The Song’s The Thing – An Evening Of Motown

Mark Hudson reviews Lamont Dozier at the Royal Festival Hall

EVEN if you’ve never heard of Lamont Dozier, you do know his music. As house songwriters and producers during Tamla Motown’s Sixties heyday, he and brothers Eddie and Brian Holland became the most successful songwriting partnership of all time after Lennon and McCartney.
Often dismissed as “cocktail soul”, the classic hits of the Supremes and the Four Tops now exemplify an era that fascinates us all – when African-America’s burgeoning aspirations were embodied through ruthlessly addictive hook-lines, exquisite melodies and more than a dash of old-fashioned gospel fire.
But how could such an iconically potent era be represented live without descending into soundalike kitsch? Would this performance, featuring the cream of young British soul talent, be an inspirational cultural event or a gruesome exercise in nostalgia?
The evening got off to a rather subdued start. Dozier, a quietly charming figure in a dark suit and a fine singer in his own right, shone on the newer, slower numbers, but old hits such as the Four Tops’ Baby I Need Your Lovin’ lacked the testifying fervour that lifted the originals above mere pop efficiency.

Passion and charisma arrived in the form of shaven-headed British soulstress Alison Limerick and a breathlessly exhilarating Reach Out (I’ll Be There), the 10-piece band kicking hard, but losing none of the subtlety of the original arrangement.

Doubts as to the quality of modern British pop R&B were quashed as Dozier and Eternal’s Esther Bennett turned a medley of It’s The Same Old Song and I Can’t Help Myself – scarcely the profoundest songs ever written – into a blazing rock-gospel work-out.
In the second half, the hits came so thick and fast it was like seeing part of your life flashing before your eyes; songs that have etched themselves on the collective consciousness, but are so direct and to-the-point it is difficult to depart from the original format without sacrificing melodic nuance.
Roachford’s storming Band of Gold was slightly clumpy and teen trio Mis-Teeq’s Baby Love, while not without charm, came close to camp impersonation. Twenty-year-old Jamelia showed how it should be done with a cat-like Where Did Our Love Go and male quintet Damage created an authentic soul revue atmosphere that raised the roof.
This was an evening that evoked the wide-eyed optimism of the Sixties without descending into mawkishness and saw contemporary artists drawing on the grace and glamour of classic Motown to create a modern feel. Soul, it seems, is alive and well and living in Britain, and Dozier, it was clear, was suitably moved.

 Article taken from the Telegraph 12:00AM BST 25 Sep 2001.

Posted on: 21st October 2015