Porretta Soul Festival 2018


31st Porretta Soul Festival,

19-22 July 2018

Rufus Thomas Park,

Porretta Terme, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Porretta Terme is a lovely charming small town in the Apennines, just inside the Emilia-Romagna Region and very close to the Tuscany region.  Not just the home of the famous annual soul festival, it 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, the artists and the audience are getting older, so it is a blessing that we still have some artists from Southern Soul Music's glory years still with us, combined with newer artists, to perform for us each year in Porretta.  Graziano Uliani started the whole thing on a shoestring, with a concert by Solomon Burke in Porretta before he started the Sweet Soul Music Festival.  The very first festival hosted Rufus Thomas and the Memphis Horns as the big names and the Porretta Soul Festival has come a long way over the intervening years as we have had been treated to much of the cream of the crop of Southern Soul artists.  I must immediately thank Graziano and his dedicated team, who managed to stage and surprise us with a another great musical festival again this year.  I am very honoured to say that I have enjoyed annual attendance since 1993.

The Festival got started on the Thursday Night, (19th July) with Grove City and Daria Biancardi who did a good set which included a powerful performance of ‘Damn Your Eyes’, a song made famous by Etta James and I really liked her soulful rendition of the Donny Hathaway classic, ‘I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know’.  Piano playing Mitch Woods replaced Daria, fronting Groove City and did a great job on ‘Mojo Mambo’, ‘Boogaloo Barbecue’ and ‘House of Blue Lights’.  Mitch’s boogie style piano work was great and a dancing couple gave an excellent demonstration of Boogie Woogie dancing.  Daria came back on stage to join Mitch for a good version of ‘Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean’, while next up was the JBees Band, playing disco from the seventies and eighties and bringing the first night to a close.

Friday 20th July got underway with the Luca Giodano Band, who were joined by Chris Cain from San Jose, California, USA to perform a fine set of blues with numbers including ‘Going Back To Memphis’, Albert King’s ‘Let's Have A Natural Ball’ and B.B. King’s ‘Sweet Sixteen’.  Chris has a melodic edge to his energetic guitar playing, engaging to listen to and a good start to the night.  The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra were next on stage, fronted by Sax Gordon on a couple of numbers: ‘Soul Finger’ and ‘Somebody In The World For You’.  Backing singer, Larry Batiste stepped up for Wilson Pickett’s ‘Don't Knock My Love’ and Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’. 

Then the time had arrived for many of us to see Booker Brown for the first time.  Booker, looking good in his white suit and black waistcoat with gold musical notes on it, started with ‘Love Is Blind (But The Neighbours Ain’t)’.  His was an excellent, soulful set, his voice reminiscent of J. Blackfoot.  Other songs included ‘Stir It Up’ and 'Never Too Much Love’ - top notch stuff from this Memphis soul man.  Missy Andersen followed; she started very nervously with ‘Ace of Spades’ but settled down with ‘Stand By Me’ and ‘Tell Mama’, ending her set with ‘Higher And Higher’. 

After a short break for the band, we had Wee Willie Walker, who did an amazing set which included ‘Hate Take A Holiday’, ‘After A While’ and, from his Goldwax days, ‘There Goes My Used To Be’.  He continued with ‘Your Good Thing Is About To End’.  Great stuff from Willie, who seems to get better and better every time I see him and congratulations to him on winning the ‘Most Outstanding Blues Singer’ accolade in the ‘Living Blues’ Awards, 2018.  Terrie Odabi started her rather good set with ‘Wade In The Water’, followed by her first class song, ‘Gentrification Blues’ and ending with the Ben E. King classic, ‘Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)’, incidentally, written by Ben’s wife Betty Nelson and Ahmet Ertegun. 

John Ellison, formerly of the Soul Brothers Six, next provided an equally excellent set to end the night.  Starting with his group’s multi-selling hit, ‘Some Kind Of Wonderful’ - claimed by the Guinness Book of Records as one of the most recorded songs ever - John also delivered ‘Thank You Baby For Loving Me’, ‘I’ll Be Loving You’ and finished the superb set with the reggae-infused, rhythmic song, ‘If I Had Just One Wish’.

Saturday 21st July welcomed Don Bryant and the Bo-Keys treating us to an outstanding set of pure class - over an hour of pure ecstasy.  The band were so tight and Don’s voice was in splendid shape as ‘A Nickel And A Nail’ got the set off to a flying start.  ‘That Driving Beat’, ‘Don’t Give Up On Love’ and ‘One Ain't Enough" were just some of the songs in the magnificent set which closed with the number he co-wrote with wife,  Ann Pebbles: the worldwide hit, ‘I Can't Stand The Rain’. 

After a short break to change the bands over, we had the Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra and Mitch Woods, who was joined by 2018 Grammy Award Nominee, Fabrizio Poggi on harp.  A short set, ’Solid Gold Cadillac’ started this off and the Ella Mae Morse song, ‘House Of Blue Lights’ followed… and closed!  Sax Gordon came to the fore for one number; guitar player, Alvon Johnson did a good extended version of ‘Let’s Straighten It Out and Sandy Griffiths stepped up from her backing singer rôle to perform a rock version of ‘Proud Mary’. 

