I’d heard of this trailblazing soul man before, but at that point I couldn’t actually say I ‘knew’ his music with serious conviction. That night at the Roundhouse, I was there to see Bobby perform with Gorillaz – Damon Albarn and his circus of musical collaborators. My unfamiliarity with his legacy didn’t stop me from appreciating what a special moment it was to be in his presence and feel his energy, however.
I’ll never forget the atmosphere all around me from the crowd that night when he sung ‘Cloud of Unknowing’. A dreamy, ever-so-slightly foreboding song, steeped with organs and strings. It’s classic Albarn at his melancholic best. It’s also seemingly a complete world away from Womack’s lean-in-and-listen soul music, you might think. Yet, every syllable fluttered with emotion. The mood in the concert hall at that moment was breathless – the entire crowd had been beset by the same euphoria.
Bobby’s energy had brought me to the brink of tears. Tears of joy. That’s a feeling so rare, so extraordinary that it’s hard for me to say much else, unless you have experienced such a moment yourself.
It was late last night – on Twitter – that I learned of Womack’s passing. It’s easy to posted messages of condolence nowadays, but this was one occasion where I felt I had to do so. Since experiencing the sheer power of Bobby’s voice that night in 2010, and subsequently learning more about this life through documentaries and interviews, I can honestly say I have nothing but respect for the man.
In 2012, with the help of Damon Albarn and Richard Russell, he released, The Bravest Man in the Universe, his first studio album since 2000. The production traits present in Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here and, indeed, Albarn’s recent solo album were blended with personal reflections from Womack’s life as a gospel and soul pioneer. The record was one of my favourites that year: “unexpected, magnificently intimate and gratifyingly personal”.
What followed was a tremendous comeback tour for the then 68-year-old. He performed on Jools Holland’s Hootenanny, at a series of venues across the UK, Europe, US and beyond. He played Glastonbury, Latitude, Lovebox, the Montreux Jazz Festival and more. Just next month, he was even due to headline the first ever Walthamstow Garden Party. Truly, I was a fool not to book for his last headline show in London at The Forum last November.
But no more regret. This gifted singer, writer and instrumentalist and his unstoppable commitment to perform has been, and will continue to be, a shining inspiration.
Farewell, Bobby. In the words of Cee-Lo: “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die”.
Image: Maurice Haak/Flickr