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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 July 2018

Kid Creole and the comeback

A legend of get-on-your-feet Eighties party funk explains why he's glad to return to Dubai.

One name stands out among the travelling circus of dusty Top 40 memories that will take the stage at the Meydan Racecourse in early April. Actually make that two. Kid Creole - pause for a bongo roll - and The Coconuts.

It is true that some punters may attend just to compare their middle-aged corpulence against that of Boy George or to marvel at Belinda Carlisle's escape from the ravages of time. Others will wonder which of Paul Young's hits - 14 in the UK charts alone, including Every Time You Go Away and Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home), will make the final cut in Dubai.

Connoisseurs of largely forgotten Eighties bands may even be waiting to hear Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot lead the current incarnation of Curiosity Killed The Cat in the band's 1986 number-three hit Down To Earth.

Still, if you're looking for distinctly un-nostalgic, get-up-on-your-feet-and-dance moments - well, the Kid's your man. And The Coconuts, equally, are your women.

If ever a group can be said to have burst onto the scene, it was Kid Creole & The Coconuts. They arrived, fully formed, in 1982, with a European tour on the back of their album Tropical Gangsters. This one record, in turn, spawned three massive hits: Stool Pigeon, Annie, I'm Not Your Daddy and I'm A Wonderful Thing, Baby. Even Diana, the Princess of Wales, was a fan.

The Kid was a zoot-suited dervish in a wide-brimmed fedora, channelling Cab Calloway via the Bronx and Puerto Rico. Core to the act was his relationship with the Coconuts, three Amazonian lovelies who provided not just the backing vocals but the foil to the Kid's oversized ego. They would spend most of the set cutting him down to size, bodies gyrating, faces full of contempt.

In his wildest dreams, the Kid might imagine going home with the ripest Coconut. In reality, the best he could hope for would be the inevitable blow to the head from a well-aimed stiletto.

The wonderful irony is that outside the stage act, the Kid - real name August Darnell - was actually married to the lead Coconut, who hailed not from the tropics but from a bourgeois Swiss family who could trace themselves back to the 12th century and whose real name was Adriana Kaegi.

The couple met after Kaegi moved to New York City as a teenager to study with Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham. In the creation of the band, Darnell, whose fusion of Latin, big-band and Caribbean sounds was dubbed "mongrel funk", wrote much of the music. Kaegi provided the choreography and the sex appeal.

They were married for seven years, the relationship ending in 1987, just as the band began to fade from the charts. As things got bad, the staged frostiness between the Kid and his Coconut gained an additional edge that was probably lost on audiences.

Darnell describes the marriage as "quite a roller-coaster ride". He is talking by phone from his home in Sweden, where he now lives for reasons that are "too complicated to explain quickly but we did a lot of touring in Scandinavia".

Their relationship, he says, was "a typical rock 'n' roll marriage." Had they not been in a band, he muses, it might have worked out. The pair have a perfectly amicable relationship these days, although Kaegi and the other original Coconuts left the band many years ago.

The current "Mama Coco", Eva Tudor-Jones, joined the band in 1997; the newest recruit, Jessica, arrived only last year, but all still use the choreography created by Kaegi. "I like to joke that these are the children of the original Coconuts," the Kid says.

Darnell turns 60 this year. "It's a beautiful thing," he reflects. He has never abandoned the Kid or packed away the zoot suits - tailor-made in New York City - even in the fallow years of the 1990s when the hits dried up.

"The image was stronger than the music, even to this day," he reflects. "The image lived on even when we weren't selling that many records." That goes for the Coconuts. Darnell likes to travel in character: "Whenever I'm going through customs, someone always asks, 'Where's the Coconuts?' There were rough seas for a while but I never thought about giving up."

Aside from Darnell, only the percussionist, "Bongo" Eddie Folk survives from the original line-up, which also included Coati Mundi, the stage name of Andy Hernandez, a first-generation Puerto Rican from Spanish Harlem who had parallel chart success as a solo artist.

In addition to Tropical Gangsters, the group released two other major works in the 1980s, Fresh Fruit From Foreign Places and Doppelganger, which also produced two more hits: Welcome to the Lifeboat Party and There's Something Wrong in Paradise.

Almost all of their chart success came outside of their native country (the US - not an unspecified tropical island). Tropical Gangsters reached number three in the United Kingdom, but failed to break into the top 100 in the US, where it was inexplicably retitled Wise Guy. Likewise, Annie, I'm Not Your Daddy - a huge hit in Europe -was virtually ignored in America.

Darnell accepts this with good grace, and sees himself in the tradition of black American artists like Josephine Baker, who found fame in Europe but were largely ignored by mainstream audiences back home. Kid Creole & The Coconuts recently completed a month-long tour of Germany, suggesting a reverse sliding scale of popularity linked to the greyness of the weather and the perceived dourness of the local population.

The Kid says: "I've always been a cult figure. What we did was definitely escapism. I was one of those musicians that when we started people would ask, 'Why did he do that?'"

The nature of a revival tour is that each artist gets little more than the time to rattle off their greatest hits. Still, Darnell is looking forward to Dubai. He visited about 10 years ago: "I remember even then being surprised at how modern it was, how affluent it was, how hip it was."

For the Meydan concert, he plans to bring over a 14-piece band. It doesn't make much commercial sense, but Darnell isn't really doing it for the money any more. "When I get out it will be because I want to and not because my knees have given out," he says.

Kid Creole & The Coconuts play the Here and Now concert at the Meydan Racecourse on Thursday April 7. Check www.hereandnowdubai.com for details.