In the summer of 2004, I went to see James Brown at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall with Moo. The day before I had narrowly missed seeing James play at Glastonbury (a freak thunderstorm blocked my path to the Pyramid Stage where he was playing that afternoon).
Our seats at the James Brown show was in the front row, to the side of the stage, but in the front row all the same. Seeing James play live is one of my greatest achievements, and not many people can say they’ve seen him from the comfort of the first row.
I remember the ushers at The Bridgewater Hall being a little too heavy-handed in their health and safety responsibilities. The very animated gay man sat on the other side of the aisle from us, wasn’t allowed to dance in the aisle, just a step away from his seat. Every time he would wander out, he’d get ushered back into his seat.
Aside from this type of petty rule policing, the show was fantastic. Emcee Danny Ray introduced James on to the stage as he had been doing for the previous thirty years. James wasn’t as energetic as he was in his heyday, but he was far more lively than any other 71-year old I’ve seen. A couple of hot dancers and a crack-hot band filled the stage.
Throughout the show, a really old white guy in the front row of the theatre had been dancing crazily, like a zombie. At one point, James motioned to his ‘man’ (a large bodyguard type who stood close to him all night), and pointed to the old man. James’ ‘man’ went down from the stage and brought the old guy back up with him, so he could dance like a crazy zombie on stage with James. Fantastic.
I had heard about James’ numerous issues prior to seeing him perform. Moo told me that a friend of his had seen James play at his previous Manchester gig, and he had refused to come out on stage, making the support band play over and over until he was ready.
I didn’t see any of that. He was professional to the very end. All I saw was one of the greats. Just a very happy memory.
Live At The Apollo is always bandied around as one of the greatest live albums. It has a lot of charm, and it has a few problems (like how they cut a song in two between side one and side two of the record), but at the end of the day it’s still not really James Brown to me. This record captures him in his first wave of chart success, with one foot firmly placed in gospel, and a couple of years before he single-handedly invented funk with Out Of Sight and Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag. To hear a similar show to the one I saw in Manchester that time, it’d have to be Revolution Of The Mind: Live At The Apollo, Vol. III.
Hit: Please, Please, Please
Hidden Gem: Think