|Kokomo: Neil Hubbard, Tony O’Malley, Dyan Birch
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2014. All Rights reserved.
(100 Club, 27th August 2014; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)
Whereas some bands of their vintage may struggle to keep the flame alight – and others resort to boosting their bank accounts through endless and desperate reunion tours – Kokomo have retained their natural freshness and a genuine love of the music. This fearsomely fiery, funky and soulful ten-piece provides a near-ideal combination of sophistication, high-end quality, spontaneity and enjoyment.
Under the watchful eye, keyboards and gravel-voice of Tony O’Malley, with singer, Frank Collins, as sparkling up-front MC, the core Kokomo band, whose roots go back to pop band Arrival, are augmented by an impressive rhythm section. Together, they served up an irresistible menu of freshly interpreted favourites and distinctive versions of soul classics.
The tentet threw themselves in to Third Time Around and Yes We Can Can with collective precision, shining the spotlight on the finely balanced vocal triumvirate of Collins, Dyan Birch and Paddy McHugh, and powered by the pumping rhythm engine of Frank Tontoh, Jennifer Maidman, and Glen Le Fleur. I’m Sorry, Babe was dedicated to its author and the band’s co-founder, Alan Spenner, and revealed a neat, Beatles-esque melodic twist.
Bluesy routes were explored on O’Malley’s Naked Flame, with immaculate vocal harmonies from McHugh and Collins, while Neil Hubbard’s stunning, searing guitar solo, measured, carefully mined from his Gibson, was the fitting foil to O’Malley’s rolling gumbo piano groove.
Birch, who left the stage for a short spell, rejoined to add that extra dimension to the vocal shine on the feverishly gospel drive of With Everything I Feel in Me, and on the magically mellow Angel, where the rest of the band fell away to let the trio drift out memorably on the words ‘… keep searching, keep searching …’.
The perennial I Can Understand it was given new twists and turns and a beautifully constructed, softly spun guitar solo from Jim Mullen, briefly quoting from My Favourite Things, doubtless with Coltrane in mind.
Nigel Hitchcock, the safest pair of sax hands, added assured phrasing, just when needed, to bulk out the melody and flew in his solo spots. Tontoh had the broadest of grins all the way through as he built up the funkiest of frying foundations, while Maidman delivered a demon bass solo in the flurry of solo rounds in the maelstrom of the second encore, Hathaway’s The Ghetto, to which Collins exhorted the audience to chant along in unison.
Seeing the mighty Kokomo, blue-eyed British soul survivors, splendidly flexing their funk at the 100 Club, after a gap of a mere thirty eight years since they last appeared there, was a real joy. Only the cream of British funk could bring off a reunion like this so successfully. Here’s hoping for a reunion of the reunion.
Frank Collins; Paddie McHugh, Dyan Birch: vocals
Jim Mullen, Neil Hubbard: guitars
Tony O’Malley: keyboards, vocals
withNigel Hitchcock: sax Jennifer Maidman: bass Frank Tontoh: drums Glenn Le Fleur: congas