Charles Bradley. If you don’t know that name do yourself a favor and Google him quickly, especially if you like the music of James Brown or Sharon Jones & the dap kings. A week ago, I’d never heard of Charles Bradley and I love James Brown and have a serious girl crush on Sharon Jones (I want to come back as her in my next life.)
Ironically, I had sat next to His Extroadinaires band on my flight to Australia from the U.S. 2 weeks ago and had no idea who they were. We engaged in small talk and they were friendly but I was distracted and a little fatigued to ask what band they were in (they were carrying instruments; it was obvious they were musicians). Skip to 10 days later and I am in the car on my way home from a dinner, listening to my favorite Australian radio station Triple J, and I hear this song.
Which is a cover of this song:
A soul cover of a Nirvana song? Yes! This is what a cover should sound like – nothing like the original. I knew I needed to know who this guy was but without pen and paper handy, or my ‘shazam’ app available I had to rely on vintage technology: concentration and memory. I listened patiently, and carefully for the radio announcer to tell me who was singing this song and then, when she said Charles Bradley, it was a case of “Charles, Charles, friends kids name is Charlie, remember Charlie, Charles, Bradley, Bradley, sounds like Barkley, the basketball player, but not Barkley, you don’t like basketball, Bradley, think you have a cousin Bradley, remember brad? That kid from the street……” kind of conversation going in my head all the way home. She also announced that he was playing at the Corner Hotel on March 18th.
Tickets booked almost immediately on arriving home.
I couldn’t miss him playing at the Corner Hotel, regardless of the fact that he has a big North American tour coming up this year. The corner hotel is one of my favorite music venues in Melbourne. It also has one of the best rooftop beer gardens in town. If you’re ever in town, make it a point to spend an afternoon in the sun here. The people are friendly, the food is great and beer is cold. Even better, sign up for their newsletter ahead of time to get knowledge of who is playing – tickets sell out fast if it’s a good act.
Often referred to as Black Velvet, Charles Bradley was set to go on stage at 9:30pm but well before that, the place was teeming with a crowd ready to embrace the ‘screaming eagle’ of soul who would end up embracing us. The red curtains opened and His Extraodinaires band teased us with a few minutes of instrumental soul, they were tight and looked…..familiar? It wasn’t until a few songs in did I finally connect that these were the people I was sitting next to and joking with at the airport! You know I love a good story of connection.
When Charles Bradley arrived on stage, he stood in the center, took in the scene, outstretched his arms to reveal a fringe on his under sleeves, reminiscent of a late Elvis look, took to the microphone and placed layers of emotion as he belted out “heartaches and pain” for the first song.
He had me at the fringe.
It was like that for 90 minutes as he caressed, teased, danced and gyrated his way through the entire set. Sweating and screaming and giving the crowd more than they could have imagined. His voice is sultry and raspy, like he chain smoked his way to the microphone. Charles Bradley is dramatic, he performs his songs with gestures (he does the one hand in the air, palm outstretched like he is reaching for the emotion he is singing about, grabs it and slowly pulls it down, tightly in the fist, to his chest). Throughout his entire set he told us he loved us and, I really felt it! At one point he stopped and said “You all have opened my spirit right now”. Oh! And there was some spirit alright.
It’s easy to place Charles Bradley in the same groove as James Brown; after all, he did moonlight as a James Brown impersonator under the name of “Black Velvet” and does have a similar sound to him –that wailing raspy voice – and looks similar to him as he moves, electrified on stage. But Charles Bradley brings his own story to the stage (and his own style of pelvic thrust). His is a story of struggle and pain and a life lived, off the stage, doing odd jobs, looking after an ailing mother and the loss of his brother who was murdered by his nephew.
His lyrics aren’t drenched in metaphor, they’re often literal like in the song ‘heartaches and pain’, the story of his brother’s murder: “people were crying, so I ran down to the street, my friend grabbed my shoulder and he said these words to me ‘life is full of sorrow, so I have to tell you this. Your brother is gone.”
When he sings his songs, he is telling stories which make this man, and his music, even more compelling and why when you see him live you know you’re getting the real deal. Most of the songs were from his album “No Time for Dreaming”. An ironic title since, while Charles Bradley might not have led a life that left a lot of time for dreaming, at 62 and with his first album release just last year, I’d say this was the story of a dream coming true.