Live Music + Gig Reviews

KPM Allstars @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

17 June 2007

Let’s start at the end. Five white haired men, mostly dressed in black, are lined up in chairs, stage front, passing a microphone back and forth. They are the major players of the KPM All Stars, and responsible for some of the most familiar (library) music you can’t put a name to. Their 1960s and early ’70s heyday represented a time when everything you heard that wasn’t indentifiably pop, jazz or classical apparently came out of a small office in Denmark Street and followed you wherever you went.

One inquisitor asks about the “library sound”. The men appear bemused after all this “library sound” we’re talking about encompasses the smoothest of lounge, the heaviest of (white) funk and tribal rhythms, and the most ridiculous yet catchy of all vintage British TV themes. The reply is as simple as it is enlightening. They grew up wanting to play big band music, but rock’n’roll came along and killed it.

An initially frosty relationship with the new music eventually gave way – after all, as a jobbing musician, composer and arranger, you’ve got to eat. Hence this “library sound” big band men with horns and strings, but also with rock’s guitar, bass, drums, and no less importantly, the wonderful Hammond organ.

And so to the show. Introduced by walking encyclopaedia of the lounge sound, Jonny Trunk, this music is as familiar and natural as breathing. First up, Keith Mansfield guides the band at any given time, up to nine horns, Hammond and piano, two drummers and percussion, guitar and bass, through such “easy” staples as Soul Thing and Music to Drive By.

He’s followed briefly by Duncan Lamont, who then leaves the floor to Alan Hawkshaw (“The Hawk”), and now we really get down. Dave Allen at Large, a snippet of Countdown (knocked off in an hour in the toilet, apparently), just a bit of Grange Hill (mercifully). Before we know it, we’re in the bar catching our breath before part two.

The rest of the evening is a procession of telly hits: the late Johnny Pearson’s Superstars, Girl in a Sportscar, and probably earning the loudest cheer of the show, Grandstand. What a strange, friendly, comforting and unthreatening world we’re in tonight. The female backing singers are hauled on for The Mohawks‘ cult favourite The Champ (that’s a Hawkshaw studio band, since you ask).

1970s soulstress Madeleine Bell takes the stage for Everlasting Love – another vintage hit touched by the hand of Hawkshaw – and when everyone’s done and there’s nothing else to play, Madeleine and girls are back, and they do it again. Why not – great tune. Cherish these Allstars, we’ll never see their like again.

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KPM Allstars @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London