Live review: Mavis Staples – The Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool: Sunday, 28th June

Posted on: Monday, Jun 29, 2015

Fresh from a triumphant set the day before at Glastonbury, Mavis Staples and her excellent band delivered a most enjoyable 90-minute set in the grand surroundings of the newly-refurbished Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool. For decades an integral part of Stax records recording artistes, The Staple Singers, led by her father, Pops Staples, the diminutive in height, but ‘larger than life’ Mavis, was on fine form and the Liverpool crowd loved it!

Another reason that the show worked so well, was the sheer quality of the band – made up of three of the most in-demand West Coast-blues men, in the form of Rick Holmstrom (lead guitar and vocals), Jeff Turmes (bass and slide guitar) and Stephen Hodges (drums) – who between themselves have played on dozens of the best modern blues records about! Aiding and abetting on backing vocals were the talented Donny Gerrard and Vicki Randle.

The set contained some of The Staple Singers hit, some traditional tunes and also fine covers. Proceedings got under way with one of the afore-mentioned hits, “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me), and was followed by a lovely version of Stephen Stills’ Buffalo Springfield classic, “For What It’s Worth” – a song that befits Mavis Staples history as a voice of the civil rights movement back home in the USA. Both songs perfectly illustrated that she still has a voice to be reckoned with, and the prowess of the band – particularly Holmstrom’s lovely guitar work, both rhythm and lead, with not a note wasted.

We were treated to her dad’s “Freedom Highway” and a dip back into the Staples Singers songbook for the timeless “Respect Yourself”. Mavis took a little ‘time out’ to allow the band a couple of instrumental, that featured all three musicians, with Jeff Turmes delivering some fine Ry Coooder-tinged slide guitar. The main set ended in glorious fashion with audience participation on the big hit, “I’ll Take You There”, as the lady from Chicago worked the crowd with her infectious spirit!

Best of all on the night was a glorious encore of “The Weight”, penned by Robbie Robertson of The Band, and famously performed by The Staples Singers at their last gig, captured forever on record and film in “The Last Waltz” . . . with a nice touch being a verse each for backing singers Donny Gerrard and Vicki Randle, and also Jeff Turmes . . . a rousing end to a most enjoyable evening.

Opening up the show was the delightful local singer, Lizzie Nunnery, who played a lovely half-hour set, accompanied by Vidar Norheim on drums, guitar and vocals. Lizzie has featured in The Irish Sea Sessions at the same venue and has a most enchanting voice, and just back on stage after having a baby, she is definitely a talent to look out for.

GRAHAME RHODES

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