REVIEW: Kokomo/Lem and the White Fire, Empire Hall, Graffham

Chichester-based Lem and the White Fire normally perform as a seven piece but slimmed down to a duo to give fine support to soul legends Kokomo.

Kokomo     Pic by Graham Whittington
Kokomo Pic by Graham Whittington

Strong vocals from Lem Parker were ably supported by guitarist Nino, with a set of all original material. Parker's vocal style is reminiscent of Alison Moyet, Adele and Eddi Reader from Fairground Attraction. Strong observational lyrics including "Where am I now in your shoebox of memories?" and catchy tunes brought the duo a very warm reception.

Brought to Sussex by local promoter Sue Martin, as part of her ‘Roots Around the World’ series, veteran soul collective Kokomo delivered a two hour set, with fifteen songs.

The band took the stage with a blistering instrumental “Tee Time” which set the tone for the evening with the tight rhythm section of Jennifer Maidman (bass), Jody Linscott (congas) Andy Treacey (drums), Ross Stanley (Hammond organ) and funky piano from Tony O’Malley.

The band has three specialist vocalists who take turn to lead, and form a backing unit for Tony O’Malley when he takes the mike. “What You Waitin’ For?” with Frank Collins was followed by “Yes We Can” and “Lonely Town, Lonely Street” with O’Malley growling out the vocals. Imagine Joe Cocker chewing gravel. This boy has soul.

The ballad “Forever” was dedicated “with love” to group member Dyan Birch, currently unwell, and featured the new girl in the group, Helena-May Harrison.

Kokomo know how to lay down a groove, build on it and reach a crescendo. The gig was simmering and caught fire with a trio of powerful songs, “With Everything I Need in Me”, “Naked Flame” featuring a biting guitar solo from Neil Hubbard, and the Quincy Jones classic “Stuff Like That”. The latter being a welcome new addition to the group’s repertoire and giving Harrison the chance to deliver a Jocelyn Brown style vocal.

The group took a step back in tempo to play “Angel”, made famous by Aretha Frankin, with Paddie McHugh showing vocal versatility and class.

The main set closed with “I Can Understand It” and after rapturous applause the band returned for the encore of “Sweet Home Kokomo” with a beautiful sax solo from Mel Collins, and finished with the crowd pleaser “Third Time Around”.

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