Paul Rodgers, supported by Deborah Bonham at The Royal Albert Hall London on Monday 3rd November 2014
Images and Review by Kevin Cooper
Paul Rodgers was at The Royal Albert Hall last night, to present work from his latest album, The Royal Sessions; an album consisting of covers of blues, R ‘n’ B and soul records that have inspired him over the years.
It was an added bonus that all of the proceeds from the show went to The Willows Animal Sanctuary & Animal Therapy Unit in Aberdeenshire. So not only were we in for a great night’s entertainment, it was also for a very worthy cause.
For those who have not been to The Royal Albert Hall before, then put a visit at the top of your list. Walking into the auditorium left me breathless with its architectural beauty. As a building it is simply awesome!
Promptly at 8pm, the lights dimmed and the barefoot, Maid Marion clad Deborah Bonham took to the stage with just her keyboard player, Gerald Louis, and immediately had this audience transfixed with her voice which sounded splendid, sometimes soulful, sometimes rock filled and sometimes bluesy. To step out in front of such a massive arena, there must have been a smidge of nerves, but if there were, Deborah Bonham showed none of them.
Her set included Need Your Love, Hold On and the title track from her Duchess Album which she dedicated to her dear friend Paul Rodgers and his wife. But for me the stand out moment was the Lorraine Ellison cover, Stay With Me. It was the best I have ever heard it sung and Bonham showed that she should be up there with the greats. I doubt that she will ever be able to sing it better. Finishing with this; the audience were immediately on their feet to show their appreciation for what was a truly great set.
A little bird told me that during rehearsals she was planning to do the set with her husband, guitarist Pete Bullick but changed her mind and it was Gerald Louis who took to the stage to accompany her. That was a great choice because he was outstanding.
I should imagine that it is hard to fill such a cavernous arena with just her and her keyboardist, but make no mistake, Deborah Bonham managed it with knobs on. Her set came to a close far too early, but she was without doubt a worthy opener for her friend, Paul Rodgers.
It was not long before the great Paul Rodgers took to the stage to present numbers from his latest album, The Royal Sessions. Covering a variety of songs not just from southern soul and blues but also from Willie Mitchell’s Hi label and from nearby Stax; Rodgers was able to indulge himself with numbers that had originally influenced him.
And who better to show us how to deliver them than the ultimate white boy soul singer, Paul Rodgers, in the company of the Memphis musicians who had played on most of the great Stax and Hi records of the era.
After a lengthy introduction from producer and collaborator, Perry A Margouleff, Paul Rodgers took to the stage to treat us to the cover of the Sam & Dave chestnut, I Thank You, on which he sounded as powerful and assured as he did when he was 30. His cover of the Albert King number, Down Don’t Bother Me nicely propelled the set forward with great use of the horns and sassy female backing from the Royal Singers, which gave it an immediate authentic feel.
O V Wright’s That’s How Strong My Love Is allowed him to display his magnificent vocal range, whilst his cover of Sam Cooke’s Shake certainly did have us shaking and jigging in our seats.
Unfortunately, Rodgers’ thin alto is no match for Otis Redding’s gruff tenor, and his take on I’ve Been Loving You Too Long was surprisingly subdued, but he picked it up again for a percolating remake of Ann Peebles, I Can’t Stand The Rain. Throughout the set Rodgers showed his ability to bring soul and sincere Memphis and Motown musicality to numbers which he clearly loves.
Finishing the main set with the classic Bad Company track, Can’t Get Enough, which brought everybody to their feet, it was a pity that he couldn’t find a way to integrate a few more crowd pleasers into the set. The large multi-racial band, complete with horns and two keyboardists, could have had a lot of fun with Free’s Alright Now, because the evening’s only nod to Free was the performances of The Hunter and Walk In My Shadow, which was treated to outstanding saxophone work, and whilst no substitute for Paul Kossof’s guitar, it was a real highlight.
An encore brought Rodgers back to the stage for Dionne Warwick’s Walk On By, Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World, and Otis Redding’s I’ve Got Dreams To Remember.
Having finished the main body of the set in a little over an hour, the encore was the icing on the cake. It is unfortunate therefore that when he returned for encore number two, a belated Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just As Bad) was played to a startled audience with the house lights on. But for those who were still there, they heard a great version that served to remind us that Rodgers can be a delightful blues singer.
What this concert showed was at the age of 64, Paul Rodgers is still on top form, which given how many rockers from the classic rock period conducted their lives, is rare indeed. He sounded as good as he did back in the day and his voice has lost none of its appeal. With age he seems to have gotten more soulful, and with the songs on this new album, he has done many of the original artists proud.
It was a delight to see that I was not the only one who had enjoyed this special evening. Less than a few feet away from me stood another man who possesses a great R ‘n’ B voice, Rodgers’ old sparring partner, Robert Plant. The buzz at being in the presence of such greatness lasted all the way home and some.
It was great to see Rodgers, and in such a fantastic setting. It was a pity that this was a one night only gig because I am sure that sell out concerts would have followed.