XOYO, Old Street, London, June 27th 2011
BLOODY STAGE TIMES. The man on phone say 9, the man on the door he say 9 30: splitting the difference to 9 15, my friend and I still manage to arrive ten minutes late. Yet while this would normally bother me, tonight I’m unshakeable, as simply being in the same room as Dennis Coffey is blessing enough.
Additionally, the first three songs witnessed – the thrusting ‘Don’t Knock My Love’, the timeless ‘I Bet You’ and the slinky ‘Easin’ In’ all feature the powerful lungs of Kendra Morris, who I expected to be good but not this good: after all, modern soul singers can be a mixed bag, and you wouldn’t want anyone “urban” on stage ruining the authenticity. Thankfully all three chosen by Coffey tonight bear the stamp of genuine taste, passion, and naturally, funk, with Alice Russell’s sexualised tones on the jubilant ‘It’s A Shame’ and ‘Friendship Trains’ sounding more like the product of New Orleans or Memphis than her native London, and Mayer Hawthorne’s sweet yet raucous delivery (notably on ‘All Your Goodies Are Gone’, which he sang on Coffey’s new album) bringing to mind no less a blue eyed master than Hamish Stuart himself, even if his haircut and specs do give the impression of someone who works in a bank and listens to Phil Collins.
But lest we forget, this gig isn’t actually about vocalists: true, all three make an impression, particularly Morris, who returns later clad only in boots and underwear, but we’re here to see one man – the original Funk Brother, the man whose squalling, fuzz-drenched, wah-festooned riffs and solos graced half the most influential Motown records ever made, who practically defined the guitar sound of the instrumental Blaxploitation soundtrack, and who, alongside David Axelrod and Alan Parsons, helped point hitherto aimless danceDJ samplists in the direction of proper music. Thus the highpoints, for me, anyway, are those very instrumentals- a spiralling ‘Black Belt Jones’ with Coffey’s cascading flurries reaching heights only touched by a select few, a practical masterclass in chuckawucka with ‘It’s Your Thing’ and, of course, ‘Scorpio’ – with over half the audience overcome by riffs and rhythm, making one glad the show was downsized from the seated setting of The Barbican.
Admittedly, the Haggis Horns aside, Coffey’s sidemen look very much like they’ve come straight from “rent-a-muso”, but their playing is faultless, and by the time the gang wind up with ‘Cloud Nine’, all three singers at full tilt, and an unexpected (unrehearsed?) encore of ‘Son Of Scorpio’(proving conclusively that one more Coffey never hurt anyone), the atmosphere is, to quote noted mod DJ Lady Michele, “funkier than a box of chickens”. How a box of chickens can be funky, or indeed, what true funk is, is, of course, something Dennis Coffey clearly knows better than most… I wonder if he passed the secret on to me when he shook my hand?
Darius Drewe Shimon