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Sweet home Kokomo

Kokomo stage 2A Kokomo reunion would always have been high on the wants list of anyone who saw them in their 1970s heyday, when they were consistently the hottest live experience London’s small venues had to offer. This summer it turned into reality, and last night their short tour reached the Half Moon in Putney: just the sort of intimate, informal joint they once rocked, and which they can still sell out with ease.

It wasn’t quite the original line-up. Mel Collins is in the US with King Crimson, Jody Linscott is in Japan, Terry Stannard is long retired, Alan Spenner is no longer with us and, sadly, Dyan Birch was unwell. But Nigel Hitchcock, Frank Tontoh, Glen LeFleur and Jennifer Maidman took the places of Collins, Stannard, Linscott and Spenner on tenor saxophone, drums, congas and bass guitar respectively, while Helena-May Harrison, from the evening’s support band, Man May’d, stepped into the space left by the missing singer at a couple of hours’ notice to bring a fine voice and an irresistible vivacity to the show.

As with any classic vehicle, there were a few creaks and glitches along the way before the oil had fully circulated around the mechanism, but the storming two-hour set would have satisfied anyone’s expectations. The band warmed up with “Tee Time”, an old favourite instrumental, before the singers arrived for “Third Time Around”. Tony O’Malley took over Birch’s lead part on “Yes We Can”, Paddie McHugh stopped the show with “Angel” just as he used to do, and Frank Collins conducted the soul choir on “With Everything I Feel in Me”. Neil Hubbard and Jim Mullen supplied contrasting guitar solos of the highest quality, while Hitchcock did the Don Wilkerson/Fathead Newman thing to great effect. Maidman and Tontoh meshed beautifully on “Lonely Town, Lonely Street” and “I Can Understand It”. The audience needed no urging to join in on a celebratory new song called “Back at the Bag”.

They encored with a rolling “Sweet Home Kokomo” and a bit of crisp audience participation on “The Ghetto”. Two hours didn’t seem nearly enough for all the catching up they and we have to do.

* Left to right in the photograph: Tony O’Malley, Neil Hubbard, Helena-May Harrison, Paddie McHugh, Frank Collins, Jim Mullen and Nigel Hitchcock. At the gigs they’re selling a CD put together from a two-track tape recorded at the Venue in 1981: it’s a lovely souvenir and is downloadable at


11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jan Søttrup #

    Thanks, Richard – like being there!

    August 29, 2014
  2. Dyan didn’t look well when we saw them at Farncombe, and admitted to not feeling good either. A shame that she couldn’t make Putney, as the real magic was seeing the three of them together…they even did a brief spontaneous extract from “Friends”! Kokomo was always going to be a financial disaster and was probably an over-reaction to whatever it was that Steve O’Rourke planned to do with Arrival. So regrets – I think they’ve had more than a few and are one of a zillion cases of musicians with more talent in their little fingers than mine ever produced on a typing keyboard, yet for whom life, (O’Malley excepted) has dealt a pretty poor hand where I, thanks to a very good employer for 20 years, can live my latter years in reasonable comfort.

    August 29, 2014
  3. Phil Shaw #

    For me, the two comebacks this week show that the world’s upside down; all the hype and homage that’s been bestowed on Kate Bush should’ve been heaped on Kokomo. One thing they do have in common is that the shows have all been in London. I’d probably close the curtains if Ms Bush played our back garden, but does anyone know – someone from the band reading Richard’s excellent blog, perhaps – whether Kokomo are likely to venture north of Watford in the foreseeable?

    Meantime, best wishes to Dyan Birch for a speedy recovery. My disappointment at not being able to get to Putney last night was offset slightly by the knowledge that I hadn’t missed one of my favourite singers.

    August 29, 2014
  4. John Pritchard #

    Thanks Richard, this brought back a few memories of ’75. They did venture north then to play a fantastic gig with Chili Willi &The Red Hot Peppers at The Free Trade Hall – topping the bill, Dr Feelgood.

    August 29, 2014
  5. Hi David (dhvinyl), just to put the record straight, O’Rourke had nothing to do with Arrival. Steve came in at a crucial stage after Kokomo were asking CBS for a £100,000 advance in 1973 to keep the 10-piece band alive for a year, not an unreasonable request under the circumstances. The big knobs at CBS laughed in our faces and offered £10,000, which we promptly refused. O’Rourke eventually financed Kokomo’s first album, took it to CBS and got the hundred grand plus a five-year deal. However, the fact that he was dangling the Pink Floyd carrot, may also have had a little to do with their decision to cough up the lolly……… More another time, as the road to Southampton beckons. P.S. Thanks to Richard for the great review! Tony O x

    August 29, 2014
    • Interesting. As I remember, we at Island offered Steve O’R £30,000 for a first Kokomo album, and didn’t get very far. My idea — which might or might not have been a good one — was to record the band live.

      August 29, 2014
      • Didn’t know about that offer, Richard. In hindsight, Island may have been a better option for the band instead of CBS… x

        September 1, 2014
  6. Brian #

    Just seen them at Weyfest. Ill health kept me away from the other shows sadly but it was magical, timeless and uplifting. I have a tear in my eye now thinking how it transported me away from all the cares and worries of life. As with all great bands I feel better for it – I have been to the well, drank and am refreshed. The onstage bonhomie a major part of it.

    August 31, 2014
  7. chris wintle #

    The review is like being there – it sent shivers down my spine and brings back many happy memories of the band playing at the now defunct Black Swan in Sheffield. I just wonder if they have a few more gigs in them including a possible date at the Robin in Bilston which is basically in the middle of the country and a cracking venue…….. Just a thought Tony and the band

    August 31, 2014
  8. You may have ached to sign Kokomo, Richard. I sweated blood for them. I eventually lost my job at CBS because i was a pain in Dick Asher’s arse.

    When I arrived at CBS as an a&r man, Arrival were on my roster, and I was asked to get them recording and revive their career. But when I met with them, they’d moved on in their heads, and were now part of Kokomo. If you can fall in love with 11 people at the same time, that’s what happened to me and Kokomo. I used them on sessions, took them to Apple to record – live, as you would have wanted – and encouraged Dan Loggins (my boss) to come out and see them. All to no avail. CBS treated their signed artists like chattels, and the rest of the band (the ones CBS didn’t have signed) were simply ignored. I left one meeting in tears at the sheer inhumanity of it.

    I saw Kokomo in Brighton on Wednesday night this week (April 1, 2015) and it was stupendous. Seven of the originals were there, including Jodie Linscott who barely looks a day older. Jim Mullen and Neil Hubbard were fantastic; Frank & Paddy interacted wonderfully with Helena May, who looked beyond delighted all night long. Tony O’Malley goes from strength to phenomenal strength.

    And It seemed like yesterday. Not reliving our youth, but like we were just carrying on.

    April 4, 2015
  9. Paulmarkphillips It breaks my heart to read about the treatment of Kokomo by CBS. I had a small hand in getting the band together via Mark Ede and Sue Martin originally for a festival in Richmond last year which sadly went bust before it began. However with the wonderful Sue Martin they carried on at Weyfest and a number of other gigs. I occasionally see Tony O’Malley and Frank Collins, both truly lovely people and am looking forward to The Festival Hall in November. I almpost forgot to mention that I run The Crawdaddy Club Richmond and our highlight last year was Jo Harman with the Southern Soul Connection which includes Neil Hubbard. At the tail end of the evening Tony, Frank, Paddy and Helena arrived after rehearsing all day and joined in a fabulous jam session. It was truly sensational!! I love these guys like you did in the early days.

    June 22, 2015

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