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BALTIC SOUL WEEKENDER APRIL 24-26,2009 HAMBURG, GERMANY
The third annual Baltic Soul Weekender, held just outside Hamburg at a vast holiday resort overlooking the Baltic Sea, was a spectacular gathering of musical talent that encompassed legendary performers such as Melba Moore and Incognito alongside rap pioneer Kurtis Blow and much-loved soul sisters Gloria Scott and Ann Sexton.

Drawing several thousand enthusiastic soul music fans (including a strong contingent of British DJs), the Weekender got off to a positive start on Friday (April 24) with German R&B man DAN DODD ELLIS who was followed by Trinidadian native SHARON PHILLIPS whose short but effective set included covers of tunes originated by Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Bill Withers and Luther Vandross.

GEORGE MCCRAE has long held a place in the annals of soul music thanks to “Rock Your Baby”: the Miami hitmaker kept the crowd dancing with “I Can’t Leave You Alone” and his classic ‘70s hit.

Star time for Friday night came with MELBA MOORE, making her first appearance in Germany. Melba has a strong catalog to draw from and while her skills as a balladeer have often brought U.S. audiences to their feet (with tunes like “Lean On Me,” the Van McCoy song she recorded in 1975), she focused on uptempo material: highlights included “You Stepped Into My Life,” “This Is It” and “Make Me Believe In You” along with songs from the rock musical “Hair” in which she starred in the late ‘60s.

Saturday night provided more excitement and great music: Dutch-based neo-soul man BROWN HILL and his band were exemplary, skillfully blending old school craftsmanship with contemporary rhythms. The result was an excellent set of mostly original material – standouts included “Ghetto Queen” and “Daddy’s Caddy” both from the soul stylist’s upcoming CD – alongside covers of Curtis Mayfield’s “Ghetto Child Running Wild” and EW&F’s perennial “Can’t Hide Love.”

GLORIA SCOTT may not be a household name in the U.S. but thanks to her 1974 album (“What Am I Gonna Do”) produced by the late Barry White, the L.A. native is enjoying a career rejuvenation: her presence at the Baltic Soul Weekender in 2008 elicited such a positive response that she returned this year for a longer set in the main room. Her focus was on tunes from her Casablanca Records period including the title track from her lone album (about to be reissued on Reel Music in the U.S.) and the rare single, “Just As Long As We’re Together” but new songs from a forthcoming album being produced in Germany – notably “Help Me Get Off This Merry-Go-Round” (available as a live MP3) and “Promised Land” indicated that Gloria’s got what it takes to win over new fans with her soulful delivery.

Two New York-based acts were up next: JOYCE SIMS offered her big hit, “Come Into My Life” during an enjoyable set that also included a rousing interpretation of Barbara Acklin’s “Love Makes A Woman”; and then, the ‘surprise’ hit of the night, rap and hip-hop pioneer KURTIS BLOW had the entire audience rocking with many of his classics including “Party Time” and of course, “The Breaks” throwing in his version of Grandmaster Flash’s perennial “The Message” much to the delight of the crowd. Energetic and agile, Kurtis – now close to fifty – may, at first glance, have seemed an odd choice at an event dominated by soul, R&B and funk but he proved that when it comes to showmanship, he’s right on time!

Headliner for Saturday night in the main room was INCOGNITO. Quite simply, this U.K. aggregation offers one of the best live shows on the planet! Their sheer musicianship and dynamism coupled with a groove-rich catalogue makes founder Bluey’s band unrivalled. There were the obvious showstoppers like “Always There,” “Still A Friend Of Mine” and the ever-wonderful “Nights Over Egypt” along with “Step Aside” from the group’s most recent album (“Tales From The Beach”) but other favourites included “Deep Waters” and Incognito’s memorable take on Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing.” Pure groove brilliance from the entire group - and a dilemma for those of us who wanted to catch the acts performing at the smaller more intimate stage, about a five-minute trot away!

I managed to run back and forth between the two so I could catch some of Southern soul belle ANN SEXTON’s show but it was tough! I missed Ann bringing onstage Melba Moore who performed her Northern soul classic “Magic Touch,” caught a little of Ann’s take on Tyrone Davis’ “Is It SomethingThat You’ve Got” and her much-loved “You’re Losing Me” but missed out on the finale that included GARLAND GREEN (who performed at the smaller stage reprising such songs as “Plain & Simple Girl,” “40 Days” and of course, “Jealous Kinda Fellow” which included tributes to Sam Cooke and Jesse Belvin) along with Gloria Scott, George McCrae, Melba and Ann.

Throughout the entire weekend, a strong contingent of DJs (many from the UK including Ady Croasdell, Eddie Piller, Lloyd Attrill, Mick Farrer, Mike Thompson, Rob Wigley and Steve Hobbs) played everything from modern soul to Northern soul, funk to jazz. Kenny B. and Bernd kept the groove going through ‘Baltic Soul Weekender’ and event founder/creator Dan Dombrowe showed his own DJ skills as well as a truly soulful host for one and all. Undoubtedly, the Baltic Soul Weekender (whose past line-ups have included The Temptations, Alexander O’Neal, Roy Ayers, The Fatback Band and others) has now become a fixture in the European soul calendar and a ‘must attend’ event going forward.

Special thanks to Dan, Barbara, Christian, all my Brit DJ pals, Kenny B, Bernd, Mr. Brown, Marten, Alex and all the great soulful folks I met during the weekend.


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.
  
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