Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Ben E King and Gary U S Bonds Great American Soulbook

Ben E King & Gary U S Bonds Great American Soulbook tour

The Great American Soulbook
Assembly Hall Theatre
Royal Tunbridge Wells
9th March 2011

There was a good size audience in Royal Tunbridge Wells, but this wasn't a complete sellout. This is a shame because fans of soul missed a tremendous nights entertainment. A very good length show it is too, in excess of 2 hours and that excludes the interval.

I wonder if people thought this was a tribute to the artists rather than the genuine article?

Many people may not have heard of Gary U.S. Bonds who is probably best known for his hits New Orleans and Quarter To Three but whether you were familiar with him or not hardly mattered. Covering his own tracks and those of other well known artists (most of whom are now long gone) he was vocally enthralling throughout. Not only this the guy has a side talent as a very funny man. He knows how to get the best from an audience by way of  comedy, audience participation and generally doing the totally unpredictable.

His enthusiasm and energy makes it all the more amazing that he is 71 years of age.

Having to deal with whatever humorous additions Gary U S Bonds decides to make to the scheduled performance is the legendary star of soul Ben E. King. Yes it seemed somewhat humbling that such a respected gentleman of soul is performing in the UK here at Tunbridge Wells, Gravesend and loads of other places, including Butlins, when he is accustomed to huge international auditoriums.

Ben E King Supporting Great Ormond Street Childrens' Hospital But Ben is loving every minute if it and speaking to him after the show he is hoping to tour again next year.
From the massive total standing ovation both artists received at the end of this performance I hope that word of mouth recommendation and good reviews would ensure decent audiences should materialize another tour happen.

As with Gary, Ben covered his own hits including, naturally, Stand By Me but he also gave some beautiful renditions of other artists hits such as a lovely cover version of the late John Lennon's Imagine

72 year old King can still belt the soul out however for appreciating this we should thank a knowledgeable audience member behind me for interrupting the show early on. He politely pointed out to Ben (or rather "Mr King" as he was being diplomatic) that the gain on his microphone was not high enough for many of the audience to hear him. It did raise the question as to whether a decent sound check had been performed by the crew beforehand as the difference with a small change was phenomenal.

Fortunately this was only 2 tracks into the show and there was still loads more to come.

This is a 50/50 show too. Ben may be the better known name but he does not dominate the schedule. In the first half Ben performs, then Gary takes the stage. Interval over Ben returns for another stint ending with a massive, loud standing ovation. Gary returns until he takes his own ovation and eventually both stars take to the stage for an extremely entertaining (and with Gary around still very funny) finale with the audience on their feet until the curtain falls.

Gary signed his CDs and posed for pics both in the interval and after the show in the auditorium. Understandably, taking things a bit easier Ben left by the stage door, but not without taking all the time needed to meet those who had stayed to see him.

Gary U S Bonds & Ben E King in the UK Having met so many artists now at the stage door there are so many different egos and attitudes demonstrated after performances. They fall into 4 main groups. Fortunately there have been very few blatantly rude people but even when you politely ask if they'll do a charity signing some performers still take you by surprise with their arrogance. Then there's the "reluctant signer". They'll stay with you only long enough to sign and perhaps pose for a quick picture, the greater priority being to get to the pub. The majority fall into the "happy signers". They'll have a nice little bit of banter with everybody and whilst they may wish to get away they'll make sure everybody has got their autographs first.
Finally you have your "super signers" who really know how important it is to come across to fans off stage as nice as they do on it. Ben E King and Gary U S Bonds are now permanently ingrained in my long term memory as two of the most charming performers I have ever met. In the picture below of a grinning Ben and Gary you can see how relaxed they still are. This is after a very long show and all the time Gary had taken signing indoors when the show ended. Ben even kindly did an unplanned signing for Great Ormond Street Childrens' Hospital for and I also have a flyer signed by both artists for Starcards to auction.

So Soulbook in my book goes down as a great, memorable experience which will be remembered for great music, a lot of laughter and two extremely friendy, warm and down to earth, American stars.

Should they do a future tour I'd gladly see it again and I'd recommend that if The Great Americal Soulbook is visiting yout town or city that you see it too.

Ben E King & Gary U S Bonds best buddies!
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1 comment:

  1. Fantastic night. Fab singing, great backing band, a great night.

    Bren & Martin Stallard, East Sussex


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