When legends come to town, it’s always very tempting to try and see them, especially when it’s possibly the only chance you’ll get. For that reason, I’ve seen people like James Brown, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tony Bennett, Herbie Hancock, Leonard Cohen, Simon and Garfunkel, The Everly Brothers, and so on. Of course, legends tend to be able to charge a good whack for tickets, so I didn’t get to see people like Little Richard and Al Green on their most recent Manchester dates and I’ve never got round to seeing Willie Nelson either.
However, The Impressions fell into the category of must-see. My favourite soul group, they also have a much more authentic feel to their line-up than the likes of The Four Top and The Temptations. Obviously, lead singer Curtis Mayfield isn’t around anymore and that’s a huge whole to fill, as he wrote and sang on almost all of their biggest hits, but given that he left them over 40 years ago and died 12 years ago, it’s not like they can’t cope without him on stage.
Their first-ever British tour has seen them backed by a UK all-star (with members of Jamiroquai and Brand New Heavies) group calling themselves the Curtom Orchestra (named after Mayfield’s Curtom record label), and it was they who started the show with a run-through of some classic Curtis solo material. If There’s A Hell Below, Pusherman, Freddie’s Dead and Give Me Your Love were all worked into a neat medley and delivered so well that few people would have minded too much if this tribute act had lasted a bit longer.
But who needs impressionists when you’ve got The Impressions? As soon as they emerged on stage and launched into It’s Alright, the crowd were on their feet and everyone in the room had a smile on their face. It’s that kind of song and this was that kind of show. With two of the ‘classic’ line-up, Sam Gooden and Fred Cash, the trio are no spring chickens, but gave no sign of holding back on their singing or their dancing.
They’ve got an unashamedly nostalgic live show, with matching suits and synchronised moves clearly harking back to their earlier days rather than the more rugged late 60s era, but it works well without coming across as too schmaltzy, and the music and performances are good enough to lift it above being purely a nostalgia-fest. Reggie Torian has been in the band on-and-off since 1973 and his lead vocals are close enough to Curtis to pull off the role without sounding like that’s all he’s there for, and all three have amazingly strong voices considering that Gooden is closer to his 80th birthday than his 70th.
And while their matching outfits show no sign of the ‘angry young black men’ phase of their career, they don’t exactly shy away from it musically, playing songs like Mighty Mighty (Spade And Whitey) and Choice Of Colours, along with all the expected classics. Hearing them sing People Get Ready was worth the price of admission alone and every song they did was fantastic. Finishing off with Mayfield’s Move On Up, the only real disappointment was that it didn’t go on a bit longer, but we’d all had a real treat and a privilege and that’s what you hope for when you go to see legends perform.