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James Brown vs Prince: VS Funk Soul Orchestra – Live Music Review

AN intoxicating night of soul and funk music was served up at Ronnie Scott’s on Thursday night (October 20) as the wonderful VS Funk Soul Orchestra celebrated the music of two iconic legends – James Brown and Prince.

Led with a mix of panache, never ending energy and passion by frontman Ashton Jones – and astutely marshalled by guitarist Harry Greene – this almighty collection of gifted musicians (15-strong) had the sell-out audience off their feet well before the end.

Memories of youth long lost were temporarily retrieved as VS Funk Soul reminded us of the amazing music these two past masters created, most of it timeless. Although the knees clicked a little, the audience danced – and danced again.

There was little let up as the orchestra performed a number of iconic songs – 14 all told in around 75 minutes – from the Brown and Prince back books. All guns blazing. Like rapid machine gun fire.

Classics such as Man’s World and Get Up I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine (Brown) – and from Prince, the likes of Glamorous Life and of course Purple Rain, the evening’s pulsating and sing-along finale. Of course, just a flavour of the great music Brown and Prince wrote and performed, but a rich one at that.

Jones and Greene ensured all members of the orchestra were given their moments in the limelight. As a result, we were treated to the delightful trumpet playing of Tom Walsh and Dan Carpenter, Alex Bone’s purring alto sax (dominant on Prince’s Alphabet Stress) and the masterful trombone of Jacob Cooper.

The strings were more understated – Tom Aldren on violin. Joe Fisher on viola and Maddy Cutter on cello – but none the less enjoyable for their subtlety.

Restraint was far from the mind of drummer Pete Ray Biggin.  From the very first song (Prince’s Let‘s Go Crazy), Biggin was at the fore. A tremendous exhibition of drumming that carried through in numbers such as I Got A Feeling (Brown) and Sign Of The Times (Prince). We sweated with him. We marvelled at his staying power and dexterity.

Although Jones dominated the vocals, Chantal Lewis-Brown and Senab Adekunle also both sparkled – the former shining on I Wanna Be Your Lover and Adekunle delivering a thrilling Purple Rain. As for Jones, his Man’s World sent tingles up spines and made hairs stand up on the back of grown mens’ necks.

With Matt Carter and Greg Coulson on keys and organ respectively – and thumping bass from Ben Epstein – this was a night to forget all the current economic and political troubles and just party. Or as the title of the first song demanded: Let’s Go Crazy.  Thrilling stuff. Jones and Greene are going places, that’s for sure. As for Brown and Prince, their music will always live on.


Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club – presenting the finest jazz since 1959. Soho London (ronniescotts.co.uk)

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