Review by Adrian Peel with Photography by Cath Dupuy

The Curtom Orchestra, a nine-piece band, featuring members of Jamiroquai, The Brand New Heavies and Incognito, came to one of London’s most beautiful venues to pay a heartfelt tribute to Curtis Mayfield, the Chicago-born soul legend – a member of The Impressions and a major solo star in his own right – who died in 1999.

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‘Curtom’ comes from Curtom Records, the label started by Curtis Mayfield and Impressions manager Eddie Thomas in 1968, and an eager, almost capacity audience calmly waited for the gig to start.

Kicking off 40 minutes later than billed, lead singer Mazen duly apologised, saying: “Sorry for the delay – I can’t tell you why.” “It’s because we’re musicians!” joked another member of the group, which, as well as a frontman, consisted of two guitarists, a bass player, a drummer, a percussionist and a three-man horn section.

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The band were as polished as one would expect, although guitarist Simon Bartholomew’s guitar could have done with being a bit louder during some of his excellent wah-wah playing, and any animosity the crowd felt towards the band for their tardiness seemed to disappear once the classic hits began to get played.

A couple of songs in, and after apologising once again for being late, skilled vocalist Mazen announced that the group were going to play some tunes made famous by The Impressions. “We feel blessed that we get to play these songs,” he said.

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Of the tracks that followed, ‘People Get Ready’ was the most sublime, its gorgeous, lilting melody filling the chapel and reminding everyone just what a fantastic songwriter Curtis Mayfield was. In sharp contrast, ‘Underground’ provided an infectious, somewhat ‘spaced out’ groove.

The atmosphere was full of positive energy and as time went on, more people in the crowd started to stand up. An enthusiastic audience member dancing in front of the band during ‘Superfly’ was invited up on stage by the singer to continue, while jumping up and down was the order of the day among certain band members throughout ‘Future Shock’.

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“This is one of my favourite songs,” noted Mazen ahead of ‘We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue’ (off arguably Mayfield’s best known solo album, 1970’s ‘Curtis’), and it was this gorgeous tune, along with ‘People Get Ready’, that was this writer’s highlight of the evening.

Despite coming out on stage late – and despite some overlong ‘jams’ – The Curtom Orchestra’s set was a fitting tribute to one of the true greats.

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1_Union Chapel audience

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