Bobby Womack – A Deep River of Talent

A year ago today I had the pleasure – no, the honour – of seeing Bobby Womack perform live in Liverpool.

I’ve seen many concerts in my life, from the big stars (BB King, James Brown, David Bowie, Lou Reed, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd etc), to lesser known, but sometimes better artists – including one of my favourites of all time, Roddy Frame (ex-Aztec Camera), and country singer John Prine.

I’m not going to force myself to decide on the best gig I’ve ever seen. Many hold a place in my heart for different reasons. For instance, I first time I saw John Prine the last night I drank (22nd June 2004). I did a ‘farewell tour’ of a few pubs before the concert, and went home to listen to Roddy Frame’s ‘Surf’ with my last drink.

James Brown was just a week later (30t June 2004). My first concert sober since the mid 80’s. Imagine that. I had to pick James Brown didn’t I? I’m normally happy if I can sit down (yes!) or, if I have to stand, to tap my foot… But James Brown? And with seats just a few rows from the front?

When the Godfather of Soul tells you to get on up, you get on up. When he tells you to get on down, you get on down. And sadly, he didn’t mean sit down.

But it was an amazing experience and one I’ll never forget (unlike BB King – I know I saw him, with blues-legend Peter Green as support, but I couldn’t tell you any more, other than my wife at the time said I wasn’t too happy about it for some reason). It’s just a drunken blur of a memory.

But Bobby Womack. 2014. The man was dying. It was obvious from the moment he was helped on stage by his assistant. He seemed to struggle to see too, holding out trying to find the mic stand. The first impressions were worrying. I’d always wanted to see Womack live, but not like this…

It all changed the moment he opened his mouth. Starting – surprisingly – with probably his most well known song, Across 110th Street. His voice was amazing.

This is a man who had battled two cancers (prostate and colon) and had Alzheimer’s.

His body was clearly a wreck. About half-way through he sat down, and he simply couldn’t stand up again. His assistant and his daughter (a singer in his band) tried to help him back on his feet several times, but he just couldn’t get up.

This wasn’t a classic James Brown fall-to-his-knees and be helped up by his assistant show (as great as that was), this was a genuinely ill man – nearly 70 years old – putting on an amazing show despite everything.

I think most of us knew we were coming to see him for the last time (the first time too, in my case) and I think he also knew that.

It was one of only two UK concerts on the tour. I was sure Glasgow, the following night, would be cancelled – but amazingly he turned up and by all accounts put in a great performance.

No matter what the Alzheimer’s had done to his mind (he did make a couple of mistakes), and the cancer to his body, his voice was left untouched. It was simply stunning. And his humour and charisma shone through the pain.

Even at the end, after being helped off – clearly in agony – he came back out for an encore, much to the surprise of everyone, even his band (and some of the audience had left – why?!).

At the end of that encore – with the lights now on, standing off the stage but still holding his mic – he said something like “I’m not gone yet!” and sang one final song. Deep River – a traditional African American song he covered on his last studio album. It was a sucker-punch to my emotions.

There’s a debate about the song’s meaning – escaping slavery, being a possibility. But the spiritual nature of it always makes me think of wanting to escape the pain of this life for the possibility of a better one in Heaven. And that’s how it sounded as Bobby sang it, from the wings of the Liverpool Philharmonic.

It’s something I’ll never forget and, as I said on the night, and in the intro to this piece, it was an honour to witness one of his final performances.

He died June 27th that year.

I’d be hard pushed to list my favourite songs of his but a few, in no particular order, Harry Hippie, Fact of Life/He’ll Be There When the Sun Goes Down (Medley), The Preacher/More Than I Can Stand (Medley, live), Fire and Rain, Please Forgive My Heart… I’ll stop, I could write fifty more.

If you aren’t familiar with Bobby Womack’s work, a good starting point is ‘The Best of Bobby Womack – The Soul Years’ available on Spotify. As well as an amazing catalogue of his own songs, he wrote and co-wrote some classics (The Rolling Stone’s first hit, “It’s All Over Now”, George Benson’s hit “Breezin'”) and played guitar on songs such as Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”.

Please, if you aren’t familiar with him, check him out. He’ll live on longer than any of us.

John Risby

Be honest.

Welcome to my new web site. I have to start somewhere so…

In 2013 my wife and I separated after 20 years. That’s not a topic for here, but I mention it briefly now just to explain how being back on the ‘dating scene’ has made me re-evaluate who I am and what values I hold dear.

In the decades since I was last single, looking for a partner has changed drastically. The basic aim is the same, but internet dating has totally changed how we do it. What was once embarrassing (‘lonely heart columns’ and ‘dating agencies’) is now the norm.

