Last July, Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick hosted a very special concert at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire to celebrate the 35th anniversary of his musical creation, the Brit-Funk pioneers Incognito. For the past four decades, Incognito have produced some of the finest British soul and jazz records released, and despite the changes in the band’s line-up, the one constant has been Bluey’s incredible talent and ability to surround himself with the best musicians available. His career took off in 1978 when he was guitarist on the self-titled Light of the World debut album. Yet the band’s success was short-lived, the group released the epic Round Trip a few years later, but would splinter into two groups: Kenny Wellington, David Baptiste, and Neville McKreith would form Beggar & Co. (who had a smash UK hit with ‘Somebody Help Me Out’), whilst Bluey, Paul Williams, and Peter Hinds would form Incognito.
Of the two bands it is Incognito who achieved the greatest success (a version of Light of the World performs today, and released a brilliant song with Jocelyn Brown a while back, produced superbly by Soulpersona; Beggar & Co. perform intermittently) and if you cast an eye back at their discography it’s easy to see why with hits such as ‘Always There’, the Stevie Wonder cover of ‘Don’t You Worry About A Thing’, and ‘Still A Friend of Mine’. Sure, a lot of Incognito’s biggest hits are covers, but Bluey and the band put their own stamp on the songs, always complete with the brilliant Incognito horns (indeed, until Haff saw Stevie Wonder in concert, he thought Incognito did ‘Don’t You Worry’ originally!).
Thirty-five years later and Bluey and the current incarnation of Incognito are still making beautiful music, and as this album proves, they have become one of the must-see touring acts on the soul scene. This new album, Live in London, is a superb collection of live tracks taken from that night last July, proving Bluey’s music genius is transferable from studio to stage. Whilst it would be easy for Bluey and his gang to perform simply the hits, this two-hour collection shows the band searching the depths of their musical back catalogue, performing both the hits are rarer cuts that are nonetheless equally enjoyable.
As you would expect, the musicianship on this album is incredible. Yet Bluey takes it to the next level, by inviting friends and collaborators as Mo Brandis, Mario Biondi, Carleen Anderson, and Imamni to join him and the group on stage, performing songs they recorded with the ensemble. It’s these moments that are particularly brilliant. Take Mo Brandis’ lead on ‘Goodbye To Yesterday’ for instance, a brilliantly funky song that sadly got a bit lost in the Incognito catalogue. Here, Incognito reproduces it brilliantly; it’s great to see the group performing it live, and with Brandis handling the lead vocal its one of the best of the set.
Mario Biondi, Italy’s answer to Barry White, performs the group’s cover of Boz Scagg’s ‘Lowdown’, an example of when the cover is better than the original. Biondi and Incognito are a match made in jazz-funk heaven, with Biondi returning the favour by appearing on the album after Bluey featured on his ‘Shine On’ and backed him at the Royal Albert Hall a few years ago. Biondi delivers his vocal in his trademark husky tone, surely seducing several of the women in attendance through his growls alone.
Another interesting selection is the cover of George Duke’s ‘Brazilian Love Affair’, one of the finest jazz-funk songs ever. There’s no doubt that Duke was an important influence on Bluey, and in tribute to the recently departed great Incognito put their own unique flavour to the song, producing an epic 9 minute rendition that is quite simply majestic. It’s worth checking out this song for the horns alone.
In a nod to the group’s early beginnings, the group perform the instrumental ‘Parisian Girl’, the group’s first release from the album Jazz Funk. It’s a particularly groovy number, complete with an epic saxophone solo and percussion breakdown, lasting for nearly quarter of an hour!
Naturally, the hits are present: ‘Still A Friend of Mine’ and ‘Givin’ It Up’ are produced delightfully. Intriguingly, ‘Don’t You Worry About A Thing’ and ‘Nights Over Egypt’ are absent from the album; presumably they were performed on the night but missing due to album space (for fans wanting to here these performed live, check out their Live in London 30th Anniversary album, featuring none other than Jocelyn Brown). That said, the final songs are superb: firstly, the cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘As’ suits Incognito perfectly, Matt Cooper on keys is a delight as are the horns who really turn the heat up on this one, and Tony Momrelle impresses with his vocals too. Secondly, while the rendition of ‘Always There’ misses the power original vocalist, no one can match Jocelyn Brown for pure power, but that aside this is epic. Finally, the closing number, a cover of The Isley Brother’s most under-appreciated song ‘Harvest For The World’, featuring all the vocalists is a true delight, and in many ways the perfect way to end the set.
Overall, this is a must-have album. For fans that weren’t at the concert, luckily for you there’s also a DVD edition. Thirty-five years after the band formed, and through numerous personnel changes, Bluey and this incarnation of the group continue to keep the music fresh, exciting and accessible. Incognito truly the best British soul group, and after nearly four decades Bluey and his gang show no signs of slowing down. And for that, we thank them dearly.
(P.S: Two months before this show in London, Incognito played Newcastle’s Hoochie Coochie to a sold out crowd and Haff was there, and managed to get a #BlueySelfie…)