76th Edinburgh Fringe: REVIEW
"Brown, full of energy for over an hour, tap, shimmy, shake, and sing, you can’t help but be enthralled and honoured to get to witness such a world-class entertainer."
Movin' Melvin Brown presents:
Sweet Soul Music:
August 16, 2023
The Sam Cooke Story
With a 76-year history and thousands of shows, it seems like a ridiculous thing to say that the Edinburgh Fringe has its staples, but it does. Each venue has a few shows that audiences come to year after year without fail; their entire trip up to Edinburgh is mainly to see that show. Movin’ Melvin Brown is one of the Fringe legends you see every year with his posters up all around the festival, usually of Brown with the biggest, beaming smile, which has this ability to make you really smile.
Brown’s focus for his shows is positivity, love, and appreciation of all music. Walking into Studio 3 at Assembly Festival, the energy in the room is high; you can feel a positive vibe, and when Brown bursts out onto the stage, he leaves you dumbfounded. His energy, voice, and charisma draw you in.
For the 2023 Fringe season, Brown is presenting his World Premiere of Sweet Soul Music (The Sam Cooke Story). Sam Cooke’s music isn’t just the music of a unique period in the American music landscape; his music represents a changing time for Black artists who, like Cooke, were able to go places and gain opportunities that few Black artists before them could. Brown threaded his new show with stories and anecdotes from Cooke's live that kept the atmosphere high and joyfully informative.
The audience had great energy on opening night, and that energy was shared by Brown, and it did help to create a wonderful atmosphere. But for me, the highlight was when Brown turned himself into a 50s-style Southern preacher, got everyone up on their feet, and had the ‘Amens’ flowing. He could have turned the whole thing into a sermon, and I think the audience would have gone alone. As he spoke to the audience in his best Southern-preacher tone his voice was deep and soul-piercing; with this he managed to create a brilliant Fringe moment here.
Other classics from Cooke’s catalogue included Chain Gang, You Send Me, Dreams to Remember, the masterpiece Wonderful World, and Twisting the Night Away. These are songs that we all know, and at times I did find myself mouthing along, but this wasn’t a karaoke musical; this was a touching tribute to a musical icon. Would I have preferred it there? Brown was accompanied by a live band, yes, but that is just a personal touch that I believe a talent like his so richly deserved. Alas, we were left with a music track that never took away from Brown’s ability or performance.
"His voice as he spoke to the audience was deep and soul-piercing; he really managed to create a brilliant Fringe moment here."
You got a lot of information about Cooke, from his life growing up in deeply racist Mississippi to his family's move to Chicago and Cooke’s life in music groups to his first hit records and setting up his own record label. To be honest, I didn’t know much of Cooke’s story, and I certainly didn’t know how he died. Rather than try to spin a conspiracy theory, Brown is fair and supposes that a rich, famous artist like Cooke wouldn’t have voluntarily gone to the type of shady place where he would be murdered. Brown finished with Cooke’s posthumously released Civil Rights anthem A Change Is Gonna Come, which was a fitting end to an eliminating evening.
Sweet Soul Music (The Sam Cooke Story) is what makes the Fringe special, not just because it’s an opportunity to come and listen to some music and get up and have a shake, but to witness a true, old-school performer. Someone who lives and breathes performing, and as you watch Brown, full of energy for over an hour, tap, shimmy, shake, and sing, you can’t help but be enthralled and honoured to get to witness such a world-class entertainer.