We find ourselves on Clapham Common for no other reason than to attend day two of this year’s Calling Festival. It’s Glastonbury weekend, so naturally it’s raining. There are support acts on offer – but none of them, like the rain, matter, because we’re all here to glimpse, we hope, a genuine moment of magic.
From the moment the sage-like Stevie Wonder takes to the stage, the audience is privy to a musical happening of almost biblical proportions. The clouds literally part and the sun appears anew in celebration of the glory that is Mr Wonder. With an enviable back catalogue, he could play even his lesser songs and stun. As it is, he proffers a slew of the greats over the course of several hours and in the process captivates every single soul.
Beginning with an unexpected cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)’, his insanely talented and confident band begin on a high and just get better with each song. Sheer musicality flows out of them unbidden, like water flowing into the sea. Their rhythm and melody is at times otherworldly, but really it’s that voice. Even at 64 years of age, that voice is unquestionably bestowed by the heavens. It’s apparent when he tries to get the crowd to sing just one line of melody unassisted. He makes it look so easy.
A skankin’ ‘Master Blaster’, followed by a ridiculously funky ‘Higher Ground’, has two young boys standing beside us in genuine rapture. They sing every word, as they swing low with the sun on their faces. A new generation of teenage soul fans surrounds us in a giddy embrace. It’s genuinely heartwarming.
‘Living For The City’, inspires an ecstatic chorus from the audience. At this point I entirely forget I’m reviewing this show. I’m an eager fan, dancing with the best of them. This music is transportive, spiritual and uncommonly joyful.
‘Ebony And Ivory’, a saccharine duet originally recorded with Paul McCartney, shines perhaps for the first time ever in these surroundings; a gentle but pertinent reminder of the ongoing fight for social and racial equality. A regal ‘Sir Duke’, his most famous paean to the greats of the black musical canon, is blisteringly infectious; those who had been static before are no more. This is followed by a seamless ‘I Wish’ and a positively ebullient ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’.
All cynicism pushed aside, ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ is so uplifting that it transforms a good portion of the crowd into grinning children. And there’s some top-notch, self-deprecating between-song banter, with Wonder claiming to actually be just a particularly good impersonator, from Brixton no less, in a Dick Van Dyke approximation of a London accent. It causes much uproarious laughter and makes the mighty legend human, if only for a moment.
There are two tributes to recently deceased friends and musical icons. A touching version of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ by lyrical supremo Gerry Goffin and a poignant and heartfelt acknowledgement of the passing of the wondrous Bobby Womack, exceptional backing singers covering his ‘If You Think You’re Lonely Now’ in impressive fashion.
The beauteous ‘As’ is transformed into an extended carnival of swishy, sassy Latin dance so sustained that a field in Clapham feels more like a float at Mardi Gras. A peerless ‘Superstition’ ends a set that would make any musician weep with envy.
Humorous, humble and touched by an extraordinary talent and grace, these few hours spent in the company of a sorcerer will unquestionably remain indelibly in our collective consciousness. Solid Stevie gold.
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Words: Anna Wilson
Photo Credit: Marc Sethi