So you think those staid Dutch and sweet, down-home American soul music were mutually exclusive? They can’t move their hips, they clap on the wrong beat... well, you might reconsider. It was no less a singer than Arthur Conley who spent and performed his last days on earth in our country and recorded his best live album here under the name Lee Roberts. It was nobody less than the King of Rock 'n' Soul himself, Solomon Burke, who chose a Dutch band, De Dijk, to accompany him on his last, great album, Hold On Tight. It is, of a slightly younger generation, Malford Milligan of Storyville fame who selected a Dutch backing band for his last two albums. Soul men, we love ‘em here—look at the reception Don Bryant received at the Into The Great Wide Open festival on the island of Vlieland in 2017, Holland’s answer to Portland’s Pickathon.
So were we surprised that a good crowd showed up and cheered Portland’s Ural Thomas at Amsterdam’s iconic Paradiso venue this March? No sir. Thomas arrived with his full band The Pain and delivered a blistering show that left the audience moving and shaking with enthusiasm. The performance was part of a small tour that also includes England, Belgium, France and Germany, and will undoubtedly give a boost to his popularity here.
His still very strong voice and youthful, hip-shaking movements belie his age. “Is he really almost 80?” I overheard one woman say to another. “What a cuddly bear.” Every new song brought more movement to the room as Thomas, dressed in a light-colored, leisurely suit and a knit cap, worked his way through a repertoire of songs from his recent album The Right Time on Portland’s Tender Loving Empire label, alternated with older tunes and some covers.
Despite a long and colorful career, this is the first time Thomas has toured Europe. Doesn’t he feel sorry this happened so late in his career?
“No,” he replied in between posing for photographs and signing albums after the show while explaining that, no, he is not related to Irma, Carla or Rufus. “Really, because I can’t go back and I feel grateful for being strong enough to do this now. Plus, I have a great and eager band with me and they help me in feeling young again. And I feel blessed to have been able to sing here. Many people have thanked me for giving them something but I am the one to be thankful for all the good feeling that emanated from them. You know, honestly, I never wanted to be a superstar, I always wanted to be one with the people. And that, in turn, made me a better person I think.”
And with those parting words, his attention was claimed by two pretty girls who wanted to be photographed with him. Somehow, I have the feeling Ural Thomas will be back in Amsterdam soon. —Jan Donkers