The Impressions – The Soul of Curtis Mayfield, Barbican Centre London, Friday June 10th 2011

Photo review by Alan Hardy

The first-ever live appearance in the UK by legendary Chicago soul vocal group The Impressions was bound to be eagerly anticipated by fans. It’s quite amazing that the group which was formed in 1958 and launched solo careers for Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield and Leroy Hutson had never performed in the UK before. It’s equally amazing that although they’ve had 39 hits on the American Billboard Hot 100 and 50 hits on the Billboard Soul chart, they only managed one here. Sadly not even the pirate stations featured their now classic sixties releases on their charts very often, if at all. Yet the Barbican Hall in London was packed and The Impressions walked out to a standing ovation. From that moment the audience – and I suspect the performers too – were in soul heaven for over an hour.

The evening was billed as ‘The Soul Of Curtis Mayfield’ featuring songs from the period when the late Curtis was the Impressions' lead singer and the writer of so many gems. The night began with ‘Gypsy Woman’ and from the first time they opened their mouths, we knew that those harmonies, voices and their unique tonal blend that we loved on record, were as good as ever.

Classic followed classic – ‘It’s Alright’, ‘I’m So Proud’, ‘People Get Ready’, ‘Choice Of Colours’, ‘You’ve Been Cheating’, ‘Woman’s Got Soul’ and so many more. We were even treated to their versions of a few of Curtis’ solo recordings like ‘Superfly’ and ‘Move On Up’, a song which they added as an encore.

Fred Cash

Reggie Torian
Sam Gooden

To hear greats like ‘I’m So Proud’ being sung live in front of my eyes often brought a little tear to my eye. To see original member Sam Gooden clearly enjoying himself and sometimes complimenting lead singer Reggie Torian on his performance, was heart-warming. Reggie is the virtual ‘new boy’ having joined in 1973, replacing Leroy Huston, and he managed to recreate that unique vocal styling of Curtis Mayfield while still bringing his own style and personality. Third member Fred Cash, another veteran, has been with the group since 1960.

Credit must also be paid to ‘The Curtom Orchestra’ – despite their name, not The Impressions’ own US band, but one made up of crack British musicians drawn from groups like The Brand New Heavies, The James Taylor Quartet and Jamiroquai – and what an excellent and sympathetic band they were, often getting an appreciative smile from Reggie.

In all, a night to remember – a master-class performance of sheer professionalism. The Impressions left the stage as they arrived – to a standing ovation – and then went out into the Barbican foyer to spend at least half an hour signing autographs. Fifty-three years was a long time to wait, but it was worth it!

All photos: ©Alan Hardy

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