After their highly charged show at the New Victoria Theatre last Thursday (which constituted their only London gig on their recent tour) I was very surprised to see that the critics from the rock music press had not taken this opportunity to re-elevate Kokomo to a position of respect. But no – there sometimes really does appear to be a conspiracy of silence against the band which began around the time of the Naughty Rhythms Tour which they did with Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers and Doctor Feelgood when there seemed to be a lot of unnecessary mud-slinging in some quarters.
Only one major paper to my certain knowledge has come clean with Kokomo and deigned to print their name in black and white and that is the excellent and promising Streetlife fortnightly who’ve come up with a thumbs up for the band. As it was the band played a high energy set that is sure to have placed them nearer to the hearts of their followers and maybe won them a few more amongst those in the audience who had not seen them before.
As usual the instrumentalists of the combo began with their now-statutory warm-up number before the vocalists arrived on stage and they kicked off into a selection of songs from their albums KOKOMO and RISE AND SHINE. The songs were quite admirably delivered in a show that exuded warmth, power and (dare I say it?) soul. Their performances of the songs they chose are truly emotive and emotional, they always hit exactly the right level and perform with a true depth of feeling and sincerity that can honestly be called ‘soulful’.
Amongst the numbers they played; particularly memorable is a hot, sweating version of the title track “Rise And Shine’ that must have had toes tapping (at the least) throughout the theatre. Their versions of “Feelin” Good”,”It Ain’t Cool (To Be Cool No More)” and “I Can Understand It” were also virtual dynamite. Hard-hitting music whose rhythm and propulsion could hardly be ignored. It was a pity though that they did not substitute one of the aforementioned songs for “Use Your Imagination” as the last number of the set because “Use Your Imagination” lacked that fire and tight energy that these others possessed and allowed the intensity to fall just a little as the evening drew to a close. It is not only the up-tempo numbers that show Kokomo to good advantage though. On the slow numbers they also hit hard emotively. The band has a brace of outstanding singers and each is fully capable of handling sensitive songs.
One of the most moving and tender moments of the evening was when Dyan Birch was featured on “Without Me”, a remarkable song by Frank Collins, Dyan Birch and Tony O’Malley.
Possibly the positive factor about this group that it is easiest to overlook is the instrumental prowess of the musicians. Each is an accomplished master of his particular instrument as the solos in “Use Your Imagination” more than confirmed, yet each player is perfectly in control; the reins are held in tight and only rarely allowed to stretch out. No twenty minute blitzing solos in each number, no throwing keyboards across the stage in contrived attempts to whip up excitement; just the playing, more powerful because of its restraint where none of the energy is dissipated fruitlessly.
It would be pointless to single out specific players for mention because I would merely work my way through the whole band. It was an excellent concert by an essential band. and I have only two complaints: firstly that it was not promoted at somewhere like the Hammersmith Palais, where it would have been possible to dance when the music moved you, the second is that they didn’t play “Angel”, my personal favourite by the band.
Unfortunately the support band, Kilburn and the High Roads, lost much of their humour and raw appeal that can be such a positive asset in their work in pubs/clubs when they transferred to a larger venue. For the most part the vocals, quite essential to this band, were inaudible and their sense of fun fell sadly flat.
As for Kokomo: next time they play… see them.
Kenneth Ansell – Impetus
One of the most satisfying pleasures for any music fan is to see a band for which one predicts great things fulfil its potential and rise to stardom. Kokomo, agreed, are not exactly stars, but it was nevertheless just as exciting to see this fabulous band, which I used to watch almost weekly in London’s pub-rock venues, selling out the New Victoria theatre recently.
To be fair, this wasn’t one of Kokomo’s best gigs – I’m sure they’d be the first to admit that – for so much of their act feeds off the audience which was, for the most part, rigidly rooted to its seats. To see Kokomo in their best light you still need a fairly small, warm, atmospheric venue where there’s room to dance and where stage and audience are essentially close. Then, there’s no band to touch ’em, except possibly the Average Whites.
This set consisted mainly of the band’s two excellent albums, although the highlight was the amazing version of Aretha Franklin’s ‘With Everything I Feel In Me’, when the range, power and sustain of Frank Collins’s voice was Incredible – without a doubt one of Britain’s best white vocalists.
The rhythm section of bassist Alan Spenner, the band’s Joker, and the newest face, coloured drummer supreme John Sussewell, is surely now second to none in the soul field. And it was good to see Neil Hubbard, a paragon of modesty, catch the eye with some beautifully loose and Jazzy guitar work.
ANDREW WARSHAW – SOUNDS
Tagged in: Alan Spenner
, Doug Dean
, Dyan Birch
, Frank Collins
, John Sussewell
, Mel Collins
, Neil Hubbard
, Paddie McHugh
, Rise and Shine album
, Tony O'Malley
, Use Your Imagination
‘KOKOMO’ (CBS 80670)
THE EVOLUTION has been interesting – both Kokomo as a band and the musicians who joined together to form it. Arrival always seemed a band with plenty of musical strength and ideas, but without a path. The Grease Band, particularly the Spenner/Hubbard team, have long been among my favourite British musicians, but inclined to be erratic. Mel Collins, whilst not denying his talent, had never found a home both secure and wide enough, and tended to be an itinerant horn player jumping through other people’s hoops.
I felt much the same about Terry Stannard, though had Uncle Dog lasted I’m sure he’d have found it a good home. But Kokomo has provided the ideal base for a number of differing and strong-minded musicians – it started off loose enough to attract them all, and together they have built it into a cohesive band that is still broad in scope. Inevitably they have been dubbed a White Soul Band and compared with the Average Whites: but where the AWB seem faithfully to follow the (admittedly wide) Atlantic tradition, Kokomo possess and use a much larger phrase book.
What could have been their downfall has become their main. strength: the juxtaposition of several sources and several heavy egos, the delicate balancing of five singers, five soloists and five songwriters in different permutations, could have been an unholy mess: as it turned out, it adds strength and variety to everything they touch.
Alan Spenner’s loping, beautifully phrased ‘I’m Sorry Babe’ sits quite happily alongside Tony O’Malley’s smoothly fluent ‘Feeling this way’, ‘which leads naturally to Frank Collins’ wailing high over a strong riff on ‘Sweet Sugar Thing’; Caroline Franklin’s ‘Angel’, with exquisite solo by Mel, sounds custom made for Paddy McHugh, and Neil Hubbard’s ‘Anytime’ provides the band with a frame that demonstrates just how strong the alliance can be: Tony and Dyan Birch alternate verses to display the band’s full voice spectrum.
Terry and Jodv Linscott (congas) complement each other perfectly, as do Neil and Jim Mullen on guitars, all of them combining to provide a rich tight but flexible rhythm track that glows with vibrant but controlled energy. That’s the key – no one holds back, but no one is trying to elbow-to the front. Five stars and a Nobel prize.
Steve Peacock – Sounds
“Kokomo are the British band…. Not only are they the band to soothe a worker’s breast…. but they manage to bring together the cream of British musicians, singers and writers into a band that sounds like it plays for love” – Sounds
“Tight and funky” – NME
“…. A sound that was at times like a cornucopia of rhythm, yet always allows each instrument to keep its own identify…. A delicious buzz” – NME
“Kokomo glitter with experienced talent…. the instrumental work was as deliberate and professional as you’d expect from that sort of quality, and the three-voice vocal group added that final drive” – Melody Maker
Original for sale on eBay