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Issue 1084

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LEVEL 42 - NORTHAMPTON, DERNGATE THEATRE 14/10/12

Mark King Photo copyright: Simon Redley
Mark King Photo copyright: Simon Redley Mark King In Soundcheck Mode - Photo Copyright: Simon Redley Mark King's Famous Lit Bass Guitar - Photo Copyright: Simon Redley Thumb job - Mark King Photo copyright: Simon Redley Mike Lindup Sillouhette Photo copyright: Simon Redley Long Live The King Photo copyright: Simon Redley Mark King Photo Copyright: Simon Redley Mark King Photo Copyright: Simon Redley Mark King Photo Copyright: Simon Redley Mark King Photo Copyright: Simon Redley Mark King Sax Man Sean Freeman Photo Copyright: Simon Redley Nathan King Photo copyright: Simon Redley Brothers - Mark and Nathan King Photo copyright: Simon Redley Pete Ray Biggin Photo copyright: Simon Redley Mike Lindup Photo copyright: Simon Redley Mark King Photo Copyright: Simon Redley Mark King In Soundcheck Mode - Photo Copyright: Simon Redley Pete Ray Biggin In Souncheck Photo copyright: Simon Redley Pete Ray Biggin In Souncheck Photo copyright: Simon Redley Level 42 Soundcheck Acoustic Photo copyright: Simon Redley Pete Ray Biggin In Soundcheck Photo copyright: Simon Redley Mark King In Soundcheck Mode - Photo Copyright: Simon Redley Level 42 2012 Photo copyright: Simon Redley Nathan King Photo: Keith Buck Mike Lindup Photo Keith Buck Mark King Photo Keith Buck Mike Lindup Photo Keith Buck

I first feel the need to declare a slight interest here. In the very early 80s, maybe even 1980 itself, I was given a vinyl âwhite label,â which for those who donât know, were promoâ versions of records with a plain white label that had no information about who the artist was, so there were no pre-conceived ideas about said artist. They were sent out to media folk for their feedback and if they liked it, to request full infoâ about who it was.

I was handed this white label, and not told anything, other than, âI think you will like this.â I played it and loved it. Funky jazz fusion blasted out, and I wanted to know which black US act it could be. Wrong. These guys were white and from The Isle of Wight. What the â¦? I was gob-smacked something so good could emanate from the IOW, no disrespect intended to the good folk of that lovely island.

Not long after that, I was invited to see a new band at Leicester Polytechnic and take photographs. About 150 to 200 people there, and they were brilliant. Same band as on the white label. Then I was handed a 12 inch single called âTurn It On,â about 1981 I think. I bloody loved that track and wore out three copies playing it to death as a DJ in the night clubs in Leicester, and at home. (I had forgotten just how great that cut is, until I recently found it on You Tube.)

Then over the next few years, I watched the band grow and grow into a monster chart band and tour the globe. I worked with them on and off a few more times, snapping pix and a couple of reviews here and there. 25 years ago, I was a snapper in the pit at the NEC, Birmingham on their celebrated âLiving In The Familyâ tour, to promote their biggest selling album. I still have some of the pix from the Poly gig, the NEC gig and maybe some others. I found my original pass for the NEC date the other day too. And one piece of confetti in the bottom of my camera bag, from when these ruddy great cannons exploded at the end of the gig, with muggins here poking his head and lens far too close for comfort. One temporarily deafened and blinded snapper with slightly singed hair, and a gob full of confetti! But I soon forgave âemâ¦â¦â¦â¦..

So, I think we have established, I was a big fan of the band and their music, and did my tiny little bit to help their profile in the very early days. Fast forward to 2012, and I get told by a PR mate that Level 42 are re-releasing that iconic double-platinum album with new material added, in various tasty box sets, or as Dave the PR man describes the new box sets: âthey really are the dogsâ¦âand a re-issue of their brilliant concert video âFait Accompli: Onstage Offstage Backstageâ, for the first time on DVD.

If that wasnât enough excitement for one old hack, Mark King has re-recorded the tracks from that album as unplugged versions, playing acoustic guitar. Then the best bit; the band are to embark on a major UK tour to promote this Universal Records re-issue series. Mark King fronting the band on bass and lead vocals, of course, and great news that keyboard king and second vocalist Mike Lindup is back in the fold - for the last six years in fact. Phil and Boon Gould long gone, but the band now boasts Markâs brother Nathan on guitar and vocals, former Incognito drummer Pete Ray Biggin and sax player Sean Freeman.

