Superstars of Soul: Ben E. King & Jimmy James
The Empire Theatre
BETWEEN them singers Ben E. King and Jamaican-born Jimmy James have chalked up over a century in the music game.
That is a serious amount of mileage, and in some ways the miles have taken their toll.
James, at the age of 72, playfully referred to himself as "a fat old man" and would apologise for messing up some of the soul standards he added to the lengthy set, but if the voice was not as rich as it was back in the day when he recorded hits like I’ll Go Where The Music Takes Me, his cheerfully lively stage presence was ample to get people who should be old enough to know better up on their feet and dancing in the aisles.
At a couple of years older, Ben E. King’s voice was notably more strained. Chatting between the songs he still has that honey-sweet baritone that created classics like Spanish Harlem or Save The Last Dance for me, enabling the North Carolina born singer to gently chide the audience with the easy charm of a southern gentleman.
When it came to singing, King would rely on the band or the audience singing along with the familiar lyrics to help carry him along, but though the voice is tired, King still commanded the stage like the seasoned performer he is.
Both men, though James especially, stepped outside their own extensive back catalogue for this generously lengthy set, with hits from Sam Cooke and Wilson Pickett popping up among their own standards. There was even a touch of Scottish funk as the seven piece band welcomed the audience back from the break with a bit of Average White Band.
King did, with tongue-firmly-in-cheek, berate the brass section for having the "temerity" to suggest that he was singing the lyrics of a song by a good buddy of his wrong, before collecting a piece of paper with said lyrics.
But given that his buddy was John Lennon and the lyrics were for his humanist hymn Imagine, neither King nor the audience needed any reminder.
Nor did they need any prompting for King’s own signature tune Stand By Me, by which time the audience were on their feet to give the soul veterans a rousing send off.