The Venue, London

August 1980

THE VENUE - KOKOMO!Below Zero’s new wave R&B. which ripped through their ‘Greatest hits’ with a ferocity which almost equalled PIL.

Below Zero aren’t bad musicians, but they’re all Rhythm and precious little Blues. The lead guitarist plays good rock’n’roll oh a nice 335. but their ‘R&B’ seems to attract headbanging dummies but for some uptown top skanking. Still, if you like your R&B with built-in brain damage, at least 9 Below Zero don’t spit at you.

In contrast, Kokomo’s joyous, angst-free set was polished and well-rehearsed, with some invigorating soul/funk. The buzz was going round that this was Kokomo’s last gig, and they certainly gave it everything.

Vocalists Diane Birch, Paddy McHugh and Frank Collins took the place apart with the Pointer Sisters’ -‘Yes We Can’, and ‘Everyday’ featured an immaculate blues solo from Mullen (deping for Neil Hubbard). Mullen – an acoustic bass player turned guitarist superb – plays a real mean Tele. Tony O’Malley excelled in gospel style on Fender Rhodes, finishing with a beautiful harmony ending from the vocalists.

The sound was good, although Mel Collins’ fine sax solos were, at times, barely audible.

On Patti Labelle’s exquisite ‘My Best Was Good Enough’ (gorgeous bass work from Alan Spenner), Paddy staggered all present with his amazing falsetto delivery – a cross between Smokey Robinson and that cat in the Stylistics. In trio, the vocalists build up terrific tension, especially on the Kokomo originals like ‘Any Time’, ‘I Can Understand It’ and ‘Third Time Around’. A full credit to Frank Collins, responsible for many of the imaginative harmony arrangements.

Glen Le Fleur paced the whole set perfectly with his cool, funky drumming (especially exciting when Glen and Mackie, the conga player, duetted, obviously loving every minute of it).

After 9 Below Zero’s starkness, Kokomo were like a cool breeze on a hot, sticky day.

Chrissie Murray – Musicians Only

Kokomo/Matumbi, Roundhouse, London

October 1978

Funky Music for the VATman

VatArticleIT ISN’T nostalgia that’s brought the erstwhile London funkster combo, soul supremos Kokomo together for this Class of ’76 reunion. It’s money, and necessity of raising same to repay a dirty great VAT demand. Ho-hum. Which isn’t to say we can’t have a little fun at the same time, and hordes of veteran Kokomo-ites turn up to turn the affair into a just-like-old times celebration (old times being pre-early ’77 when the band’s four-year career closed), roaring recognition for songs like “I’m Sorry Babe”, “It Ain’t Cool (To Be Cool No More)” and “Rise And Shine”.

Well into the spirit of the event are Kokomo themselves, up to full complement with a line-up of eight plus a few guests for good measure. The group’s antecedents include King Crimson and The Grease Band and to this day its individual members seem to crop up everywhere. Forming the front-line is the formidable vocal team of Dyan Birch, Paddy McHugh and Frank Collins (who scores with a powerful version of Aretha Franklin’s “With Everything I Feel”) while “Use Your Imagination” acts as a showcase for the instrumentalists, solos courtesy of Mel Collins on sax and Neil Hubbard on guitar. Secondary vocal duties fall to avuncular bassman Alan Spenner (“feeling 30, dirty and shirty” as he puts it) and piano-man Tony O’Malley, the latter leading “Any Time” and “Good To Be Alive”. It’s comfortable funk, slick to perfection, sweaty but immaculate. Not my cup of Horlicks, I’ll admit, but given the nature of the occasion any criticisms would be pointless, not to say churlish.

Paul du Noyer – N..M.E.

Roundhouse, London

January 1977

WELL, Joe Cocker wasn’t there.- at least I don’t think he was. After a very hard weekend of various rock ‘n’ roll activities the strain began to tell and I left the Roundhouse a quarter of an hour or so before Kokomo came off the stage. Perhaps it would be more truthful therefore if I amend my initial comment somewhat. Backstage, the whispered ‘Joe Cocker’s here tonite’ buzz was conspicuous by its absence.

