The idea was to take the soul train to Manchester on Friday night, but Northern Rail shenanigans put paid to that, the state of the nation’s railways more ‘What’s Going On?’ than ‘People Get Ready’ right now, discussions over whether to renationalise or bring in The O’Jays ongoing.
As a result, faced with hanging around another 90 minutes before leaving for Oxford Road and missing the bulk of the set, I decided to drive, my eldest daughter having already set off from Sheffield to join me. But it worked out fine, even if the venue’s early curfew ahead of a club night meant we didn’t get to see fellow Paul Weller associate Steve Pilgrim’s support slot. Hopefully next time.
In fact, we barely got to the bar before the headliners stepped up, this soulful eight-piece (and that number is commendable in this day and age of musicians struggling to make ends meet – no half-baked brass loops on synths here) getting into their stride on new song ‘Freedom Starts’, ‘Open Your Heart to the World’ – Rob Newton’s percussive touches driving them – and ‘Next Time Around’. They know their onions, green and otherwise.
Think of the vibe of the Paul Weller Movement set-up with plenty of Curtis Mayfield fire, and you’re not far off. Stone Foundation are awash with deep soul influences, added professionalism keeping them some distance from any sound-alike Mod tribute brigade.
No special guests tonight, so no Hamish Stuart on ‘Only You Can’ – my personal highlight on Everybody, Anyone – even if the Average White Band’s ‘Pick Up the Pieces’ was played in the bar after. But lead vocalist/guitarist Neil Jones was more than up for it, his enthusiasm – he sings, dances, plays, and inspires all around him – catching, a funky riff built on co-founder Neil Sheasby’s bass and long-time cohort Phil Ford’s drumming proving a perfect … erm, foundation.
Next new song, ‘Changes’ was followed by Street Rituals’ ‘Season of Change. Yes, it’d be nice to see Bettye LaVette out with them, but balance sheets need to be taken into consideration. Besides, the band were firing on all cylinders now, Ian Arnold’s tinklings and Jonesy’s guitar building on Brother Sheas’ bass throb.
My evening highlight followed. No Weller of course, but ‘The Limit of a Man’ sounds great in studio form and even better live in a song recapturing The Style Council at their strongest. You might even say that as daylight turns to moonlight, they’re at their best.
In fact, that’s my general take. There’s a spark here that’s not always been as apparent on the recordings for these ears. Buy the records, learn the songs, wallow in them, but I reckon you get more of a feeling of this together outfit on stage, and their front-man really gets caught up in it.
They only started this UK run the night before in Edinburgh (selling out the Voodoo Rooms), and while nothing less than a class act, I got the feeling the brass trio – Anthony Gaylard (sax), Steve Trigg and Dave Boraston (trumpets) were perhaps nervy at first at their stage-front position in such an intimate setting. But they were note-perfect and soon flying.
Similarly, Sheasby was having technical issues, even if most of us were oblivious. But by the midway point they all seemed to be having a ball, feeding off a positive energy coming from throughout this compact venue. And it was a great size hall for them – far better than some enormo-dome, I imagine.
We had another quality Weller co-write with ‘Your Balloon is Rising’, the brass boys switching to flute and flugelhorns while Arnold moved seamlessly from Hammond to keyboard piano. And ‘Back in the Game’ saw our assured guests plough on in style, Impressions influences to the fore.
A set-closing take on ‘I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down’ rightly went down a storm. Yes, the purists will always point to Ann Peebles’ 1973 single, and I love Graham Parker’s 1977 re-read (GP also featuring on the SF single version), but they kind of make it theirs.
And back they came, trying to squeeze in as much as they could before the power was cut, ‘Sweet Forgiveness’ followed by A Life Unlimited opener ‘Beverley’ before a final flourish with closing cover ‘Going Back to My Roots’, Lamont Dozier’s evergreen given the Odyssey party vibe as much as the Richie Havens’ version they were building on.
More to the point, every interpretation – covers and originals alike – works well, this consummate Midlands combo clearly having fun and tight enough as a unit to pull it all off. Cracking night, fellas.
For this website’s most recent interview with Stone Foundation’s Neil Sheasby, a link to our previous interview, and details of how to snap up his Boys Dreaming Soul memoir, head here. And for information regarding the remaining dates on Stone Foundation’s latest UK tour, resuming this Thursday, November 7th at the Rescue Rooms in Nottingham, threading right through to Saturday, November 23rd at Thekla, Bristol, details are here.