festival but, before that, we had the Sweethearts do another set which started with ‘I Can't Turn You Loose’ and then into Sam Cooke's ‘Shake’.  Tony Wilson came on for ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’, supported by the Sweethearts before Georgia Van Etten stepped up with her old band to give us ‘I'd Like To Be’ and ‘Please Don't Ever Go’, while the girls ended their set with ‘Rock Steady’.

After a short break, the Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra stepped up with an instrumental and backing singer, Larry Batiste gave us a couple of songs: Stevie Wonder's ‘You Met Your Match' and O.V. Wright’s ‘I Don't Know Why (I Love You Like I Do)’ - and very good they both were!  Treats came in quick succession… Khylah B with ‘Knock On Wood’ and Linda Lyndell's ‘What A Man’… Willie West with three songs: ‘I’ve Never Found A Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)’, Allen Toussaint’s present to Willie, ‘Greatest Love’ and another Toussaint song, the excellent ‘Fairchild’…  Georgia Van Etten and her very good trumpet voice, with ‘Sugar’ and LaRhonda Steele with a reprise of ‘Rock Me Baby’ and ‘Spirit In The Dark’.

Next it was Curtis Salgado and Wee Willie Walker doing a superb version of ‘Soothe Me Baby’ and also ‘Help’, which Curtis cut with Willie on his ‘If Nothing Ever Changes’ album.  Remaining on stage, Willie carried on with his gritty, honeyed, soulful voice delivering ‘If Only’,’Let’s Talk About It’ and Mable John's ‘Your Good Thing (Is About To End)’, thus bringing his excellent spot to an end.  Chilly Bill came on to give us a good version of ‘Slip Away’ and was followed by Jerry Jones with an equal treatment of ‘(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want to Be Right)’.  The two then combined for a splendid, lively take on ‘Soul Man’.  Our next act was an all too short set from Wendy Moten - Mable John’s ‘You're Taking Up Another Man's Place’ and again a truly fine ‘(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone’.

Tony ‘The Young James Brown’ Wilson ended the night with his usual showman ways: frantic singing and dancing; starting with ‘Get On The Good Foot’ he brought on the Sweethearts’ horn section and Judy Lei on violin and Khylah B dancing.  He even got main man, Graziano Uliani to come on stage (sporting a spangled hat and jacket).  Rick Hutton began the final song, ‘I Can't Turn You Loose’ whilst all the artists from the night's show came on stage to sing along for one more time, thus bringing to an end the 32rd Porretta Soul Festival, 2019.

One aspect of the Festival I so much enjoyed this - another great - year was plenty of Sam Cooke and O.V. Wright songs through the weekend and I must admit I thought the artist line-up worked well.  Graziano once told me the most important thing at Porretta is the band; without the right band, everything would not be so good.  I think the Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra is the best band ever at Porretta.  We have had some great outfits in the past, each with some amazing players but to be able to work for up to five hours a night and keep it interesting and with the quality at the highest level, you have to have a degree of excellence as a standard, which Anthony Paule's Soul Orchestra certainly has.  The guys and girls worked so hard over the weekend, having to learn about seventy-plus songs in order to give us the audience an overwhelming feeling that we attended a once in a lifetime show.  To individually credit the Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra line-up…

Anthony Paule - Guitar & Band Leader
Endre Tarczy - Bass
Tony Lufrano - Keyboards
Derrick Martin (D'Mar) - Drums
Charles McNeal - Tenor Sax
Bill Ortiz - Trumpet
Derek James - Trombone
Robert Sudduth - Baritone Sax
Backing singers:  Larry Batiste, Sandy Griffith and Omega Brooks.

My thanks as ever go out to Graziano Uliani and his staff -  not forgetting the people of Porretta - for staging a great show yet again this year.  Thank you!

Dave Thomas

As ever, Dave Thomas supplied some excellent pictures to accompany this article but, regrettably they have had to be omitted at this point in time, gremlins having crept into the uploading mechanism and it has not yet been possible to rectify the problem.  Sincere apologies to Dave - every attempt will be made to include the pics as soon as possible.