Fringe review: Movin’ Melvin Brown – Chuck Berry Lives! (rating: 3/5)
Growing up in racially-segregated America, Melvin Brown used his music to help break down social barriers. In the process he became a huge admirer of another talented musician who took the same route out of the ghetto: Chuck Berry.
Berry wrote mainly about women and life on the road, becoming a pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll and social change.
Brown struggled against discrimination during a life as a preacher, a paratrooper and as a much-travelled singer and songwriter who has worked with some of the most famous names in black American music.
Now aged 72 he can still strut his stuff, though his beaming smile and Frank Bruno style laugh are his most captivating features.
The show is a tribute to Berry mixed with some of Brown’s own songs which received polite rather than rapturous applause. This was perhaps unsurprising as the audience had paid to hear songs of the recently-passed founding father of the genre who laid the foundations for much of modern music.
Most of the familiar tunes are here including Memphis, Sweet Little Sixteen, Never Can Tell. The two best were Reelin and Rockin and a terrific rendition of Johnny B Goode which encouraged one couple, well into their fifties, to jive on stage.
Brown should have kept the momentum going. As a seasoned performer it was surprising he should get the audience on their feet only to kill the mood by switching to his own songs which no one knew.
Dressed in pillar box red shirt, white trousers and waistcoat he cut a charismatic figure who smiled and laughed a lot. However, a little more showmanship from a capable but rather static and colourless backing band would have livened up the overall performance, particularly during those famous guitar riffs and solos that form the backbone to Berry’s songs.
Brown also ought to think again about including Dave Bartholomew’s novelty song My Ding-a-ling, sadly Berry’s only number one single, or at least reference it in just a few bars. He tried to encourage a generally “mature” audience to clap and sing along like a party of schoolchildren when they clearly wanted to get back to Berry classics.
Movin’ Melvin Brown – Chuck Berry, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll Lives! at the Assembly Roxy until 27 Aug