So, I longed to see them again and hear those fine, fine songs that were part of the soundtrack of mine and many peopleâs lives in the 80s, but I was a bit apprehensive about it not being the full original line-up. Hoping it would not just be an exercise in nostalgia and a blatant âgrab the money and runâ project. Itâs horrible when you idolise a band or an artist, and then well past their heyday and with only one or two original members left, you get to see them and come away disappointed, wishing youâd kept those great memories of the glory days as just that; memories. I could reel off many times that has happened to me in 35 + years of seeing live music.

But, off I went to see the band a few dates into their new tour, my chosen venue being Derngate Theatre, Northampton. (A great venue for standing gigs, I have to say.)A sell out of its circa 1500 capacity. I was also lucky enough to be invited to the soundcheck by Mark King, who I met up with at the bandâs rehearsal studios in London the week before for a very interesting chat, which you can read in the next issue of Blues and Soul magazine. The few songs I heard in the confines of the rehearsal room put a smile on my face, but I reserved judgement until I saw them on a big stage though decent PA gear, with an audience to feed on.

I had not set foot in that venue since shooting pix on the Dancing In The Streets tour with Martha Reeves, Freda Payne and the late, great Edwin Starr a fair few years ago now (for Martha and for this very magazine too). Mark greets me warmly backstage and introduces me to the band on stage and to the crew. They kick into their soundcheck and I have the run of the stage and the pit to grab my pix. Shivers up the spine time, hearing some of the great, great tracks I adored back in the day. I kind of shut down my hearing and half my brain when taking pix, if that makes sense. To completely concentrate on that task and not mess them up. But, when writing a review at same time, I have to store up info and data in my bonce for later.

So there I am, shooting away and it suddenly hit me; this is not the original line-up but it sounds absolutely on fire. Full of energy, full of power, full of life. Mark is grinning away at drummer Pete, the pair firing each other up to deliver an unbeatable and frenzied wall of bass and drums that even McAlpine couldnât demolish. So, is Markâs vocal still in tact at his ripe old age of 53 and after using that vocal instrument for all these years? Have they dropped the key in a lot of their songs, to compensate for a loss of range? Hell no. He sounds as good as he did in 1981 to me.

Markâs younger brother Nathan has some fine chops on guitar, and some excellent backing vocals. Lovely to hear Mike Lindupâs sublime falsetto vocals and brilliant talents back on keyboards, sounding as good as he did back in the day too. Kingâs and Lindupâs voices together are a marriage made in vocal heaven. Sax player Sean Freeman sure can blow, and dashes all over the shop during the gig to play here, there and everywhere for visual effect. He has been in the band now for over a decade.

The four part harmonies of King, Lindup, King junior and Freeman add tremendous value too. The guys have fun, fun, fun when they are playing and while they clearly take the job seriously, they do not seem to take themselves too seriously, despite the many years and miles travelled on the road. They evidently all LOVE playing together and playing that material. And they get paid for it! It is a very happy ship with a family style atmosphere among the crew and the band. Mr King senior, the joker of the pack, but very much in charge and what he says goes.

So to the gigâ¦â¦â¦â¦a two hour set of all the hits and a lot more. The guys even stick an acoustic section in there, with Mark playing acoustic guitar (slightly messing up a song in soundcheck and the gig and laughingly telling the audience and the band, âIâm a bass player not a guitarist,â) and Mike on accordion out front. Itâs pretty damn good too, with Markâs vocals exposed and proving they need nothing to hide behind at all.

They get a rousing reception on entering the stage, giant LED screens behind the band showing moving image and stills of the boys over the years. They belt into âLessons In Loveâ in superb form. It is faultess. The lovely âChildren Sayâ is next, followed by the title track of their biggest selling album, âRunning In The Family,â off which they played all nine tracks tonight.

Running In The Family was Level 42âs seventh L.P. and, following its release on 28th March 1987, became the groupâs most successful album, peaking at #2 during a 54 week stay in the UK album charts. It also produced five UK hit singles: âLessons in Loveâ (#3, May 1986), âRunning in the Familyâ (#6, February 1987), â To Be With You Againâ (#10, April 1987), âIt's Overâ (# 10, September 1987), and âChildren Sayâ #22 Dec 1987)

The albumâs success in the UK was mirrored across Europe, with the album reaching #1 in Holland, where all five singles became Top 10 hits, while âLessons in Loveâ reached #1 in Germany, Switzerland and Denmark.

