Kokomo, Empire Hall, Graffham, Sussex 10/3/17
“Feel good about yourselves!” Kokomo vocalist Frank Collins calls to the audience. The exuberance of Collins compliments the music of soul pioneers Kokomo perfectly.
This reviewer knew he was in for a good night when the pre-set music playing was the Donald Fagen album, “The Nightfly”. Kokomo took to the stage and kicked off with the “Tee Time” instrumental, featuring the piano of Tony O’Malley and strong sax work from Mel Collins.
With Kokomo, you get the full soul experience, the vocals of Tony O’Malley, the three lead singers who back O’Malley when he sings or rather growls, the biting lead guitar of Neil Hubbard and the funky bass of Jennifer Maidman. With original band members Jody Linscott and Mel Collins on congas and sax respectively, this outfit is tighter than the proverbial duck’s arse and hotter than a frying pan with burning oil.
Scouser Collins’ patter is always a highlight of a Kokomo gig. The group experienced some sound problems, unbeknownst to the audience, which led Collins to say, “I can hear myself. I didn’t realise it sounded that bad.” He borrowed from Ronnie Scott when he introduced a new drummer as “Andy Treacey, my favourite drummer” paused, and then added, “tonight!” Another gem was, ”We’re really going to tickle your fancy this time, if we get it right.”
Group member Jim Mullen is currently recovering from illness and was replaced by the inspired substitution of Ross Stanley on the Hammond organ. Stanley was “borrowed from the Hamish Stuart band,” said Collins, which shows yet another link between Kokomo and the Average White Band, who have shared roots and stages since the mid-70s.
In a 15-song two-hour set the band funked through Kokomo favourites and O’Malley numbers. In the middle of the set came three incredible tracks.
With “Everything I Feel in Me” came the implausibly funky piano of Tony O’Malley and the big vocals of Collins. The atmosphere built with O’Malley’s “Naked Flame,” which morphed into “Spirit in the Dark” and was so funky it nearly brought the roof off the venue, with energetic soul stepping from the trio of singers, and raunchy gyrations from Collins.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any funkier the band brought out a new number, a cover of the Quincy Jones classic “Stuff Like That” with Helena-May Harrison delivering a scorching vocal.
Kokomo is not all funk and power, there were gentler moments to let everybody take a breather. Notable amongst these were “Forever” sung by Harrison, which was dedicated “with love” to original vocalist Dyan Birch who is unwell, and the Aretha classic “Angel”, lead beautifully by Paddie McHugh with gorgeous backing harmonies from Collins and Harrison.
The encore was pure quality. The simple blues “Sweet Home Kokomo” was performed to perfection and Collins lead the audience with a rousing hand-clapping routine on “Third Time Around” to finish.
An audience member enthused afterwards, “This band has more funk than any band has a right to have!” After this performance, the audience certainly went home feeling good and with their fancies tickled, just as Collins had requested and predicted.
PHOTOS: GRAHAM WHITTINGTON + CHAZ BROOKS
Words CHAZ BROOKS