“You Shoulda Told Me You Were”, the second Columbia album from Kid Creole and the Coconuts (and the group’s ninth career album), may be their most exciting, artistic and cohesive release ever. Many of the previous collections of Darnell’s tropical dance delicacies were held together by the freshness of the material and the group’s unique style. The new album has those elements, but sports new musical directions and a feeling of unity, as well.
“There is good a reason for that”, Darnell intimates. “This was approached as an album. It was done more or less over a given period of time, whereas the previous one took a track from here two years ago, and a track from there. So, this was more of an album project”.
The new album also has some of the toughest, wryest lyrics that Darnell has recorded to date. “Oh Marie”, for example, comments on the phenomenon of “Mushroom”, innocent bystanders mowed down in the urban drug wars: “The only thing she was guilty of / Was living on a street where they sell drugs … Happens all the time / Marie didn’t even make the headlines”.
On the other hand, “Soul Intention” and the first single, “Party Girl”, deal with more interpersonal matters in a typically Kid Creole manner. Infused with playful energy, these two tunes may be among Darnell’s most twisted songs. anyone familiar with Kid Creole knows that is saying a lot.
Funnily enough about ‘Soul Intention’ ”, Darnell muses, “there has been a resurgence of the late ’60s sound these days. I didn’t write the song with that in mind, but that genre has always been fun for me. ‘Party Girl’ also has that late 60’s, early 70s feel”.
Then there’s “Consequently”, a musical antidote to all the hoopla over the impending Columbus Quincentennial, “but I’m sure nobody is going to hear the lyrics anyway”, Darnell winks.
“The lyrics on this album are deliberately not printed inside”, he notes. “So much of the music that I do, people get surface idea of what it’s about, but they don’t really know. I think people will love Cory Daye’s vocal on that song and never know what it says. It took four years before I got a fan letter from someone asking me to explain ‘Cherchez Le Femme’ Back in 1976, people thought it was just a dance record”.
That was the year August Darnell first rose to notoriety as bass player, vocalist and lyricist for Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, one of disco’s most unusual ensembles. The brainchild of August’s brother Stony Browder Jr., and featuring the vocals of Cory Daye, the vibes work of Sugar Coated Andy Hernandez and the jungle of Mickey Seville, Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band was one of the most singular groups ever to cross-over pop. Sounding like a 1940s big band with a more modern beat, the OSB struck RIAA gold with their first album, including the mighty hit, “Cherchez Le Femme”
In the dozen years since the OSB went on hiatus, August Darnell has fronted one of the hardest working bands in showbiz, Kid Creole and the Coconuts. They have played thousands of shows, recorded eight albums and a greatest hits collection, been featured on several film soundtracks, performed the music for “Life Without Zoe” (Francis Ford Coppola’s segment of the film New York Stories), and played in Taylor Hackford’s film Against old Odds. You have also seen them on television, everywhere form “The Tonight Show” and a Barry Manilow Special, to the Miss Teen USA Pageant and their own special for Granada TV in England, Something Wrong in Paradise.
Ironically, Kid Creole and the Coconuts were initially conceived as a holding action until the Savannah Band could record again, and a means for August to tour (something the OSB’s elaborate strings and orchestral arrangements made very difficult). From the start, Kid Creole and the Coconuts have been playing human music you can dance to, with various Caribbean influences and one of the most interesting pop sensibilities around. (Witness the rare soca version of Darnell’s hit for Machine, “There But For The Grace Of God Go I”.)
This approach carried over the Off The Coast of Me, the first Kid Creole and the Coconuts album, which was rife with sardonic touches, like a dance version of the 1940s German hit, “Lilli Marlene”, or the silly but sensual title track, or the song that still best sums up the band, “Calypso Pan American”.
Darnell expanded on the idea with Kid Creole and the Coconuts’ next album, Fresh Fruit In Foreign Places. Loosely conceptual, that album found Kid Creole searching for Mimi, with “15 cronies, seven mariners and (his) skipper, coatimundi”. The album was performed more or less as an opera, with former Savannah associate Gichy Dan rapping the narration in concert in New York and for Joseph Papp’s Public Theater.
Their next album, entitled “Wise Guy” here and Tropical Gangsters nearly everywhere else, became the great European hit of 1982, and spawned three top ten U.K. hits, “I’m A Wonderful Thing Baby”, “Stool Pigeon” and “Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy”. A continuation of the Mimi cycle, it brought the band a level of wealth and adulation they had not previously even imagined.
The cycle was completed with the next album. Doppelganger. The story then became the basis for There’s Something Wrong in Paradise, a Granada TV special broadcast in England on Boxing Day, December 24, 1984.
