Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1084

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Live

Gwen McCrae + Electric Empire: Islington Assembly Hall, London 17/11/11

Gwen McCrae: Islington Assembly Hall, London 17/11/11
Gwen McCrae: Islington Assembly Hall, London 17/11/11 Gwen McCrae: Islington Assembly Hall, London 17/11/11 Gwen McCrae: Islington Assembly Hall, London 17/11/11

When I saw Gwen McCrae was playing for one night in London, you could say I was somewhat excited. I̢۪ve never seen this soul and rare groove legend live, so it was with much anticipation that I arrived in North London to attend her gig.

I must mention Australian band called Electric Empire who warmed up for her first though. They are a four piece outfit, percussion, keys, bass and electric guitar. All pretty standard stuff I hear you say, correct? Well they̢۪re not! I won̢۪t go into too much detail on the band, as Blues & Soul Editor Lee Tyler has a 'Ones To Watch' interview with them (issue 2001), but three words immediately spring to mind; harmonious, tight and talented. Seriously, if you̢۪re a fan of neo-soul, you need to listen to some of their material. I will definitely be keeping an eye on this act, they have big things written all over them!

OK, back to the matter at hand of Gwen McCrae. After the superb warm up by Electric Empire, Gwen came out on stage to rapturous applause by the older and very musically orientated crowd. She immediately launched into "Rocking Chair" which was to set the tone nicely for the evening. Once finished, the unmistakable guitars of "Keep the Fire Burning" filled the room and it was butterflies time! This track was made in 1982, but still sounds fresh and current in the fast moving world of music, testament to the talent of this woman.

Now if I thought the start of that was easy to recognise, the next track "Clean Up Woman" was even more so! I looked around the room at this point, and saw more neck nodding than a clan of pigeons, or whatever the collective term for a group of pigeons is. This was brilliant, she was only on track three and already had the audience eating out of her hand.

What happened next though is something that will stay with me for a long time. Gwen’s ex-husband, George McCrae is known for one or too average tracks. Ahem, OK, he’s known for some amazing tracks including "Rock Your Baby." I absolutely adore this song, even typing this review I’m getting butterflies thinking about what happened in Islington Town Hall the night Gwen added that to her repertoire. The track started off with a light beat, but once the first keys and guitar sounded, we all knew what we were in for. I don’t need to tell you about this track, but I do need to tell you about the fact Gwen had the whole room singing the chorus in unisonâ€Â¦cue butterflies again! Even when she had finished the track, we were all still singing the chorus and I most definitely do include myself in that sentence! It was a beautiful moment and quite moving too.

"90% Of Me Is You," "Trust in the Lord" and "Gettin’ What I Want" were the next songs sung, and as I’d come to expect from this amazing artist, she delivered all with gusto and personality and still had the full attention of the room. Next up was "Misty Blue" which shame on me, was a track I wasn’t too familiar with. But think beautiful slow soul, 'make out music' as our American friends would call it and you get an idea of the vibe. This was tear jerking stuff, I’m a man, I’m not meant to get emotional at musicâ€Â¦yeah right!

OK, let̢۪s cut to the chase as I know you̢۪re all wondering when "All This Love That I̢۪m Giving" was sung. Gwen did this as her last track and as SOON as THAT bassline pricked our ears, the whole room went, for want of a better word, bonkers! Absolutely bonkers!! Imagine several hundred people all singing in unison, not just the chorus but the whole track and imagine the artist becoming overwhelmed by this sight. Here we go again, I must have caterpillars in my house as the butterflies have returned! Gwen was sincerely overwhelmed and said a few kind words about the crowd. What I loved about this was her sincerity in doing so, to the point she even signed someone̢۪s record cover and high fived the front members of the audience.

This really was an unbelievable finale to the night, she delivered the track with perfection and it left me shaking my head in a ‘what the hell just happened here’ kind of way. She did do an encore, performing "Let’s Straighten It Out" but to be honest, after "All This Love That I’m Giving" my sensory overload had peaked and I don’t actually remember how the last track sounded in the venue.

This wasn̢۪t a good night, this was another musical memory I will look back upon and smile warmly at. Gwen McCrae, you Rock! (Your Baby).

PHOTOS: TAYO MARONIE
Words GARETH MORGAN

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