About Tony O’Malley
Tony O’Malley’s distinctive vocals and funky piano playing have always been key to the sound of UK Soul Pioneers, Kokomo.
These skills come to the fore with his own band, in which he’s accompanied by some of Britain’s brightest young talent: Richie Aikman on guitar, Sonny Winslow on bass and Ally McDougal on the drums.
The average age increases when they’re joined by fellow Kokomo founders, the “guitarists’ guitarist” Neil Hubbard, if he’s not on tour with Bryan Ferry, and sax man Mel Collins, if not on duty with King Crimson.
The influence of greats like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Richard Tee and Steely Dan is plain to hear in the eight Tony O’Malley CDs. But Tony’s own style, energy and personality shine through in every show, whether on a festival stage or in an intimate jazz club.
Read on for the full Tony O’Malley story, or contact Tony now to discuss a booking.
The early days
At the tender age of twelve, Tony formed his first band, The Defenders, with his brother Kevin, Julian Harris and Terry Horn from his hometown Harrow-on-the-Hill in North London. They played the local youth clubs and dances until he was fifteen, when he joined Irish showband, The Skyliners from Enniskillen. Life on the road had begun.
The Skyliners worked the Irish clubs up and down the country until Tony was spotted at an audition by Ian Samwell, writer of Cliff Richard’s first hit “Move It”. At that time, Ian was managing soul band Malcolm McGarren and the Blueshealers, which Tony eventually joined at the age of 16.
The band was later to become Ronnie Jones and the Q Set that played a long residency at the Bag O’Nails club in Soho, where such luminaries as Jimi Hendrix would often pop down to jam with the band. The Q Set then toured the UK, France, Italy and Greece, before Tony joined The Counts, featuring his long-time friend and bassist extraordinaire Philip Chen. (Philip went on the play with Rod Stewart, Jerry Lewis, Linda Lewis, Jeff Beck, the Doors, plus many more.)
In January 1969, the Gunnells Booking Agency asked Tony to play piano for a group from Liverpool called Arrival, who had travelled to London to seek a recording contract. The band featured four amazing singers: Frank Collins, Dyan Birch, Paddie McHugh and Carol Carter, and went on to have two top ten hits throughout Europe with “Friends” and “I Will Survive” in 1970. Arrival toured the world, including a stint at Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan, scoring more hits and playing the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 and the Royal Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth II.
Seeking a new challenge, Tony decided to go his own way, briefly joining The Mick Cox Band, with whom he recorded the lead vocals on Mick’s debut double album, “The Mick Cox Band”, which made the U.S. album charts in 1972.
Still eager to create a band that would make the kind of music he was itching to play, Tony joined forces with his friend, drummer Terry Stannard. This marked the birth of Kokomo, a ten-piece band featuring Arrival singers Frank Collins, Paddie McHugh and Dyan Birch, Neil Hubbard and Alan Spenner from Joe Cocker’s Grease Band on guitar and bass respectively, Jim Mullen on guitar, Mel Collins from King Crimson on saxes, plus Jody Linscott on congas.
Kokomo took London by storm in 1973, culminating in a debut album: “Kokomo 1”, now a classic among collectors. The band was managed by Steve O’Rourke, the brains behind Pink Floyd’s success, who sadly passed away on October 30th 2003, aged 63. R.I.P. Steve. Kokomo recorded three albums, touring the UK, Europe and America, supporting their old friends The Average White Band on several tours and recording with Bob Dylan in New York on his album “Desire”.
Financial problems forced members of Kokomo to seek work with other artists, i.e. Bryan Ferry, Alvin Lee, Joe Cocker, The Rolling Stones and many more. Tony joined 10CC in 1977 and toured the UK, Europe, Japan and Australia, recording one album, “Live and Let Live”. In 1978 Tony left 10CC to pursue a solo career.
The start of a solo career
Throughout the nineteen-eighties, Tony played gigs in small clubs in London and around the UK, Germany, Austria, France and Switzerland, either solo or with fellow musicians, building a following of loyal fans and constantly expanding his repertoire of songs.
By 1992, Tony was playing monthly at the 606 Club in Chelsea, working with the cream of British musicians: Pino Palladino, Ian Thomas, Mark Smith, Laurence Cottle, Jeremy Stacey, Andy Newmark (resident in the UK) Mel Collins, Mornington Lockett and Neil Hubbard, to name but a few.
Between 1993 and ’96, Tony performed many times at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, until Ronnie passed away, culminating in “Naked Flame”, Tony’s first solo album, recorded live at Ronnie’s in July ’94 and released on Ronnie’s Jazzhouse label in ’95.
By 1994, Tony had joined the digital age and, financed by long trips to Switzerland, Austria and Germany, invested in his first digital studio equipment, tearing his hair out for a year getting to grips with the new technology before making his second album “Sunshine Everyday”, most of which was recorded in his tiny apartment in Hackney in East London. The album was eventually released on the Millennium label in ’97.
His third album was recorded after moving the equipment to small premises in Kentish Town, where “Freedom Road” was written and performed in ’98, with the help of Pino Palladino, Hamish Stuart, Ash Soan, Adam Phillips, Mel Collins, Neil Hubbard and Mark Smith.
The Belgian years (1999 – 2004)
Tony and his wife Femke moved to Brussels in 1999 for the birth of their twins, Joseph & Patrick. The studio was set up in the garage and, between changing nappies, Tony set about recording his fourth album “Oh!”, which was three years in the making. Tony had been introduced to the great musical talents of American guitar player Marty Townsend, which meant the beginning of a fruitful writing partnership.
A fifth album, “My Foolish Heart”, featuring a selection of great standards with Marty Townsend on guitar, Pino Palladino on bass and Ian Thomas on the drums, was recorded in London in April 2003 and then re-mixed and mastered in Brussels.
In May 2004, Tony moved with Femke and the boys to Tbilisi in the ex-Soviet Republic of Georgia, where he recorded his sixth album in 2005: “The Mansarde Sessions”, featuring Paata Andriadze on grand piano.
Tony’s seventh album: “The Road Will Rise” was a labour of love, which began in Tbilisi in 2007. It features Georgian rhythm section Lasha Abashmadze on bass, Zaza Tsertsvadze on the drums and Dato Japaridze on percussion, and was finished in Brussels and Chichester with writer Simon David Eden, who co-wrote six of the songs and created the sleeve design. The album was mixed by Mark Smith, Tony’s long time associate for over 30 years, who very sadly passed away just two weeks after previewing the new songs with the band at the 606 Club in October 2009.
The Belgian years (2008 – 2012)
After returning from Georgia, Tony rejoined forces with Marty Townsend and began writing new material, culminating in enough songs to fill a new album. Recording started with engineer Haydn Bendall in London but, due to financial constraints, the album was put on hold. Tony played a number of very successful gigs in Belgium, with Marty on guitar, Marcus Weymaere on drums, Frank Deruytter on Sax and Roberto Mercurio on bass.
Back to Blighty
Having spent 13 years abroad, Tony and Femke decided it was time to move back to England’s Green and Pleasant Land in 2012. The album ‘Back At The Bag’, started in 2011, was finally completed in June, 2015.