The Magnificent Seven : The Supremes & The Four Tops and Ronnie Dyson LiveAt the Royal Albert Hall, London - November 21, 1971
DUE TO lack of publicity, the International Children's Aid Charity concert on Tuesday November 30 at the Royal Albert Hall was not as well attended as it should have been for, although there may have been a few thousand "ravers" (including Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon), you could have expected an S.R.O. crowd especially with The Four Tops heading the bill. This did not, however, detract from the proceedings and the event proved to be one of the most exciting and soulful this year.
The show kicked off with the young and very talented Ronnie Dyson. Currently enjoying a goodly measure of success with his 'When You Get Right Down To It' (which he did not, alas, include in his all-too-brief act), the former Hair star proved to be easily one of the most soulful singers to have visited these shores. Despite what would appear on the surface to be pretty unsoulful material – his act ran through 'More Today Then Yesterday', 'You've Got A Friend', 'Who Can I Turn To', 'Aquarius' and 'If I Had A Hammer' – hardly an inspired selection – Ronnie excelled way beyond expectation.
Apart from the sheer earthy gospel quality of his voice, he hit some truly unbelievable notes, and with such ease that it was quite awe-inspiring! It's only sad that he couldn't have stayed longer.
Alas, Tony Blackburn compered the show and I had to sit through the same jokes for the third time – he did them all at the Supremes' shows at Hammersmith and Edmonton. The next guest was Afro-clad Esther Marrow – who had appeared on the Four Tops' concerts – and although she was good, her act lacked the sparkle of Ronnie's. At times, she seemed to be straining and her programme of songs could have been much better – she did 'Phoenix' and 'The Impossible Dream' and two unknown tunes.
On occasion, her vocals seemed to be lost in amongst the sound of the orchestra and she frankly rambled on during one of her numbers beyond the point of interest. Possibly she is more suited to a club atmosphere – her engagement at Ronnie Scott's club was apparently well received and although her voice is quite strong, she sounded like a lot of other ladies – something like a cross between Nancy Wilson, Aretha and Dionne Warwicke! It occurred to me that she could possibly have carried off a successful duet with her predecessor, Ronnie Dyson – they both have powerful gospel voices!
The show was not intended to be an all-soul event, so I was quite prepared to give Lou Christie a fair hearing, but alas, he only served to prove that comparing a pop singer with a soul singer is a mistake – in terms of sheer professionalism, presentation and above all, talent, soul stars are streaks ahead. Sure, there are good pop people but, sorry, Lou Christie is not one of them!
After a brief intermission, on came the stars of the show, Motown's Four Tops. Looking a little plumper, but sounding just as good as ever, the group showed that for harmony with an audience, they are practically second to none. True, the Tops' act has hardly changed at all and you could be forgiven for feeling that you have heard it all before (and I must admit, I did have just the occasional moment like that), but they generate a certain something which nigh on forces everyone to participate and they create an atmosphere of excitement that few contemporaries can equal.
According to those who saw them, on their own concert dates, their Royal Albert Hall show was far better. Their act included the inevitable 'Reach Out', 'Standing In The Shadows Of Love' and 'Baby I Need Your Loving' plus a very cleverly constructed medley which began and ended with Lawrence leading on the old standard, 'Try To Remember'. Tunes featured therein included 'Ask The Lonely' (which I don't remember having heard them sing on stage before), 'Something About You', and 'Without The One You Love'. Despite apparent mike problems, Levi was an undisputed success and shone particularly on 'Walk Away Renee'. 'It's All In The Game' and the ever-popular 'I'll Turn To Stone'.
What should have been the closer was a rousing 'I Can't Help Myself' but the foot-stomping audience weren't going to leave it at that – and forced the group back for 'MacArthur Park' (ugh!), 'A Simple Game', 'It's The Same Old Song' and 'I Got A Feeling' during which Levi did a "General Johnson" with that funny vocal effect that the gentleman uses on 'Give Me Just A Little More Time'. That really should have been it, but then came the climax of all – the one spot that outshone anything that had gone before! The Tops came back on stage with none other than The Supremes!! The noise was deafening but we were still able to hear the truly unbelievable workout of 'Reach Out And Touch (Somebody's Hand)'.
It's very hard to describe the electricity that seeing two super-groups together can bring but the sound on record is nothing compared to the soul that oozed out when the Magnificent Seven let rip. If only they could have had more time out on stage...it certainly proved that the promoters concerned should have arranged for the two groups to appear on their own special concert together – everyone could have got a chance with spots for the Supremes and Tops alone, intermingled with some stunning numbers together – certainly Jean's recent comment that she and Levi had a natural vocal harmony was borne out.
Without any doubt, seeing all seven together on stage was truly one of the most spellbinding moments ever and one which it will take a long time to forget – they far surpassed their appearance on Top Of The Pops two days later – and despite the audience's insistence for more, 'Reach Out' was their only joint effort.
Perhaps the impact will encourage Motown to give the two acts a concert together in Britain next time but the chances of getting all seven together again at the same time are, I guess, pretty remote. I certainly wouldn't have missed that special few minutes for anything!
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.