Kokomo live review - Ronnie Scott's, London

Forgotten heroes Kokomo return to the stage

The crowd at a prog gig
(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

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It’s now clear why Kokomo didn’t become a huge success in the mid-70s. The only other band represented at that time by Pink Floyd manager Steve O’Rourke, they were just too funky for prog fans’ sensibilities, yet they also had too much musical depth for the mainstream. They were just too individual. But in 2016, they do seem in tune with the modern era.

There’s a joyous whiff of balance in the band’s performance here. The members obviously take what they do very seriously, but they have a self‑deprecating humour too. When the three vocalists – yes, three – stride onstage during Third Time Around, they all have on pink feather boas. It’s a hilariously simple prop that’s augmented by some wonderfully incongruous choreography. But this is never allowed to upstage the fact that the trio – as well as keyboard player Tony O’Malley – have spectacular voices.

These days, the band are a mix of originals – such as singers Frank Collins and Paddie McHugh, guitarists Neil Hubbard and Jim Mullen, and percussionist Jody Linscott – plus new additions Helena-May Harrison on vocals, Ash Soan on drums and Jennifer Maidman on bass. The conglomeration simply drips with the sort of good-time musical ease that first got the band attention four decades back.

Collins is clearly the focal point, with his comfortable manner in talking to the audience betraying the fact that he absolutely loves being around the rest of the band. He has an excitement that translates across to everyone.

Of course, the songs have a huge melodic appeal, but that never stops the band from improvising both instrumentally and vocally. This is never more obvious than midway through the set, when literally everyone gets the chance to showcase their talents in solo spots. It’s here you appreciate the remarkable manner in which Kokomo combine jazz rock, psychedelia and funk, in a way nobody ever thought possible.

There are even two new songs in the set to prove this isn’t just a nostalgia trip. Road To Kokomo and Back At The Bag fit in well alongside more established fare, such as With Everything I Feel In Me and Angel.

The climax, though, is an extended, extemporised run-through of I Can Understand It, which has the feel of 10cc interpreted by Steely Dan.

Yet despite the rapturous applause at the end, you still get the impression that a lot of people missed the point – staying firmly seated doesn’t do justice to the joy of this band. Maybe even now, Kokomo still have a battle to win.

Malcolm Dome

Malcolm Dome had an illustrious and celebrated career which stretched back to working for Record Mirror magazine in the late 70s and Metal Fury in the early 80s before joining Kerrang! at its launch in 1981. His first book, Encyclopedia Metallica, published in 1981, may have been the inspiration for the name of a certain band formed that same year. Dome is also credited with inventing the term "thrash metal" while writing about the Anthrax song Metal Thrashing Mad in 1984. With the launch of Classic Rock magazine in 1998 he became involved with that title, sister magazine Metal Hammer, and was a contributor to Prog magazine since its inception in 2009. He died in 2021