wed 28/06/2017

Quantic & Alice Russell with Combo Barbaro, Koko | reviews, news & interviews

Quantic & Alice Russell with Combo Barbaro, Koko

Quantic & Alice Russell with Combo Barbaro, Koko

Band leader Will Holland drenches London in Colombian funk dynamics

Once the set is rolling and a buzz has been built, conga-player Freddy Colorado heads into the crowd to lead the dancing
Quantic and Alice Russell, looking rather more sedate than at the gig

Ah, Koko, the old Camden Palace, another of London’s lovely venues, over 100 years old, all done up in red with gold gilt, and two layers of balcony boxes intact. It’s easy, as a regular gig-goer, to become oblivious to these heritage British venues but they are truly wonderful, full of personality that dozens of airport-like civic halls and sports arenas across the Americas can never muster. It’s not surprising that foreign bands adore playing such old variety theatres and, judging from their wide grins, Quantic’s Combo Barbaro, from Colombia, appear to be revelling in their environs.

It undoubtedly also helps their mood that Koko is sold out, which means that nearly 1500 bods are in the place. The crowd is mainly aged 20-30, a good smattering of beards, Yasser Arafat scarves and well cut woollens. I’d characterize their vibe as hip post-grad - they want to groove but not really go mental and that’s what they do.

The juicy Latin flavour now has a firm hold on the jiggling crowd and everything winds up in a sweaty, tropical barn dance lather

The band file on and there are loads of them, two violins, two percussionists, keyboards, as well as the usual band set-up. Quantic very definitely directs them throughout, whether he’s playing his guitar or an accordion. Quantic is Will Holland, a musician originally from Worcestershire who for the last five years has been based in Cali, Colombia, from where he’s released a series of Latin-infused albums on Brighton’s acclaimed and very funky Tru Thoughts label. He’s heavily bearded, wearing a pink shirt and a trilby but the real front-person, with whom he’s just cut an album, is British soul belter Alice Russell. Upfront in a gold glitter dress, after the band kick off with the instrumental “Una Tarde En Mariquita”, she dives straight into “I’ll Keep My Light In My Window”, sparring with her striking trio of backing singers.

As they move on into “Dreamer” and “Magdalena”, the bossa-nova funk causes outbreaks of crowd clapping, giving a revival meeting spirit to the occasion, then Quantic’s accordion picks out a familiar refrain, more usually heard on the harpsichord, and we’re into a sweet cover of “Golden Brown”. Russell is a jovial unselfconscious front woman with raucous pipes but she’s also happy to disappear to the back and join the percussionists for various delicious instrumentals. Meanwhile the fiddlers, notably the larger-than-life Mike Simmonds, with loose bow-strings flying everywhere, very effectively take the place of a brass section.

Once the set is rolling and a buzz has been built, conga-player Freddy Colorado, hugely enthused, heads into the crowd to lead the dancing. Quantic carefully controls all from centre stage while Russell, his foil, is wilder and chattier. Soon gypsy flourishes are running smack bang into jazz, especially on (I think) “I’d Cry” where the call’n’response action between Simmonds’ violin and bespectacled keyboard whizz Alfredito Linares is spectacularly vibrant.

Russell seizes the moment and turns “Su Suzy” into a blues-pop monster, the biggest tune of the night so far, and the band now riding a wave of loose funk, carefully choreographed by their leader, ride the momentum on into “Pushing On” – which really does push on - and the new album’s title track “Look Around the Corner.

After disappearing amid a welter of genuinely moved “thank you”s to the crowd, the band return for a couple more. The juicy Latin flavour now has a firm hold on the jiggling crowd and everything winds up in a sweaty, tropical barn dance lather. These walls have seen a few things over the decades, from Monty Python to the climax of Brit disco flick The Music Machine, but tonight’s carnival of percussively rich, jazzy South American spirit, topped with Alice Russell’s sass, surely held its own in this wider company.

Watch a live performance of "Look Around the Corner"

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