David Randall chatted to Mark King for Get Ready to ROCK! Radio in July 2016. This hour long special traces the rise of Level 42 in the 1980s and their subsequent reformation. Part 2 of this feature showcases some of Mark King’s solo work.
Continuing my fixation with all things eighties (which this year has seen covert forays to Johnny Hates Jazz and Dan Reed Network) Level 42 just had to be crossed off the list; I last saw them in their late-1980s heyday. In any study of eighties chart music the band loom rather large, scoring 18 Top 40 singles. At the height of their success – in 1986 – they were selling out the Hammersmith Odeon for six consecutive nights.
The keen-eared will know that the band were far more than just a hit machine. After a tentative start recording for a small independent label, the band rode on the wave of then fashionable Brit funk. With Mike Vernon behind the desk for their first two big label albums it was evident that the musicianship was top notch and with the band paying dues to their jazz fusion heroes.
Nothing has really changed since then and, arguably, the current incarnation may even be sounding better, now punctuated by a wonderful brass section (Sean Freeman sax/vocals, Dan Carpenter trumpet/vocals, Nichol Thomson trombone/vocals).
With 1985′s ‘World Machine’ they entered the most successful phase of their career. Less than a decade later, with changing tastes and following the departure of original members, the band folded although founder/frontman Mark King continued to play Level 42 music in his solo shows.
This led directly to the reformation of the band at the turn of the millennium and since that time (and with Mike Lindup thankfully back in the fold) they have gone from strength to strength and have seemingly avoided the multi-artist package tours that have come to define eighties nostalgia as far as live music is concerned.
Once you’d got over the absent-minded chuckle when coming out of the multi-storey car park – “What level have we left the car on?” “It must be Level 42!” – there was the realisation also that to be proper you would have parked a white Ford Mondeo, c1992.
The dilemma will always be – nearly 40 years on – what goes in and out of the setlist? Billed as Sirens II tour, there was the welcome addition of pieces from the later albums like ‘Overtime’ and ‘Guaranteed’ (from the album that originally featured the likes of Jakko Jakksyk and Allan Holdsworth) and ‘Live Forever’ and ‘Love In A Peaceful World’.
Their best selling album ‘Running In The Family’ was well represented but it was really the triple treat of ‘Something About You’, ‘Lessons In Love’ and a superb ‘Hot Water’ that brought the audience to their feet to party like it was 1987.
As Mark King says, the crux of the band’s appeal was that they crafted memorable songs grounded with an infectious funk pop rhythm. They also wrote a good ballad and ‘It’s Over’ underlined one of the band’s perennial strengths – Mark King’s lead vocals contrasting with the falsetto of Mike Lindup. Lindup also provides excellent keyboards.
And, in addition to that wonderful brass section (who themselves provide keen vocal support), the characteristically infectious and relentless rhythms are safe in the hands of King and Pete Ray Biggin (drums) with Nathan King (Mark’s brother) providing occasional bursts of rock-edged guitar whilst still following the Boon Gould template.
Tonight’s performance demonstrated you can’t beat a damn good song (and a proverbial hit machine), superlative musicianship, and an immaculate stage show. And, not a poodle perm among us.
1. Love In A Peaceful World 2. Micro Kid 3. Running In The Family 4. World Machine 5. Overtime 6. Children Say 7. It’s Over 8. Forever Now 9. The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up) 10. Guaranteed 11. Starchild 12. Something About You 13. Lessons in Love 14. Build Myself A Rocket 15. Hot Water Encore: 16. Love Games 17. Heaven In My Hands
Review and photos by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
Album review (Sirens Tour Live)
UK dates (October 2016)
Oct 2 Waterfront Hall Auditorium, Belfast
Oct 3 Venue Cymru, Llandudno
Oct 4 The Lowry, Salford Quays
Oct 6 Victoria Hall, Stoke-On-Trent
Oct 7 O2 ABC, Glasgow
Oct 8 Sage Gateshead
Oct 10 Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
Oct 11 Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Oct 12 Margate Winter Gardens
Oct 14 Southend Cliffs Pavilion
Oct 15 Ipswich Regent Theatre
Oct 16 New Theatre Oxford
Oct 18 Portsmouth Guildhall
Oct 19 Colston Hall, Bristol
Oct 21 Bath Pavilion
Oct 22 Truro Hall for Cornwall
Oct 23 Bournemouth Pavilion
Oct 25 G Live, Guildford
Oct 26 Hexagon Theatre, Reading
Oct 28 Watford Colosseum
Oct 29 Eventim Apollo, London
Listen in to Get Ready to ROCK! Radio…
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Power Plays w/c 10 June (Mon-Fri)
TAKE TODAY Lifeline (indie)
CRAZY LIXX Silent Thunder (Frontiers)
HAZY DAYS New Beginnings (indie)
MYRATH Wicked Dice (earMUSIC)
HOLLIS BROWN Do Me Right (Cool Green Recordings/Mascot)
Featured Albums w/c 10 June (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 NITRATE Open Wide (AOR Heaven)
12:00-13:00 CRAZY LIXX Forever Wild (Frontiers)
14:00-16:00 DANNY VAUGHN Myths, Legends & Lies (Townsend Music)
Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)
VOODOO HILL Waterfall (2015)
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