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Baring his soul: Charles Bradley live in London

01 April 2016, 15:00 | Written by Chris Shipman

The brightness of his ear-to-ear grin only matched by the dazzling sequins that adorn his delightfully anachronistic jacket, Charles Bradley is in his element.

Crossing himself and eyes aloft to the ceiling, he disassembles the bouquet of deep red roses clutched in his left hand and - clambering down to the safety barrier with care that his advanced years dictate - individually launches the blooms into the audience. Enter Charles Bradley; the heart-on-sleeve showman.

It wasn't always like this. Thanks to a 2012 film, the unlikely rise of this soul star is well known among music fans - semi-nomadic decades spent flitting between Stateside backwaters wearing the various hats of cook, odd-job man and occasional James Brown impersonator before finally being discovered by New York's Daptone records.

Of course, those years of toil have had an effect on his music. His gravelly tenor displays a soul sound closer to the genres blues roots than the cuddly fare used to soundtrack supermarket adverts or Jamie Oliver cookery programmes. Case in point during tonight's Kentish Town Forum set (30 March) is "The World (Is Going Up In Flames", his pained roar dancing over the crashing brass to shiver-inducing effect.

Bradley and his seven-piece backing band The Extraordinaires take a few songs to warm up, but at the singers age (67, as he tells tonight's sold out audience), a bit of stiffness can be forgiven. Once he gets into his stride though, Bradley is electric - set highlights being a heart-wrenching (if improbable) rendition of Black Sabbath's "Changes" dedicated to his late mother, and a visceral performance of "Why It So Hard?" - the track that most directly addresses is back story: 'Why is it so hard / To make it in America? / I try so hard", he wails to a roar of a response from the audience.

While his lyrics may occasionally skirt soul music cliche, Bradley's is thoroughly modern and essential soul - raw and full-blooded. Throughout tonight's set there's a feel of a preacher about Bradley, most evident in an instrumental break when he exhorts the audience to reject hate and work together to build a more loving world. Coming from just about anyone else in the music business this would come across as a sanctimonious clap-trap, but with Bradley, you believe that he means it with all of his aching heart as his eyes visibly well up in front of 2,300 agog onlookers. Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires are simply extraordinary.

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