Reload Festival interview: Kool and the Gang

Kool and the Gang, who are one of the headliners of the Reload Festival. Kool and the Gang, who are one of the headliners of the Reload Festival.

Friday, August 29, 2014
9:00 AM

Marking 50 years in the groove this year, Kool and the Gang are having their own Celebration and are headlining the Reload Festival at the Norfolk Showground. Emma Lee meets founder member Robert “Kool” Bell.

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It truly will be a Celebration when Kool and the Gang headline the Reload Festival.

It’s the band’s 50th anniversary this year – and they’ve just been awarded a coveted star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

“At last! After 50 years in the business,” laughs founder member Robert “Kool” Bell, from his home in New Jersey. “It’s a great feeling.”

Being held at the Norfolk Showground from September 5-7, the line-up of the inaugural Reload Festival reads like a who’s who of 70s and 80s pop, with Kool And The Gang joining Soul II Soul, Human League, Billy Ocean, Rick Astley, Sister Sledge, ABC, Hot Chocolate, Five Star, Aswad, From The Jam, Heaven 17, Go West, The Real Thing, Jason Donovan, Bjorn Again, Odyssey and Imagination on a musical trip back in time.

“Music was in my family,” says Kool, talking about his band’s jazz origins. “My grandmother played a bit of piano and my father was a boxer and he was friends with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. My brother and I decided to see whether we could make it in the music business,” he says.

With more than 70 million albums sold worldwide, “make it” seems like a bit of an understatement.

Kool and the Gang’s award-winning, much sampled, back catalogue includes everything from the jazzy, funky grooves of Jungle Boogie and Summer Madness to pop soul classics such as Ladies Night, Get Down On It, Cherish and Fresh.

And no wedding reception is complete without a boogie to Celebration which – along with Song 2 by Blur – contains one of the best “woo-hoos” in pop.

“That’s a great feeling, because you never know what your record’s going to do,” says Kool. “You get hills and valleys. At the beginning of the 70s we had a lot of territorial hits, then Hollywood Swinging and Jungle Boogie took our career to another level. Then things slowed down again and we decided to get a lead singer and cruised through the 80s,” he says.

As well as touring, the band is working on a new album, which Kool hopes will feature some very special guests.

“We’re doing a 50–year celebration record – the working title is It’s a Celebration – and we’re talking to artists who hopefully will join us,” says Kool. “We’re reaching out to Pharrell and will.i.am and some of our friends from over the years like Kid Rock and David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen,” he says.

You might not immediately put Kool and the Gang and Van Halen together, but a few years back the two bands toured the States - and, as Kool explains, a performance at the Glastonbury festival was the catalyst.

“We did Glastonbury in 2011 – that was a big one for us,” says Kool. “It was great – it was a little muddy, but we played on the last day and brought the sunshine with us. U2 and Coldplay played too and it was 90pc rock and roll – and people were surprised that we were able to rock. David Lee Roth from Van Halen saw us at Glastonbury and because of that we ended up doing a 48-city tour with them in America. He says that in the 80s they were the rock pop party band and we were the pop pop party band.”

And they’re looking forward to bringing the “pop pop party” to Reload.

“We haven’t toured England much in the last couple of years like we did in the 80s. It’s time to pick it up,” says Kool.

“The English crowds are great – going all the way back to Top of the Pops, they’ve always been supportive to Kool and the Gang and we’re really excited about coming back.”

Reload is being held at the Norfolk Showground from September 5-7. Day tickets cost from £39 (£18 children), weekend admission tickets cost from £70 (£30 children) and weekend camping tickets cost from £99 (£42 children).

Tickets are available without booking fees from Eastern Daily Press offices in Norwich,

Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Diss, Cromer and Dereham.

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