RoundhouseJan76Conspicuous too by their absence were Kokomo stalwarts Neil Hubbard and drummer John Sussewell. London’s premier funk band are currently without either management or record deal. Money isshort and both have been offered lucrative work in the States with Robert Palmer. But Kokomo’s good vibe continues just the same. Hitman Glenn LeFleur (fresh from Gonzalez and the Lesley Duncan Band) and original K Jim Mullen stepped in at the last minute. And they fitted so well that, but for the tip off, I might not even have realised that this wasn’t the line-up that has been gigging regularly for the last month or so. It was very funky and very tight. Standing backstage what mistakes there were, were only discernible through the occasional looks of quizzical surprise that flashed between bass player, surrogate conductor Alan Spenner and Mr. LeFleur on the drums. The rest was lovely, with the terrific threesome of Dyan Birch, Paddy McHugh and Frank Collins in fine dancing form and better voice. Mel Collins pulled some goodies out of his sax case as usual while Jim Mullen thumbscrewed his Telecaster into a couple of fine solos every bit the equal of his beautifully sparse rhythm licks.

But if Kokomo failed anywhere it was in their material which didn’t share the immediacy of many of the songs on Cado Belle’s set list. I found the much vaunted Glasgow band more impressive than when I first saw them some six months ago and it was the strength of their writing that really drew me in. As players they left little to be desired, but if anything, everything was just too arranged, there was little or none of the spontaneity in Kokomo’s music section.

Compared though to the slick, clean disco image projected by Glasgow’s Cado Belle, the Strutters would certainly have been more downhome and gutsy, had the long queue outside the Roundhouse moved quickly enough to get me to the front in time to see them. It didn’t, although I heard the huge crowd within roar their final approval just as I surrendered my ticket. There will be more about the Strutters in the very near future. But just to keep you interested, I shall tell you that their pedigree is pretty good. Well, it must be to appear with the likes of Cado Belle and Kokomo, mustn’t it? Even if Joe Cocker wasn’t there.


Kokomo/FBI/Carol Grimes, Roundhouse London

July 1976

Roundhouse76A VERY FULL Roundhouse on a hot Sunday afternoon – mercifully these things don’t start until 5.30 nowadays or they’d be passing out in droves – keenly awaits a promising and well-matched combination of artistes to do it to them three-times.

It is an intriguing, bill – Kokomo, FBI and Carol Grimes with the London Boogie Band – a criss-cross network of musicianly relationships so closely intertwined they border on the incestuous: three strong bands who are playing in what is well on the way to becoming the mainstream of rock in this country.

First up are the London Boogie Band, setting the pattern to be followed by the other bands that night – a crisp, exuberant Instrumental, then on come the girls. Ms Grimes and the boys were the subject of a fairly extensive review on these pages quite recently which went into more detail than I can here. Suffice to say that while I’m not driven to echo Mr Tobler’s eulogising they were most enjoyable.

After the shortest of breaks FBI appear. A sweet little instrumental then on comes the lady. They’re rather impressive in appearance, fronted by a trio of mighty, mighty spades and this sweet young blonde thing looking a touch like a pre-beard Neil Hubbard – no offence; the rest of the band are somewhat, um, cosmopolitan too, especially Mick Weaver who sat down at the piano for Carol Grimes’ set and hasn’t moved since.
It’s a very full sound, the brass in particular belying the fact that there’s just one trumpet and an alto sax, two guitars, bongoes and marimbas for that lovely, cranky syncopation a L’Afrique – another feature in common with Kokomo and the London Boogie Band – and Miss Bonny with the sweet and strong voice that she needs to front those guys.
By halfway through their set FBI had the audience on their feet and kept them there for the duration, but the songs seemed largely indistinguishable, certainly unmemorable – and I wasn’t hearing them for the first time.

