Dennis Coffey

Live @ XOYO, London 27th June 2011

Dennis Coffey: Live at XOYO, London EC2 – Photo: Courtesy of Giglens

When guitar colossus Dennis “Wah-Wah” Coffey flew into town to do a one-off gig in support of his eponymously named new album on Strut Records, then Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards made darn sure UK Vibe were there to document proceedings. So it was that music aficionados and lovers of that raw 70s fuzz-tone, echoplex distortion and Wah-Wah funk sound introduced and popularised by Mr Coffey gathered at the XOYO club in London EC2 and to be part of a very special evening. As nine o’clock rolled around Dennis Coffey decked out from head to toe in black (including his Gibson 355) strolled onto the stage closely followed by ‘live gig band of choice’, The Haggis Horns. Having greeted the assembled devotees, DC then ripped into Miss Millie from his latest funk filled release. Both Dennis and the Haggis Horns seemed in full stride from the get go and 2 mins and 30 seconds in, there was no doubt that we were witnessing a living legend when Coffey began one of his famed guitar solos, rocking back and forth in time with the music, his trusty axe nestling neatly on his rotund belly.

Dennis Coffey & the Haggis Horns – Photo: Courtesy of Giglens

With the blue touch paper now lit, Dennis then launched into “Ride Sally Ride,” one of a plethora of tunes heavily sampled tracks by the hip-hop fraternity. Once the break beats kicked in, we fully understood why. Again, those gathered into this intimate venue were treated to another extended ex-Funk Brother solo from the main man as he teased the strings and bent notes, his Gibson 355 guitar emitting a high pitched psychedelic squeal in the process – his left hand was frantically sliding up and down the frets on the guitar neck. With his black flat cap and dark sunglasses on, he looked every bit the guitar maestro.

Dennis Coffey & Kendra Morris (Guest Vocals) – Photo: Courtesy of Giglens

Next the first of Mr Coffey’s special guests took to the stage in the form of the sultry Kendra Morris. The onus was on her to provide the vocals on three heavyweight covers, the first two of which were also lifted from Dennis’ new album. First up was a nod to that gritty soul vocalist, Wilson Picket and “Don’t Knock My Love,” followed by an energetically delivered version of the Funkadelic classic “I Bet You,” complete with hauntingly distinctive intro and guitar solo. The trio was completed by a faithful lowdown’n’funky, free-spirited take on Edwin Starr’s, “Easin’ In.” As pleasingly distracting as Kendra Morris’ sassy outfit, flowing locks and come-hither eyes were, make no doubt that the audiences gaze was transfixed on the sublime dexterity of the master funk protagonist as he made his Gibson 355 once again sing to his tune, treating us to yet another sizzling solo.

Kendra Morris (Guest Vocals) – Photos: Courtesy of Giglens

As the lush Kendra Morris exited stage right, the hits kept on coming. Dennis Coffey’s one and only venture into motion picture soundtracks; “Black Belt Jones” was given a full and complete airing. The knowledgeable crowd murmuring appreciatively as the first strains of the blaxploitation classic reverberated around the acoustically friendly venue. The one-two punch came in the form of Dennis’ stone cold monster jam, “Scorpio.”

Dennis Coffey: Live @ XOYO, London – Photo: Courtesy of Giglens

In case we were not aware, Dennis made sure in his introduction to brief us that the following tune had been “sampled by almost everyone.” As expected Dennis held his own during his solo, but I was most impressed by the bass player Grieg Robinson from the Haggis Horns who laid down a very meaty solo of his own. Original ‘Funk Brother’ and bass player Bob Babbitt would have been very proud. The observation of how tight these musicians were was not lost on DC as he was quick to lavish praise on his backing band the instant that “Scorpio” finished.

Alice Russell (Guest Vocals) – Photos: Courtesy of Giglens

Greig Robertson (Bass, the Haggis Horns) – Photos: Courtesy of Giglens

An energetic version of The Detroit Spinners’ “It’s a Shame,” heralded the arrival of the night’s second guest vocalists, the U.K.’s very own jazz and soul songstress, Alice Russell. The elegantly attired Miss Russell did justice to this fine tune before segueing into the second of her three guest vocal tracks, an emotive rendition of Rare Earth’s “Smiling Faces,” further popularised by “The Undisputed Truth,” in 1971, “The Temptations” having turned it down. Dennis delivered his sweet riffs as per the original but with a little twist for his live punters. “Friendship Train,” closed out Alice Russell’s all too short but most welcome stint as keynote vocalist, before we were offered up another chance to digest just how good the combination of the Haggis Horns alongside Dennis Coffey sounded as they laid down the smooth instrumental, “It’s Your Thing.”

