NME review – Voice Squad at the Rock Garden

Voice Squad

ROCK GARDEN

GOOD TO see a group jump out of the ashes of a former incarnation with even more enthusiasm than before They used to be Kokomo: now watch out for Voice Squad’. A smaller, more controllable unit with the addition of Trevor Marias on drums and vocalist Bonnie Wilkinson, the act possesses more dynamism and bite and the repertoire (hardly any Kokomo numbers) follows suit

After opening with Paul Simon’s up-tempo. “Gone At Last”, Bonnie Wilkinson aired her tonsils on the second number a gospelly “Hallelujah I Love Him So” — and impressed everyone with the power and range of her voice.

Dyan Birch and Alan Maclean duetted on “You’re All I Need To Get By”, but it was the fourth number. “Moondance”, which really invaded the senses with Bonnie turning in a remarkable performance.

 By now Frank Collins was itching to display his prowess and as leader of the pack displayed his form on “Amazing Grace”. His control over the rest of the group is tight, almost tyrannical at times, but his undeniably astounding voice more than compensates for his often tiresome attitude.

Either mockingly chiding (“we’ve decided we’re going to sing this next one in tune”) or outright demanding (a loud “Shhh” when the band ignored his hand signals to drop the volume), he conducts, cajoles and encourages the singers and musicians through some very intricate manoeuvres; the vocal finales to one it two songs actually had me gasping at their precision

The most unusual selection of the evening was George Gershwin’s “Our love Is Here To Stay” —sung round one microphone, which Frank admitted they all hated doing became it was so difficult Unfortunately it fell on clothbound ears for the most part. but the situation was quickly retrieved by Alan “The Man with the Golden Voice” Maclean’s rendition of “Smack Dab In The Middle’. followed by the real pressure cooker of the evening, “Which Way Is Up”, during which Collins proferred the mike to would-be vocalists in the audience.

Neil Hubbard’s hard throaty guitar gave this and other songs the incisive edge that made them memorable. He uses every space on the fret board, sustaining the near perfect dynamic tension in each song by the insertion of brief flurries of notes that always left me drooling for more.

Organist Tony O’Malley then did a fair Ray Charles on “Anonymous Love” and the set concluded with Stevie Wonder’s “As”.

After a long pause Voice Squad encored with ‘Just Walk In My Shoes” — a pleasant stroll out into the night. Hubbard looked setto play for a few hours more, but on turning round to find everyone else had left the stage, he exited apparently as reluctantly as did most of the audience not long afterwards. An enthusiastic, genuine crowd, rather than massed fanatics, had enjoyed an evening’s good music.

On this showing, Voice Squad have exorcised the spectre of Kokomo and wisely, I think, seem more concerned with playing good live gigs in small venues than recording for a while That’s fine by me: a good gig lasts for ever

Neil Norman

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