And then the big one: Kokomo. Bristling with confidence, they took immediate control. After a killer instrumental on come the Kokettes – Dyan, Frankie and new girl Shirl – and straight into the title track of their last album, “Rise and Shine”, with not a still foot in the house. After such a strong start, their next number “Listen To The Voices”, a relatively new song, lost impetus after a while. This was followed by another newie, “I can tell” which started promisingly with a surging treacly riff faintly reminiscent of “I heard it through the Grapevine” but, again, got a bit bogged down. If these are examples of a ‘new’ Direction’ in song writing, then it doesn’t bode terrifically well.

My confidence was completely restored by an oldie – “Something we used to do when a pound was a pound” – “Feeling Good Inside”. Great Song, then straight into “With Everything I Feel In Me”. They transform what was a fairly dreary Aretha number into something very special – oh, and that Frankie can really cream a crowd.

From here in they were just cruising, with Tony “Fingers” O’Malley on keyboards and larynx, Alan Spenner bass and ditto, Mel Collins horns and a sparkling Neil Hubbard on guitar for the second time, that evening, all making their presences profoundly felt. Finally, “Use Your Imagination”, a show-stopper with a dynamite drum break by the excellent John Sussewell, enlivened on this occasion by the addition of Gaspar Lawal and those big African drums, and an encore with myriad members of the bands.

Mo Geller – Sounds

NME Review of Roundhouse with Carol Grimes and FBI

July 1976

Interesting take on John Susswell’s name.

“Listen to the voices” was probably “What You Waiting For“.

Hammersmith with The Average White Band

June 1976

Awb-tour-newsTHIS WAS one double bill I Just had to see. I mean rock is so hard to find these days and there are good concerts every week but this had to be the one. And it was in enough ways to send 3,000 people home happy. May I say that again. Happy. Because everyone on stage and in the audience seemed to concur that playing and listening to music was just about the most enjoyable part of life (bar one). Which Is why when the AWB took an encore for their 25- minute version of ‘Heard It Through The Grapevine’ which gradually drew most of Kokomo on stage for a jam which no-one ever wanted to end as Hamish Stuart yelled and screamed falsetto improvisations just mad to see what ultra-together, been-rehearsing-it-for-years responses Frank Collins and Dyan Birch would come up with next.

So that was the Average White Kokomo Big Band. Earlier on we had been pleased to join Kokomo and the Entire Audience Percussion Section. This was a segment of their epic version of Aretha’s one-line chant ‘I love you babe with everything I feel In me’.

Frankie stepped out to the end of the catwalk to tell the girls to step this way over the funky rhythm section, a natty disco double beat, and when that was in motion he got the boys laying another pattern across it. Easy it was not, achieved it was, result was that our counter-rhythms became a genuine part of the music, we were throwing our hearts and bodies into participating in the music and everyone felt good. May nobody ever say “You can clap your hands to this If you want” to me again.

Kokomo’s playing was simply up to their usual immaculate standard but I’ve never seen them so full of confidence and not just belief but in-the-bone knowledge that they are superb.

Well, the Average Whites were In a kind of follow-that situation but that was inevitable when they let Kokomo on the tour.

I don’t think they are quite as good as Kokomo (for Instance In their limited ability to improvise vocally and Instrumentally – excepting Duncan and Ball) but they are excellent and I shall be eternally grateful for side one of the ‘AWB’ album. Star turns from It here were “Person To Person”, Hamish’s vocal emphasising the exotic and erotic, and ‘Work To Do’, which came on big and beautiful, swinging fit to cause Count Basic a slow smile, and patently switching between wild screams and tight harmony chants. Of two upcoming album numbers they played ‘Goin’ Home’ was an average piece of cake and “I’m The One That Wants You” a hot addition to their set with the vocals taking acute and perverse lines over punchy brass riffs.

They were very good and they particularly surprised me with their tenderness in their ballads “Cloudy” and “If I ever lose this heaven” A funky good time was had by all. Now girls, you clap this, right, and boys….