Percy Wiggins came on next, his noteworthy performance including his wonderful ‘Book of Memories’, ‘I Ain’t Never Found A Girl (To Love Me Like You)’ and ‘Bring It On Home To Me’.   Wee Willie Walker and Percy’s brother, Spencer Wiggins then joined him on stage to sing the Ovations’ I Need A Lot of Loving’, a Dan Penn/Spooner Oldham composition.  It was so good to see two Goldwax artists - Spencer And Willie - singing together on stage… sheer joy; a magic touch of class.  Spencer remained to give us his classic, ‘Lonely Man’.  Although he was looking very frail, his voice was in excellent shape, delivering ‘Uptight Good Woman’, followed by ‘Double Lovin’’ which sadly brought his time on stage to an end.   (I am glad to report that I saw him at Marzabotto - some 30 kilometres north-east of Porretta Terme - on the following Tuesday and he looked a lot better on that occasion.)

After another short break, the inimitable Swamp Dogg gave us a quality set of some of his classic songs.  ‘Lover Man’, a number he rarely does these days, opened his part of the show; ‘Synthetic World’, ‘Total Destruction To Your Mind’ and ‘Sam Stone’ followed and his sterling set finished with ‘Gotta Get A Message To You’.  The evening continued with the accomplished Lacee, who began with ‘Let The Juke Joint Jump’ in a selection which also included ‘Doctor Feelgood’ and ‘Try A Little Tenderness’.  Last man standing for the evening was Ernie Johnson.  Another fine performer, ‘I’m In The Mood For Love’, from his 1995 Waldoxy album ‘In The Mood’ kicked off his session while another song from that album, ‘Move Along’ followed, succeeded by ‘You Gonna Miss Me’ and winding up with ‘Dreams To Remember’.  Thus, an extremely good night was brought to an end.

Sunday 22nd July…  As with previous years, the Sunday night is a review of the previous two days with each artist performing two songs apiece.  The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra settled in with an instrumental from Anthony’s 2001 ‘Hiding In Plain Sight’ album, ‘Town Without Pity’.  Mitch Woods came on to perform ‘Jambalaya’, followed by Japanese singer, Haruhiro Aoyama, leader of the Japanese soul band, the Fave Raves,  with a creditable version of ‘Take Me To The River’.  The proceedings continued with Sax Gordon and ‘Somebody In The World For You’, Larry Batiste with ‘Don't Knock My Love’ and Sandy Griffith with Gladys Knight’s ‘Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)’.

Percy Wiggins stepped up to the mike, started with his 1966 RCA release, ‘It Didn't Take Much (For Me To Fall In Love)’ and his other song was ‘I Ain't Never Found A Girl’.  Spencer Wiggins opened with his excellent 1966 Goldwax single, ‘Old Friend (You Asked If I Miss Her), ‘Double Lovin’’, his 1970 Fame single being his second offering.  He was then joined by Wee Willie Walker and brother, Percy, to give us a fine reprise of ‘I Need A Lot of Loving’ - a joyful moment yet again.  Willie then remained on stage and his two songs were ‘Romance In The Dark’ and ‘After A While’ before Terri Odabi joined him for a cracking version of Otis [Redding] and Carla [Thomas]’s ‘Lovey Dovey’.  Terri continued solo and sang ‘Funkier Than A Mosquito’s Tweeter’, the Ike & Tina Turner song - penned by Tina’s sister, Alline Bullock - proving an interesting choice and she finished with ‘Wade In The Water’.

Alvon Johnson came on after a short break to do ‘Let's Straighten it Out’, the old Latimore song; John Ellison followed with ‘Give Me The Lovelight’, concluding his short set with the reggae-rhythmic ‘If I Had Just One Wish’ and Swamp Dogg offered up ‘Synthetic World’ and ‘Total Destruction To Your Mind’.  The show was certainly getting along at a fast pace… Booker Brown next with ‘Backyard Party’ and his earthy gritty vocals then lent themselves to the blues standard, ‘Rock Me Baby’; Missy Andersen began with a perfect ‘Ace Of Spades’ - no nervousness like that shown on Friday night - and ‘Stand By Me’ and Ernie Johnson, still sounding like Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, commenced with a medley which included ‘That's The Way Love Is’ and ‘Rock Me Baby’, closing with what feels like the anthem of this year’s Porretta Festival, ‘Move Along’, from his (in my opinion) overall best album, ‘In The Mood’.  Last up, Lacee started with a bang on ‘Let The Juke Joint Jump’, concluding with the more mid-paced ‘Can We Groove’.  Thus arrived that time of the night when all the performers come back on stage to give us an encore of Sam Cooke’s ‘Bring It On Home To Me’, sadly bringing to an end the 2018 edition of the Porretta Soul Festival.

Graziano once told me the most important thing at Porretta is the band; without the right band, everything would not be so good.  We have had some great bands in the past, with some amazing artists playing within these bands, but I truly believe Anthony Paule’s band is the best band ever at Porretta.  To be able to work for up to five hours a night and keep it interesting, the quality sustaining the highest level, you have to have a degree of excellence as a standard, which Anthony Paule’s Soul Orchestra certainly has.  They worked so hard over the weekend, having to learn about sixty-four songs or more, in order to give us, the audience, an overwhelming feeling that we attended a once in a lifetime show.

The band are…

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

Sax Gordon - Tenor Sax

Backing Singers, Larry Batiste, Sandy Griffith & Karen Richards.

My thanks as ever go out to Graziano Uliani and his staff and, of course, the people of Porretta for staging a great show yet again this year.  Thank you

Dave Thomas

Photos, top to bottom:  Missy Anderson, Wee Willie Walker, John Ellison,

Don Bryant, Percy Wiggins, Lacee, Spencer Wiggins, Swamp Dogg,

Ernie Johnson, Wee Willie Walker & Terri Odabi, Percy & Spencer Wiggins

with Wee Willie Walker

Photos © Dave Thomas, 2018