Little Steven And The Disciples Of Soul @Newcastle O2 Academy, August 27 2019

‘Some jazz band that looked like they stepped straight out of the 80s’. That was the description of Little Steven and his Disciples Of Soul as outlined by an airport worker earlier in the day. That made me smile. But not nearly as much as when I saw the band performing at the O2 Academy hours later: an epic show that still felt as though it was over way too soon.

An upbeat start preceded an almost never-ending procession of star performers and a stellar set finished with the backing singers entering as though they were at an upbeat New Orleans funeral – sparkly umbrellas included. And then there was the dashing ‘director’ – Little Steven draped in his usual bandana and scarves cut a typically striking dash. It’s hard to believe there were 15 artistes on such a small stage but the wall of sound (tribute fully intended) made it seem like there could have been 50 up there.

Blazing through the new album, Summer Of Sorcery, the band was able to showcase its diverse influences and pay homage to everything 60s and beyond. Little Steven is embracing a significant change of direction from politically driven comment to music designed to bring pleasure to some seriously talented musicians and (hopefully) their audience. Communion introduced the new ethos before the main man turned the clock back nearly 20 years for Camouflage Of Righteousness

Party Mambo! saw the fun factor ramped up – complete with Stars & Stripes maracas! Love Again, Education, I Visit The Blues and Gravity created the feel of a lighter but still ‘back to work’ ethic. The return to a classic 80s Springsteen-esque style was seamless as Los Desaparecidos came pounding from the stage followed by a trio of South Side Johnny tribute songs – Little Girl So Fine, Trapped Again and Love On The Wrong Side of Town

Back to the new album and a 60s girl band tribute song A World Of Our Own, followed by the incredibly soulful and tender Suddenly You and Vortex, which could have been straight from an early Bond movie/60s American cop show, maintained the momentum. 

Cue the shift into top gear with the reggae of I Am A Patriot, Superfly Terraplane (a wonderful, energetic song with more than a hint of Mexican influence) and Bitter Fruit featuring a blistering percussion/drum off! Following a fantastic version of Forever the encores had a lot to live up to but there was never any fear of a late stumble now.

The title track to Summer Of Sorcery was a slow builder with a fantastic intensity – a hallmark of Little Steven’s very best work. “Let’s see Newcastle dance” was the cry and the call was answered: even a few of the audience’s more mature members managed to groove to a high octane Soul Power Twist

Little Steven is quite rightly proud of his 1985 anti-apartheid protest song Sun City and to see local favourites and rising stars Sam Fender and Courtney Hadwin join him on stage for a very special rendition of a landmark recording proved that this is a tune that will endure. Out Of The Darkness was the most fitting finale to a simply incredible show.

The range of Little Steven’s influences is huge and a delightful array of dazzling songs was delivered with passion and panache by a band at the peak of its powers: this was the emotion of soul underpinned by the power of rock. And it was damn near perfect.

Words By Peter Spoors

Images By Adam Kennedy