“Remember this”, quoth Movin’ Melvin Brown, winding up his 80-minute set with just a couple more trademark 33 1/3 rpm chuckles, ‘it’s nice to be important.’ More chuckles, a kilowatt grin: ‘but it’s important to be nice!’. So, with honesty, Movin’ is a seasoned entertainer who emanates charm and warmth, and although more Satchmo or Cab Calloway than Otis, is more than capable of carrying a tune in a bucket.
Movin’ is a seasoned entertainer who emanates charm and warmth
But I can’t help feel his formula has a little self-preservation thrown in. By referencing the remarkable Philadelphia of the first wave of soul, he can parry any unfavourable comparisons. For again, let’s be frank, Movin’ and band have set out their stall in front of one enormous hunk of the Mount Rushmore of American music and are in danger of spoiling the view.
It’s a great idea: Me and Otis, with its tantalizing, inbuilt narrative tension. On the one hand, we have Otis Redding, one of the true knights of America’s ‘post-apartheid’ dawn and a vocal talent as prodigious and unchained as Jimi’s strat, Coltrane’s sax or Janis’s caterwaul. On the other, we have the mystery of MMB. Did Movin’ know Otis personally? Is he even from his part of the world? Or does the title set up a coy tension: Me and Marilyn/Michelangelo/Micky Mouse, or Withnail and I etc.? A question posed is worth a thousand questionable poses, but it was frustrating to be supplied by so few answers in this show.
What we got instead, was a superior wedding band fare. Movin’ chuckled, danced and sang rather beautifully the glittering array of stompers, tappers and twangers that is the Redding songbook, while daintily inserting diet slices of homily between each, often ending with the title of the number to come, i.e. ‘They found Otis hard to handle!’.Only once did the storytelling touch any kind of grit, the ‘n’ word used, and for a moment a steelier side of Movin’ glinted.
The devil therefore was in the musical detail and it is here the work really showed its stitching. Not that the band weren’t tight and muscular, even arguably displaying a verisimilitude to the original Stax outfits: men dead-eyed from years of exploitation on the chitlin’ circuit, the joy of music long gone from their faces, if not their fingers. But where were the horns? And why the tendency to jazz-out à la Weather Report? Or wherefore, the guitarist’s evident rockabilly leanings? And the strange non-singing Nico-esque backing vocalist? The overall effect was, well, a wedding-like, leaving Movin’ to wing it in a wing coat and some very un-Otis style dancing.
This all coupled with being pinned in a drafty seat in the inflatable main house of the Warren, wobbling to the wind and lairy guffaws of the Saturday night crowd, made me almost wish I were at a wedding, where at least I could either dance as stupidly as I like or sneak off with a handful of canapés and some fizz. But that wouldn’t be nice.