No band is more likely to make me smile from the first note than Kokomo. Almost 50 years after they emerged in the pubs of London, they’re still at it. Much changed, as we all are since we first gathered in Islington’s Hope & Anchor to marvel at the authenticity of their feeling for funk, but still keeping the faith.
Of the original members, the singer Frank Collins, the singer/keyboardist Tony O’Malley, the percussionist Jody Linscott and the guitarists Jim Mullen and Neil Hubbard were present last night at the Half Moon in Putney, one of their favourite venues. They were joined by the bassist Jennifer Maidman and the drummer Andy Treacey, long-term replacements for Alan Spenner and Terry Stannard, the saxophonist Jim Hunt, filling Mel Collins’s shoes, and the singers Helena May Harrison and Charlotte Churchman, who since 2014 and 2017 respectively have replaced the late Dyan Birch and Paddie McHugh.
The repertoire doesn’t change much as these reunions come around. No Kokomo fan would go away entirely happy without having heard Bill Withers’ “Lonely Town Lonely Street”, O’Malley’s instrumental “Tee Time”, Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can”, Hubbard’s sweetly soaring “Anytime” or their traditional showstopper, Bobby Womack’s “I Can Understand It”.
The sound was rough last night, and one or two instrumental stretches went on a bit too long, but the general vibrancy made up for it. The highlights for me were Churchman’s storming delivery of Stevie Wonder’s great “So What the Fuss”, Harrison bossing “Stuff Like That”, the divine Linscott’s beautifully subtle conga-playing on the closing “Third Time Around”, and Jim Hunt’s gruff Texas tenor touches throughout. It all made me very glad that there are still nights like these.