Brighton Fringe 2013
A tribute act to the late, great Ray Charles, covering a wide spectrum of music from the Fifties right up to the Seventies, combined with some old school tap routines. Movin’ Melvin Brown is a traditional song and dance man.
This credible homage opened with’ Movin’ Melvin Brown, bedecked in a shiny, pinstripe zoot suit, porkpie hat and white shoes, performing an impressive tap routine to 42nd Street. Brown then gave us a little history of Ray Charles and his rival Nat King Cole before singing Cole’s soulful, Answer Me, My Love, followed by a chirpy Paper Moon.
While these were sung competently, Melvin really got into his stride when performing classic Ray Charles numbers perfectly mimicking the singer’s sways, hand movements and other visual ticks. His voice suited Charles’ songs much better and he performed all the hits including, Unchain My Heart, I’ve Got A Woman, Hit The Road, Jack, as well as lesser-known numbers. But he really came into his own of the slower ballads such as Georgia On My Mind.
Brown continued to attempt to provide a historical link between the songs, but this was tenuous at best, and frankly unnecessary, as he was at his most comfortable when singing and dancing on everything from soul, gospel, blues and tracks like The Beatles’ Let It Be and Sam Cooke’s Twisting the Night Away.
There were three not-so-quick costume changes, each one more shiny and impressive than before, including an all-in-red tails combo and a natty mustard suit to finish off with, as well as a cowboy outfit to accompany a Texan tap-dancing number to pre- recorded fiddlin’ music. With an infectious laugh, a genuine passion, and all the right moves, Melvin managed to charm the audience into losing their British reservations and got them up and dancing with abandon.
Unfortunately, despite all his hard work, Brown’s backing band let him down. The rhythm section looked disinterested and none of them had any real spark of soul, with the exception of the keyboardist and occasionally the guitarist. During the costume changes their instrumentals were flat and boring with little improvisational embellishment beyond what was written on the page in front of the musicians. Even at the encore, when the band members were introduced and they had the chance to shine with a solo, they squandered this opportunity. Brown has the pedigree, having appeared alongside James Brown, The Isley Brothers, and many others, and frankly, deserved better.
However, one could imagine with an additional backing singer or two, a band with their mojo turned up to 11, and a funky horn section, there’d be no stopping Movin’ Melvin!