UK Soul Pioneers “Kokomo” — Live at the Half Moon, Putney *****

Featuring six of the original 1970s line-up, legendary ten-piece soul-blues groovers Kokomo sparkled at London’s Half Moon on the first day of a two-night residency at the band’s spiritual home.

With four specialist vocalists, Kokomo are the jewel in British soul and their live performances are legendary. Led by keyboardist and vocalist Tony O’Malley the band stormed through a two-hour set of 14 tracks, including new to the live repertoire Kitty Sittin’ Pretty and It Ain’t Cool (To Be Cool No More) from the band’s 1975 eponymous debut album.

Vocalists Charlotte Churchman and Helena May Harrison have breathed life into the group and they join Frank Collins to form a formidable vocal trio. Having an absolute ball, they strutted their stuff in the highest of heels with the ever flamboyant Collins sporting an outrageous pair of sunglasses.

The rhythm section of drummer Andy Treacey, with original members Jody Linscott on percussion and the wonderfully funky Jennifer Maidman on bass drive this group like a Meteroite, one of the newer tracks. The two virtuoso guitarists took turns to solo, Neil Hubbard who played with Joe Cocker at Woodstock and Jim Mullen who forms a link with Kokomo’s erstwhile touring and sparring partners the Average White Band. Last and not least, there is no least in this band, was Jim Hunt on the saxophone who whipped up storms with stunning solos.

Churchman took the vocal lead with a strong cover of Stevie Wonder’s What The Fuss and Harrison beautifully nailed Forever, another track from the first album. Collins drove With Everything I Feel In Me to a fitting climax.

O’Malley and Churchman combined sublimely on Anytime, the gruff vocals of O’Malley traded with the serene sweet voice of Churchman. O’Malley’s trademark Naked Flame morphed into Spirit In The Dark and brought the house down.

Finishing the set with a cover of Bobby Womack’s I Can Understand It the band encored with the slow blues Sweet Home Kokomo and the crowd hand-clapping extravaganza Third Time Around.

If you like your music bluesy, soulful and funky and played by a group of extraordinarily talented musicians get yourself down to the Half Moon for one of Kokomo’s residencies or catch them on the road. You will only regret it if you don’t.

Words and Live photos by Chaz Brooks

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