Thunder Soul is a sheer delight of a film. It is a sincere love-letter to the dedicated educators and inspirational individuals who can shape so many lives. Expertly made, passionately enthusiastic, it is one of the best films of the year.
It was the early Seventies, and a blazing hot funk band was born. They were the Kashmere Stage Band, phenomenally talented youngsters, led by Conrad “Prof” Johnson – one of those rare teachers; a startlingly talented composer and a leader who enforced discipline. A 37-year teaching veteran, he guided his pupils to develop their musical talents, and inspired respect and demanded they represent that which is good – becoming a father figure that many of the children lacked. “He didn’t just teach us the music; he taught us to be men!” – enthuses one of his many proteges.
The film chronicles a reunion of the original band – with its members spanning across the United States and world. “We doin’ it for the Man!” They are an amiable bunch, having become thoughtful, passionate, articulate and interesting people. In archive footage, and in recent interviews, the 94-year old Prof speaks of his life in simple, straight-up language; he describes his starting of a family, his wife – “a momma’ to all of us” – and his embrace of the educator role.
The former students invite us to share their reunion, from when they re-enter the building – “It’s much smaller than I remember” – culminating through to a reunion concert which blows the roof off. They share rich, hearty food and their life stories with one another, using photographs, artifacts and personal memories. Their warmth and love, their excitement and humanity radiates for all to see, and it is so wonderfully infectious.
“Our parents fought [for the Civil Rights Movement] and it was time for us to shine!”
When speaking of Prof and his wife, their words flood out – easily sharing their pleasure and excitement. “He was like the Pied Piper” – the students success in music spurring the rest of the school to improve themselves, in the arts, sports, debating and grades. This leads to success on a national level, and touring through Europe and even Japan. They ended up recording and distributing a collection of studio and live work, even recently remastering them for CD – getting up to #3 over the weekend of release on Amazon. Not bad for a band who hadn’t recorded in over 25 years!
Aided immeasurably with an absolutely cracking background jazz and funk musical score and an innate sense of timing, director Mark Landsman smoothly shows and tells a multitude of stories. Thunder Soul blends fly-on-the-wall footage with talking heads, archive film and eight-track recordings – knitting a great and moving tapestry of love, humour, talent and inspiration. This is the real thing – do not miss it!