I’ve met some lovely women, had some great dates, even had a relationship (which didn’t work out, totally my fault – but that’s for a different blog post, another time, maybe) – and I’ve made some long-term friends from it.

Of course, I don’t want to be using them any longer than I have to be. I’m not a ‘player’ and I hope to find someone long-term sooner rather than later, but they’re a great way to meet people. And much faster than just waiting and hoping.

I’d have been embarrassed to say all that once.


Set the truth free, the results may amaze you

I’ve always valued honesty, and where possible, openness. But for nine years, until two years ago, I kept a secret very few people knew. I’m a recovering/recovered alcoholic (pick your preferred word from those two – I can never decide which I prefer).

It took me nine whole years to feel comfortable telling people this.

I didn’t lie before then. If people asked, I always used to say I stopped drinking for ‘medical reasons’, which is true – I was killing myself. But when I did write about it I discovered releasing the truth into the wild can be very freeing personally, and very helpful to others.

By putting aside my fears and doubts about what some people may think or say about me if I was open and honest about why I started The Alcohol-Free Shop, I was able to write a blog post that I know helped many people (although, ironically, a recent survey we did showed most of our customers don’t have a problem with alcohol, they just want to have a healthier lifestyle).

I know from the emails I’ve received, conversations I’ve had, friends I’ve made etc, that the article had a big impact on more than one person’s life (and “just” one, would have made it worth doing).

Has it had any negative effect on me? No, not that I can see.

In my personal life, very rarely someone who doesn’t like me (and there will always be lots of them, that’s fair enough) will try to use it against me – maybe in an online discussion for instance – but that says more about them than me.

When I go out on dates, I’m open about it too (and often before we meet, depending on how much we talk before meeting).

I’m sure our age is part of this – the women I’m dating are in their 30s to 40s – but none of them have expressed a problem with it at all. In fact, the general view is that it’s great I took control and stopped. Of course, if I was – heaven forbid – going out with a 20-year-old who wanted to party ’til 5am, I don’t think she’d quite see it the same way!

And I don’t know of any time in my business when being known as a recovered/recovering alcoholic (I really do need to decide on that…) has harmed anything either. Maybe there are things I don’t know about but, as an example, since 2006 The Alcohol-Free Shop has had a great working relationship with one of the largest brewers in Europe.

Last year they approached us to work more closely with them, and they asked us to set up and manage their retail web site, which we now do. The first, hopefully, of many clients for our upcoming drinks fulfilment business.

You can lie online, but it’s harder in real life…

But being on the dating sites has made me think even more about honesty. Writing my dating profile, reading other people’s, and dating itself, has made me realise how fundamental honesty is to me – both my own honesty and the honesty of others.

I’ve been pretty lucky in the women I’ve met so far. No one has turned out massively different from what they claimed to be. One woman had clearly used photos from a few years ago, but that’s about as bad as I’ve experienced (it’s not the end of the world, but unless you’re bringing a time-machine to the date, can we all agree to stick to using recent pictures please? At least from the 21st century…)

Not everyone is as lucky though. A good friend of mine thought she was talking to a lovely man and, just before meeting him, she asked me to do a Google search on him. Good job I did. I won’t say any more but… wow.

Our parents were right…

The fact is I can’t make anyone else be honest except myself, and neither can you. But the more of us who choose to be honest and open – to each other and to ourselves – the better the world will be.

It’s not complicated, and it’s how most of us were brought up.

But somewhere along the way, in the hustle of trying to make a living and get by, many of us forgot about it.

Let’s try to remember why we were brought up being told “honesty is the best policy” and give it a try.

So, why a blog? And why now?

I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a blog for some time. Twitter is great for general conversation and finding interesting things, but it’s websites and blogs where you go to for real content.

When I finally decided to start this blog, and with honesty very much in my mind at the moment, it seemed fitting to use “Be honest” as the tag-line and the inspiration for the first post.

I plan to post about anything and everything that I feel is worth sharing – from music I like, books I’ve read and learnt from, videos I’ve enjoyed, articles about business or personal experiences (good ones, bad ones…) etc

Don’t worry, they won’t all be as long as this first one.

Over time I’ll build up various categories – because I’ll cover a wide-range of topics it’s unlikely many people will want to read everything I post (except maybe for my Mum).

Sometimes it may be funny. Sometimes it may be painful. Sometimes it may even be a little uncomfortable (at least for me). But I’ll always try to be honest.

And I’ll try to be informative too. Most of us find great content on the web – it’ll be good to have somewhere to share it, with a few words about why I think it’s great, rather than just a tweet.

So, that’s what I intend to do here. It won’t be a “tell-all” – other people’s privacy and feelings always have to be taken in to account – but I do promise I’ll be as open and honest as I possibly can be.

Now what?

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