Tuesday, July 01, 2014

RIP Bobby Womack

Here's a fantastic bit of writing about Womack by Barney Hoskyns, from the intro to his long NME profile of October 6th 1984, readable in full at Rock's Back Pages (if you're a subscriber).

"I'd like you to hear the Bobby Womack that's in my head, the sound that floods my brain suddenly as I'm standing in a bus queue, the feel of the particular shapes and inflections he presses into his words

"I want to tell you that (for me, for some reason) Bobby Womack's is almost the greatest music on earth.

"There are Bobby Womack songs which have taken me over for hours, days, weeks, enveloped me because within them there is a hold on the dynamics and tensions of soul music which is fuller, more absolute, than the hold or emotional grip of others. A gut grit, a root pain which Bobby would say is his gospel base but for me just is, is this pure heart, the gnawing need to give out the pain as a joy.

"I can't touch this heart with critical language.

"I suppose I want to say, in all seriousness, that this music moves and transforms me more than all the music of Marvin and Stevie put together. When I hear this voice at its best, I fall into its movement, its pace, more helplessly than into any other I know. I'll be walking home and out of nowhere it'll grab me, fill me till I want to burst with it. It's as though my own voice strained with his, my own throat winding round his snarls and those long, burnt cries.

"Of course other singers have done this to me, pulled me apart with the fury of their desire or sorrow. 

"Not many of them are still kicking, though. Womack seems to me the most original and longest-surviving of the classic, gospel-rooted school. Screw the soul boom: The Poet II album this year outshines everything. 'Love Wars', SOS Band, the lot. The passion of Poet II is titanic, Womack & Womack's is just local..

"I can pin nothing on Bobby Womack other than to note that he is a certain kind of breath trapped between certain sorts of beat. He is the moment of emotional truth which will keep escaping. If one could write down, notate what Bobby Womack technically does when he turns a tiny phrase into a magical confession ringing in your ears for years...well, there'd be no need for him to do it, would there?

Swayed by Barney's advocacy and by the critical climate of that moment, I bought The Poet II and went to see Womack perform at Oxford Apollo (the very same show mentioned by Barney in the full-length NME piece, and mentioned as lacklustre - I had nothing to compare it with, so it seemed pretty amazing to me. Indeed, with the possible exception of Solomon Burke at EMP some years ago, it remains the only old-fashioned soul revue I've seen).  Also picked up some of the classic Seventies album, records with titles like Communication and Understanding. But I never quite got to feeling the way Barney does here, either subjectively (other soul singers take precedence for me) or objectively ("The Last Soul Man", the NME article asserts in its headline, which might be true, but few would claim Womack was the Greatest). Still, it's a beautiful testament, a sort of ecstastic dissection of the way in which a particular voice can  entwine with your own voice, implant itself in your throat and impose its emotional language.

Oh and here's Barney in the Guardian last Saturday, reminiscing about accompanying Womack on the 1984 UK tour that his NME piece was pegged around.