The next two albums, “In Praise Of Older Women” and “Other Crimes and I, Too Have Seen The Woods” were supported by extensive touring through Europe, with notable engagements such as the Montreux Jazz Festival, a performance before the Princess of Wales, and a gig for the United Nations in Geneva. Darnell also wrote the music for an Off-Broadway performed wall-to-wall Kid Creole music throughout the 1989 “Miss Teen USA Pagenat”.
After a two and a half year break between albums, Kid Creole and the Coconuts recorded Private Water In the Great Divide, the group’s Columbia debut. The album featured the single “The Sex Of It”, written and produces by Prince, and offered a dozen prime slices of Kid Creole, like “No More Casual Sex”, “Dr. Paradise”, “He’s Takin’ The Rap” and a tribute to Darnell’s self-described extravagance, “Laughing With Our Backs Against The Wall”. That tune and “Cory’s Song” reintroduced Cory Daye into the full time world of popular music, as the former Savannah Band lead singer became a full time Coconut.
One constant theme in Kid Creole and the Coconuts has been personnel. Nearly every person who has been a member of the band, every person Darnell has ever worked with, either is still with the group or makes guest appearances. On “You Shoulda Told Me Were…” such stalwarts in the Darnell talent directory as Gichy Dan and former Coconut Lourdes Cotto sing. Stoney Browder Jr. also lends a hand.
“Same old family”, Darnell adds. “It’s like the old days in Hollywood, when the studios, 20th Century Fox, MGM, they used to have an extended family, like a repertory company. That’s been my philosophy from 1976 on. You find cats that you know can cut the music, and you stick by them. You work with them time and time again, because you know they can give you what you need. Consequently, it makes life easier for you. I’d hate to have to go through that whole process of finding the guys again. It took such a long time to find the right band that I’m for holding onto them, against all odds. David Span, the drummer, goes back to 1975. Long time”.
“On this album”, Darnell continues, Bongo Eddie raps and plays percussion. Who else are the special guest stars on the album? Peter (Schott) played the tracks on the album; he also co-wrote “Oh Marie” and “Something Incomplete” with me, but he recently became a father, which cut into his time factor. So, he’s not with us on the live show anymore. He’s been replaced by Kevin Nance, who used to play with Machine. He co-wrote “There But For The Grace Of God” with me.
Carol Colman had a hiatus for six months”, August goes on, “but she’s back. Father Grey from Jamaica is still on guitar; Danny Blume is still on lead guitar. The horns are still the same; ken Fradley, Lee Robinson and Charlie Lagond. The Coconuts are still Adriana (Kaegi), Janique (Svedberg) our Swedish entity; and Taryn (Hagey), who was on hiatus for about three years, is back with us”.
Not that he’s conten to rely strictly on the old gang. True, Kid Creole and Coconuts has been the launching pad for singers like Fonda Rae, Lori Eastside and a host of early 1980’s dance artists. But new talent works its way into the fold, too.
“There is a new singer that we used on the album”, says August. “New for us, not new for the world. Her name is Dian Sorel. She’s the soulful voice that you hear on ‘Oh, Marie’ at the end and on ‘Baby Doc’. She’s all through the album, and I thought that was a nice added twist. She’s an opposite entity to Cory Daye’s mellow approach”.
Always the road animals, even as “You Shoulda Told Me Were…” hits the racks, Kid Creole are touring. As wonderful as the albums are, Kid Creole and Coconuts live is something else again.
Of course, my something else is more theatrical”, August laughs. “If you remember, choreography was a word that no one could even pronounce twelve years ago. No one even knew what it meant. Couldn’t even spell it. But now, it’s become part and parcel to almost everything with the video world out there. Everyone needs a choreographer these days”.
“Needless to say”, but he does, “choreography has been a large part of our thing since the very beginning, and is still a very large part of our thing. You have to et the audience’s attention. I’ve known this lesson for a long time. The Coconuts used to come onstage in bathing suits, scantily clad, strategically ripped, leopard skin, to get your attention”.
So pay attention, because live and on record there is a lot going on. Beyond everything else, Kid Creole and the Coconuts are quintessential entertainers. The live show has always proved this. Appearances in the forthcoming film Love Stinks will no doubt add to this. “You Shoulda Told Me Were…” takes it even further.
“You can be as creative and esoteric as you want to be”, August Darnell states, “but you damn sure better make somebody happy at some point. I’m a hard working individual, and I’ll always be that. I make a lot of money and I spend a lot of money. And that’s my life-style. And that’s why I’ll always have to do what I love to do, which is to entertain”.
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