I’ve wanted to see Mavis Staples for a while, and I missed her the last time she was in London, playing the Union Chapel, so tonight is a significant moment in my ‘career’ as a concert-goer. Arriving early and taking a spot at the front, I meet a guy from Switzerland, who comes to London regularly for concerts and who is great company, making the otherwise boring wait an absolute breeze. Always great to meet someone who likes talking about music.
The support band, Stone Foundation, is unknown to me but brilliant and is the perfect choice to set the mood for the main act of the evening with their funky and good vibes.
Mavis and her band play a fantastic set of songs, old and new, joyous and hopeful, some I know, some I don’t. The band and backing singers are sublime, and though Mavis is the star of the show, they all shine in each their role: Rick Holmstrom (guitar), Stephen Hodges (drums), Jeff Turmes (bass) and Vicki Randle and Donny Gerrard (backing singers).
Mavis sings in that deep voice that made me think it was a man singing the first time I heard I’ll Take You There. It’s a voice that can punch you in the guts and sex you up in equal measures – and it sure can hit a point home. They play several songs from her two latest records, If All I Was Was Black (2017) and We Get By (2019), with highlights like No Time For Crying with the urgent mantra, ‘We’ve got work to do,’ and Love and Trust, a hopeful song reminding us that no matter who and where we are, we are all doing what we can and looking for the same things in life.
They also do some excellent covers, like Buffalo Springfield’s anthem For What It’s Worth, a bit faster and more upbeat than the original version. They also do a slightly slower take on Slippery People by Talking Heads, exchanging David Byrne’s quirkier vocals with Staples’ more soulful delivery.
Mavis is not only a great singer, but she’s also very personable on stage and talks a lot to the audience and makes plenty of eye contact. I’m pretty sure she looked every single person in the first few rows, myself included, in the eye a few times; Staples has got enough smiles and winks for everyone.
As Mavis leaves the stage after a little over an hour, she looks tired, and though the audience, myself included, hope for an encore, it’s not coming. I wouldn’t mind having heard her end the show with Come Go With Me or I’ll Take You There, but this is the end, and that’s fine. It’s been a great concert from a 79-year-old lady who’s been singing a great set of songs and connecting fully with the audience – we can’t possibly ask for more. I can’t imagine anyone at the Roundhouse tonight didn’t leave with a smile on their face and a heart filled with joy.
Mavis Staples setlist