The Mighty James Brown
by David Soulsby, author of the novel "Somewhere in the Distance"
It was a live performance out of this world!. It was March 1966 and a young James
Brown was in town on his first visit to England. The father of funk, the caped crusader, the energy-fuelled
R&B revolutionary, was out to give of his best — and more! He was a bundle of dynamite, exploding on
stage like a high velocity warhead, rousing the sweating and swaying audience in to a frantic
The Granada cinema in the sedate Greater London enclave of Walthamstow had not seen
anything like it before. A boisterous, more exhilarating night would be hard to imagine, but we shouldn’t
have been surprised — we were warned a year earlier by Roger Daltrey of The Who that Brown was going to be
the next big craze. The band, he said, had played Brown’s music and appreciated just how good he was. And boy
was Daltrey right!
With his distinctive costumes and immaculate hairstyle Brown cut quite a mighty dash.
And his dance moves mesmerized. They left you asking ‘How did he do that? That gravity defying leap, that
split that was simply jaw dropping, that sensational slide? He must have elasticated legs, must be super
Brown showed levels of energy that just took the breath away. He was a real live
wire. There was intense, and than there was James Brown!
The end of the concert saw Brown kneeling on the stage, his group trying to put a
gold and red cloak round his shoulders and take him to the wings, seemingly exhausted and spent by his
efforts. Time and time again he threw the cloak off and the crowd got wilder and wilder. He didn’t want to
leave and they didn’t want him to leave either. And just when it looked like he’d vanished through the
curtains he was back to loud applause and calls for more that competed with the high-octane roar of the
He did, of course, finally call it a night, but the tingle and excitement of the
concert remained long after. It left the ears ringing and the body slightly shaking.
One can only wonder at just how good Brown’s 1962 Live At The Apollo concert
had been. It must have exceptional if the accolades are to be believed.
It’s great listening to the New York concert album but it’s not the same thing as
being there. Anyway, the album’s deemed by many to be the best ever live album. Praise indeed, so it’s
amazing to think that Brown had to organize and self-finance the event himself as there wasn’t much
confidence in such a venture being worthwhile by some in the music industry!
Thankfully, the album was a success in America, and later in Britain. It announced
him as a leading R&B/soul singer of outstanding quality. From there he never looked back and became known
as the ‘Hardest Working Man in Show Business’ due to his enormous appetite for touring and performing. Not
bad for someone born in abject poverty in a small wooden shack in South Carolina.
Brown may have appeared at bigger and more famous venues throughout the world but his
night in Walthamstow is fondly remembered by those who were privileged to be there.
David Soulsby lives in Romford, Essex, England, and is now retired after 46 years as a journalist. During his career, he worked on local and national
newspapers and magazines, and in the Sixties met many of his musical heroes, including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan,
Roy Orbison, Sonny Boy Williamson, James Brown and Mel Torme. He’s now freelancing as a writer
and proof-reader, working from home. He’s the author of Somewhere In The Distance, a novel
about four friends growing up in the