NO-ONE THIS side of the Welsh border could’ve been more shocked than I on hearing that David Howells (bass) and Neil Garland (keyboards) had been given their cards straight after a hugely successful appearance at the 25th Reading Rock Festival. So, returning to London with two new boys ‘Tony Lambert of SAHB and Racing Cars fame on keyboards and Steve Collie on bass). Kooga had a lot of catching up to do.

Though the Soho sweatbox was not full to capacity, there was certainly enough rocking going on to send temperatures soaring as the feline five-some were welcomed back like prodigal sons. Time to kill the fatted calf

Not quite. The first two numbers were marred by a dull mix, and although the PA engineer finally got his act together lust in time fore vibrant rendition of soon-come single ‘Don’t Break My Heart’, the band were obviously under-rehearsed. However, with their changed line-up, some sparkling rearrangements (particularly noticeable during the classic ballad Gabrielle’ via some subtle guitar/keyboard interplay and ‘Like I’ve Never Known’ with its newly injected funk inspired ivory-tickling) and three new songs, a bit of rust can be, and was, forgiven.

Of the newies, ‘On The Run’, though heavier than their traditional fare, was easily the best as it not only showcased Tony’s abundant talents with an intricate keyboard intro, but also managed to retain all the dynamics and melody normally associated with Kooga.

Eschewing much of their debut release ‘Across The Water’ (the set only contained four songs from that LP), the emphasis is now placed firmly on progress. In terms of crowd response, the show was an undeniable success, particularly as the new material garnered plentiful applause and the band were called back for two encores.

However, vocalist Neville would do well to ditch his guitar more often (leaving eminently capable co-six-stringer Gerwyn Howley to do the honours) as he is potentially a frontman of Coverdalesque proportions.

Still one of the best bands on the club circuit; Kooga will slay ‘em in the aisles next time they hit London at the end of their projected New Year tour.


JUNE 1988

KOOGA/EXCALIBUR – Marquee, London

OVER THE last Couple of years it seems as though everyone and his brother has thrown praise at the feet of Kooga, putting them forward as perhaps the UK’s only real hope for major stardom. And whilst we all agree that singer and songwriter Neville MacDonald is far and away the best frontman to have danced his way across the boards since David Coverdale finally made the grade, it would appear that no British record company is yet prepared to sign ‘em up. Crazy innit?

Kooga are an enormous prospect. They have songs that leave Whitesnake at the starting post, riffs that would truly crush Black Sabbath into tiny splinters, and melody that could easily rewrite history. Rough ‘n’ ready, eschewing the very brilliance of traditional British rock, Kooga successfully translate the epitome of all things bright and beautiful. Spectacular and down to earth they cleverly balance emotion with the big, bouncy, large arrangements and soaring hooklines.

Very much a spontaneous outfit who swing along around one continuous shuffle, they have an unusually large quota of would-be big hit singles, including ‘Lay Down Your Love’ and the muscular yet entirely addictive ‘Don’t Break My Heart’ with its monstrous zest and synthesiser-save-all magic.

Neville MacDonald takes the hookline like he’s about to strangle it and then suddenly elopes the ugliness of the situation to a smooth blue-eyed bridge. His voice is effortless and Blues based, with consummate ease on the upswing and sledgehammer effectiveness on the down beat.

Never ponderous but forever chugging around in a tight shuffle, it’s the power trio punch of MacDonald, bassist Steve Colley and drummer Martin Williams that makes Kooga so great. Guitar player Gerwyn Howley is a dead duck just waiting for a flash newcomer to come along and snatch his place in the best unsigned band the world has ever known (Part 26). Keyboard man Tony Lambert does the best Smurf impression I’ve seen in a long while, but who would not love to see Keith Emerson up onstage instead?

It’s my horrible opinion that Kooga should not remain a secret for too much longer. One or possibly two fine adjustments could mean instant success and baby, it’s just a matter of time before Charles & Di are seen smooching in the Marquee shadows, catching upon all those wasted years.

Excalibur, the band who dared occupy the support slot, hit me like a ton of Lego bricks. Already the proud owners of a natty mini LP, they appear to be marching around from Yorkshire to London belting everyone in the mouth with the heaviest Metal I’ve experienced since a large lump of lead once fell on my head. Dense and stifling they bang out a wall of sound punctuated by frenetic jabs of real genius. Somewhat like an extremely attractive combination of UFO, Def Leppard (early period, not the later synthesised tosh) and Iron Maiden, they made any pro-gig guffawing seem as redundant as Saxon’s recent comeback.

Effortless rocking in a classic tradition they showered the audience with enough potential to make you wish everyone in the entire world was standing right there next to you.

I was genuinely bowled over by Excalibur’s earnest, sincere and often harrowing slices of nut- cracking Metal. Powerful and good, this lot will soon knock Maiden off their predictable throne. Mark my wimpy words.


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