Last week Motown’s finest The Temptations and the Four Tops brought their latest tour to London’s O2 arena for a night of classic soul.
Back after two and a half years, The Temptations and Four Tops have just completed another sell-out UK tour last month which saw them travel the length of the nation, including a date at London’s O2 arena. These iconic groups have been performing since the sixties, and between them have racked up countless hit records, sold millions of records and have been responsible for some of the best soul classics, from ‘My Girl‘ to ‘Reach Out, I’ll Be There‘. And after five decades, their music still endures, and the acts, much changed from their original hey-days, continue to draw in people by the thousands eager to hear that sweet Motown soul.
Time has been cruel to both The Temptations and Four Tops: today only one original member features in both line ups – The Temptations have Otis Williams, the Tops have Abdul “Duke” Fakir. Debate rages on the internet forums and in YouTube comments over whether these two ought to be calling themselves ‘The Temptations’ and ‘Four Tops’ – neither sang lead or much lead on any of their hits, and in the case of The Temptations there are several alternative groups performing, most famously ex-lead singer Dennis Edwards who leads his own ‘Temptations Revue’. But undeterred by the nay-sayers Williams and Fakir work hard to maintain the legacy of the two groups, and have recruited impressive vocalists to perform alongside them.
The opening act of the night however, is a rarity in soul music: a group consisting of almost all of the original line-up. The Tavares were the Kings of disco back in the seventies; five brothers singing in harmony created some of the classic disco-era tracks. They became superstars overnight with the success of the Saturday Night Live album which featured their version of ‘More Than A Woman‘. Today the line-up consists of four of the five brothers, and they were tasked with opening the tour for the Tops and Tempts.
Opening to a blistering rendition of ‘It Only Takes A Minute‘, the Tavares ran through their greatest hits in a jam-packed thirty-five minutes, including ‘Don’t Take Away The Music‘, ‘Whodunnit‘ and ‘Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel‘. The group sounded great and looked great dressed head-to-toe in bright white, and reminded us why they were so big back in the seventies. It was a bit of a shame that the group began to a half full arena, but by the finale of ‘Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel‘ the arena was full of dancing punters, many no doubt re-living their disco youth. The Tavares have endured in the business because they love performing, and that showed at the O2 – each member looked as though they were clearly having fun. And with the crowd suitably warmed up, the Tavares left the stage for the men in black clothing to set the stage for the Four Tops.
For 44 years the line-up of the Four Tops consisted of Duke Fakir, Lawrence Payton, Renaldo “Obie” Benson and the brilliant Levi Stubbs, who sang lead on almost all their big hits. Today Duke is the only one left, but is joined by three able performers: Payton Jr (the son of Lawrence), Ronnie McNeir (famous for singing duets with Teena Marie and producing former Temptations Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin as well as his own solo career) and Harold Spike Deleon (a former member of The Spinners). Today it’s Deleon who fills Stubb’s shoes and sings the lead, and is a very impressive singer of grit and power.
The Tops took to the stage decked out in matching black sequinned suits to a rare number, the horn-heavy ‘The Show Must Go On‘, before launching into their first hit single, ‘Baby I Need Your Loving‘. The crowd suitably warmed up the Tops kept the hits coming: ‘Bernadette‘ quickly followed, as did ‘It’s The Same Old Song‘ and a beautiful rendition of ‘Ask The Lonely‘. The Tops then turned the volume up with their last major hit, ‘Loco In Acapulco‘ – to which the London crowd took to their feet and didn’t return to their seats until the end of the set. A particular highlight of the set was the inclusion of their late-era Motown UK hit ‘A Simple Game‘, which Deleon traded lead with Payton Jr.
It should be noted that Duke Fakir is now 80 years old and still touring half the year. What’s more impressive is that he doesn’t seem to have slowed down at all, moving and grooving throughout, and his voice remains as sweet as ever. Alas, with these revue-type shows we only get about an hour of one act before it’s the turn of the next. With a medley of ‘Reach Out, I’ll Be There‘ and ‘Standing in the Shadows of Love‘ followed by an encore of ‘I Can’t Help Myself‘ the Tops left the stage set for the tempting Temptations.
Now The Temptations hit headlines prior to the London date of the tour as their new lead singer Larry Braggs fell off stage in Manchester and hit his head requiring stitches. Ever the professional he didn’t miss a show, and thankfully suffered no major injury. Braggs only joined The Temptations in January of this year, along with new bass singer Willie Green; they replaced Bruce Williamson and Joe Herndon respectively. Now we’ve seen the previous line-up several times and they were very good; Herndon had a great bass, and although Williamson divided fans, we always felt his powerful, gospel voice was stunning, so it was a shock that they left the group. But Williams has pulled it out the bag yet again with these latest members: Braggs is a brilliant vocalist and energetic performer, and Green’s bass is simply incredible. Rounding off The Temptations were long time members Ron Tyson and Terry Weeks.
It seems Williams has seen the opportunity to refresh the group’s standard set, which was a welcome surprise. The group, also decked out in sequinned jackets, opened on their 1966 hit ‘Get Ready‘ sung stunningly by the great Ron Tyson, whose falsetto has been with the group for over thirty-five years. The group then powered through an exciting medley of early Temptation hits: ‘Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)‘, ‘This Girl’s Alright With Me‘ and ‘I’ll Be In Trouble‘, all handled expertly by Tyson. Then Braggs took to the microphone to deliver one of the standout moments in the set, his take on the group’s later-era hit ‘Lady Soul‘. Braggs was stunning, and the others were equally stunning in their dancing and harmony; they may be getting old, but they still have the moves.
As good as the Four Tops were, The Temptations were better. Hit followed hit, from ‘I Wish It Would Rain‘ to ‘Treat Her Like A Lady‘ to ‘Papa Was a Rolling Stone‘. Then the inevitable happened when Greene introduced what he called “the Temptations national anthem” – their biggest hit, ‘My Girl‘. And with that, plus a funky rendition of ‘I Know I’m Losing You‘, Otis, Ron, Terry, Larry and Willie danced offstage in true Temptation style, leaving the audience wanting more.
For some it might matter who performs in these groups, but for us we’ve come to accept that we’ll never get the original or past line-ups of The Temptations or Four Tops. Death and disagreements have prevented that. But whoever is in these groups, with these classic Motown songs to perform, it is always enjoyable. The Tempts, Tops and Tavares can look back on another successful UK tour with pride.