Alice Russell (Guest Vocalist) – Photo: Courtesy of Giglens

Luke Flowers (Drums, and Taz Modi, Keyboards & Percussion, The Haggis Horns) – Photos: Courtesy of Giglens

Ben Barker (Guitar, the Haggis Horns) – Photo: Courtesy of Giglens

Once again Dennis addressed the microphone, this time to bring to the fore a talented young vocalist with an old ‘soulful’ soul – Mr Mayer Hawthorne. And what an impact he made too, belting out a rasping vocal cover of The Dramatics’ “Whatcha See Is Watcha Get.” (Yes, Mr Dennis Coffey also supplied the original guitar licks on this evergreen track) With the crowd now suitably roused, Mayer Hawthorne asked the audience if they had Dennis Coffey’s latest album, and if not implored them to invest in a copy, where they can hear a version of the next tune on which Mayer himself is guest vocalist. And as he simultaneously picked up a tambourine, the intro to “All Your Goodies Are Gone” boomed out. A very catchy ditty it is too.

Dennis Coffey & Mayer Hawthorne (Guest Vocals) – Photo: Courtesy of Giglens

Mayer Hawthorne – Photo: Courtesy of Giglens

For that evening’s penultimate tune, Mayer Hawthorne thanked Dennis Coffey upfront for allowing him to perform, “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out,” the first song he penned which subsequently became a massive retro soul hit, bringing his name into the consciousness of the masses. The audience, most notably the ladies were mightily appreciative – especially the young single lady who received a blood red heart-shaped vinyl copy of the single – A nice touch by Mr Hawthorne for sure. All the while Dennis Coffey and the Haggis Horns kept the two-step funk and rhythm impeccably as was evident by the numerous heads nodding as one.

Simon Nixon (Trumpet, the Haggis Horns) – Photo: Courtesy of Giglens

Atholl Ransome (Sax, the Haggis Horns) – Photo: Courtesy of Giglens

And no sooner it seemed had the gig begun we had reached the final track of the night. And oh what a track to go out with! Mayer Hawthorne called his vocal cohorts back to the stage for a storming version of the Temptations’ foot-stomper, “Cloud 9.” Back onto the stage hot-stepped Kendra Morris closely followed by Alice Russell. With the bases loaded, the raw, edgy and distinctive whirring of Dennis Coffey’s Wah-Wah pedal set the tone for the high energy thrust of “Cloud 9.” Kendra, Mayer and Alice took it in turn to sing a verse, in what can best be described as tag-team vocals. Whether or not they required the extra backing vocals during the chorus, they sure enough got them, from the pumped up and effervescent audience members.

Dennis Coffey & Mayer Hawthorne – Photo: Courtesy of Giglens

After just over six minutes the tune built to a pulsating crescendo. Directly after the last strum of his guitar Dennis Coffey approached the microphone stand to warmly thank his three guest vocalists and of course the highly impressive and accomplished Haggis Horns. Mayer Hawthorne, tambourine in his right hand, embraced Dennis wrapping his left arm around that axe man’s shoulders, congratulating him in the process on a job well done. Simultaneously, Kendra Morris and Alice Russell did likewise, beaming grins on both their faces.

Dennis Coffey: Live @ XOYO 27-6-11 – Photo: Courtesy of Giglens

Dennis Coffey came, he saw and he most definitely conquered. The 70-year-old native of Detroit, Michigan belied his years to put on a rock, soul and psychedelic funk master-class. There may not be many opportunities in the future to witness Dennis Coffey live on these shores, this being only his fourth visit to the UK, but if he does venture back, cancel all appointments and make a beeline for the venue he’s performing at.

Michael J Edwards

The Haggis Horns line up was:
Atholl Ransome – Sax; Simon Nixon – Trumpet; Ben Barker – Guitar; Taz Modi – Keyboards; Greig Robinson – Bass; Luke Flowers – Drums

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Out March 2011 on Strut Records

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