Pulling into town hot and almost direct from the Sunday night headline slot on the West Holts stage at Glastonbury, you can guarantee that Bobby Womack’s appearance on the Beeb’s extensive coverage of the festival is responsible for putting a few more asses on the seats of the Olympia Theatre. Womack has been performing since 1952, he’s seen the highs and the lows and has lived them too, he’s been to the promised land and he’s been through the wilderness. And now he’s back. Hitting a purple patch over the last few years, he hasn’t been so much re-invented as re-discovered thanks to, in no small part, Mr Magpie Damon Alburn.
Confidence is clearly high and Womack is barely on stage, train still in the station when he opens with his trump card, the Blaxploitation classic ‘Across 110th Street’ Bang!!! How do ya like those apples!! As an opening gambit it almost pays off but his vocal hits some flat notes, thankfully the only misstep of the night from either Womack or his 13 piece backing band. During the course of the night we are indulged with numbers from all of the various phases of his extensive career, from his early days with the Valentinos (1962’s ‘Looking For Love’) right up to a mere three tacks from his latest comeback.
It is during the slow burner of ‘The Bravest Man In The Universe’ that Bobby introduces us to his backing band. From the almighty trio of backing vocalists to the incendiary horn section, from the tasteful keys and guitar these cats can swing. But the virtuosity of Womack’s vocal is not lost amongst this embarrassment of riches. His deep soulful tones ride the crest of their wave. Soul Brother Bobby is in the house and the house is treated to a 2 hour plus master class of soul, gospel and r’n’b. Soul Power? This brother’s got it in spades and tonight he’s dealing from a loaded deck.
Artists of Bobby’s generation came up through the ranks when audiences demanded talent and showmanship from their artists. They had handed over their hard earned nickels and dimes in the name of entertainment and entertained they were going to be. He brings all of those years of experience to play tonight, cajoling and playfully riffing with the audience, teasing the ladies and offering sage advice on courtship to the men folk. Throughout the show he coveres every inch of the stage and is escorted on and off the stage James Brown style, minus the cape and histrionics but with all the flare and class.
The sublime moments are almost to many to mention, but when Bobby effortlessly segues from ‘You’re Welcome, Stop on By’ to Sam Cooke’s haunting ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ I swear I see tears mixed in with the beads of sweat. The passion, heartbreak and dignity of the Civil Rights movement are palpable as Womack shows us just why his music is called soul. There’s just the one encore in the shape of ‘I Can Understand It’ but by this stage the audience are up on their feet, lost in the moment, getting their collective freaks on, as things got even hotter and sweatier. And then he’s gone. Like the old pro he is, he leaves us begging for more. With a cloud of steam rising in his wake Bobby heads on up the tracks, homeward bound, leaving us reeling, star struck and awe struck. A truly humbling and remarkable experience.