They always did write a great ballad, and Markâs passionate and emotional vocals were an integral part of the success of those slower numbers back in the day. âItâs Overâ is a brilliant piece of song writing craftsmanship, and sounding as strong as it did 25 years ago. Yes, their ballads on all their albums were never tracks you used to fast forward to get back to the funky stuff. They were credible, musically exceptional - the lyrical content and Markâs vocal connecting with many people, and I am happy to say that song and the other slower ones tonight, still did.

âTo Be With You Again,â âTwo Solitudes,â a great version of âFashion Feverâ and lovely to hear âThe Sleepwakers,â live again. They finished the âRunning In The Familyâ section with âFreedom Someday,â Sean on Ewi instead of sax. The acoustic trio of songs sees Mark and bruv Nathan donning acoustic guitars, Mike on accordion and with Sean; four perfect vocals. Pete comes out from behind his massive kit to play percussion, assisted by Sean at times. They hit us with âAll I Need,â âOut Of Sight Out Of Mind,â and âGuaranteed.â

In the soundcheck, Mark kindly changed the usual set of songs they play to give me an opportunity to get some shots of Pete behind his kit, really going for it, on the wonderful Wally Badarou-penned instrumental, âHeathrow.â It was relentless and electric, sounding magnificent. But, during the gig, they stepped it up to yet another level in power, energy and sheer class. Mark declaring, before this song, âLet the funk beginâ¦â The crowd dug it and I was like a pig in the deep, pongy brown stuff.

I have to say this; I knew Pete Biggin when he was barely out of short trousers, playing the clubs and pubs with a guy from Sheffield I managed in the very early 90s, who I am still friends with to this day. Pete learned his trade on those blues gigs, and even back then, you knew this young man was VERY special indeed, and would some day be up there on huge stages and playing with the biggest and the best. He went on to join Icognito and has played with massive stars such as Chaka Khan, Robbie Williams, Lily Allen, The Specials, Whitney Houston, Beverley Knight, Amy Winehouse, Mark Ronson, Carlene Anderson, Estelle, Adele and Taio Cruz among many others.

He joined Level 42 in 2010 and when I heard that news, I thought then what a great fit that would be. Mark told me that when Pete was 11, he turned up at a soundcheck with his parents who were members of Level 42âs fan club, and they asked if he could sit in and play on a song. The band agreed and Mark asked him which Level 42 songs he knew. His reply was: âAll of them.â Mark told me when this little kid got up behind the kit, he really DID know the songs they threw at him, inside out, and the band all said this was a youngster who was going places.

His name ended up on a shortlist of drummers for the vacancy two years ago, and here he is today. Pete is Steve Gadd, Bernard Purdie, Harvey Mason, Buddy Rich, David Garibaldi and Billy Cobham (and moreâ¦)all rolled into one pair of hands. One of the funkiest and most talented âin the pocketâ damn drummers you will ever hear in your life. I really cannot praise this guy enough for what he has brought and added to the Level 42 sound. A real edge. Todayâs Level 42 has far more groove, if that is possible, than the original line-up. It has more feel, more funk and more of everything really. It is almost like if it were a car; itâs got a brand new engine and been fine tuned by the McLaren F1 racing team.

Before the show, I wondered if the band was still relevant to todayâs music trends, and if it would sound dated and just a stroll down memory lane. I have to say, with all honesty, it sounds as fresh and as relevant in October 2012 as it did to me when I first heard that white label in 1980, when I first saw them live in 1981 and when I saw them at their height of their fame and success in 1987. I cannot find one single thing to find fault with, and believe me, I tried and I would say so if I did.

When we think of amazing front men, the likes of Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart with the Faces, Roger Daltrey and Robert Plant naturally come up, among other showmen who had and have stage craft and the voice to be electrifying on stage. Mark King is another name to add to that list, in my humble opinion. He sings, he plays effing jaw dropping bass guitar, he is the musical director and he holds your attention throughout a two hour set.

I enjoyed seeing him so relaxed and beaming at each of his comrades through the entire gig, and for that matter, in the 70 minute soundcheck. It is obvious he is enjoying life in that band again and very happy in his own skin. Probably more than he ever was at the height of their fame, in fact. Mark now manages the band as well as being its main creative driving force. Clever old sod! (No offence!)

I think the whole operation and the sound benefits from him being behind the steering wheel of that F1 car, too. He makes everything he does look effortless too, which means he is either a great actor or it really is.

After the musical heart attack that is âHeathrow,â they launch into the timeless âSun Goes Down,â which I cannot get out of my head. Then âStarchild,â before the crowd pleaser, and sing-along,âSomething About You,â which sounded as beautiful today as it did in 1985 when it made the top ten in the USA. Final song in the set, the brilliant, âHot Water,â which like many of their songs, has some tricky changes and layers, which none of the band ever miss a heartbeat on.

The material really does sound like most of it could have been written in 2012. I saw a bit of concert footage from a few years ago on the net, where Mark says to the crowd, they were going to be playing some jazz funk songs they used to write, but there was âno call for it now.â I beg to differ Mr King. I really do. Live Nation own most of the big arenas here and in the USA, they must be the biggest tour promoters in the UK and work with the biggest superstars in the world. They are in the music BUSINESS and they do not get involved in anything that does not make them a lot of money, one would think would be a fair comment. Yes? LN is the promoter of this 18 date tour, which ends up for one night in the Royal Albert Hall. Most, if not all the dates will sell out. The audience age range is wide and not just the more mature of us who remember the band from the 80s either. This stuff is far from dated in appeal.

I have to say that it is a little insulting to read the often churned out description of Level 42 as â80s band Level 42.â They are not an â80s band. They formed in the â80s, but they are STILL out there, still at the top of their game and can command a sell out tour ending at the iconic Royal Albert Hall. Universal Records not only re-issuing their biggest selling album, but also quite possibly backing a new album of all new original material for release next year, I hear. That shows this outfit are far from past their sell by date. They are never part of nostalgia package tours, and I am sure they have been asked and offered big bucks to do so. But they do not need to.

What they do need is for some hot young rap or R&B artist/producer, like Labrinth, Tinie or Wretch, to sample a funky slice of one of their tracks - like Lab did with NWA's fab "Express Yourself" - and then the youngsters into rap and hip hop would be turned on to how bloody good Level 42 sound, and start dipping into their back catalogue and checking them out. I wonder if any of todayâs artists under the age of 30 have heard of Level 42, even though they probably shifted circa 20 million albums? Their loss if they havenât.

On a serious note, any artist, producer or management reading this review who wants to get hooked up with Mark King to discuss a serious project using their music, I am happy to put Mark in touch if you contact me via Blues and Soul. Iâd love to see Level 42 back on the national radio playlists and in the charts with contemporary material, I really would. I am sure a vast majority of punters would too.

The roar of the crowd when the band left the stage after âHot Waterâ was almost as loud as the crowd in the massive NEC 25 years ago - after Mark landed on the arena stage from flying on a wire while paying bass. This is the band that sold out seven nights at Wembley Arena in 1989, folks. That is how big they got. Tonight, they came back to treat us to two more songs, the printed set list leaving a blank space under âEncores,â for Mark to decide which encore songs theyâd do each night of the tour. Tonight we got, âHeaven In My Hands,â and the glorious âChinese Way.â The band link arms and bow to the now all standing crowd, grinning from ear to ear and looking triumphant. They had every right to do so. This was a very special night and I have a feeling every night of this tour is gonna be the same. Mark punching the air as he exits stage right. I will say that the sound and lighting guys deserve a pat on the back too, as the production is exemplary.

If this review sounds a tad gushing and over the top; about this band and how good they were and are; I want you to know from the bottom of my heart that I really could not give a flying wossname. Credit where credit is due. Ask anyone who was there, ask anyone who sees them on this tour. You do not need to be a fan of their music and know a single track, to appreciate talent, excitement, uniqueness and even potential. Yes, potential after 32 years. I am genuinely excited as to what the future holds for this band and this unit. That is the key I think; the chemistry this unit and these five guys have together. I loved what Phil and Boon contributed to the original line-up, believe me. But they are in the past and as important as they are to the history of the band, that is indeed what they are; part of history. Forget about that. Level 42 2012 is all about Mark King, Mike Lindup, Nathan King, Sean Freeman and the quite brilliant Pete Ray Biggin. End of. They really are âones to watch!â

In the summer, I witnessed one of the best funk shows ever, from the bonkers but brilliant George Clinton and Parliament Funakadelic. This gig and this band are up there on that level. Just an â80s bandâ¦.yeah right. In that case; The Stones and The Beatles are just 60s bands. Put that in your pipe and smoke itâ¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦..

PIX COPYRIGHT: SIMON REDLEY
(Bottom 4 pix by Keith Buck)
Words SIMON REDLEY

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