While Britain’s future in Europe is shrouded in uncertainty, the eponymous Swedish rockers by contrast have a very close relationship with the UK. By my reckoning this was the tenth year in a row I had seen them on these shores.
Recent gigs have taken a variety of forms- co-headlines, high-profile supports for Foreigner and Deep Purple and marking the 30th anniversary of ‘The Final Countdown’, but this time it was back to a conventional headline show. An extensive tour included their biggest show yet in London though disappointingly the prestigious Albert Hall was under half full.
Just as they did with Thunder a couple of years ago, the support slot was also a great opportunity for King King to break out of their original core blues market and into a wider rock audience. ‘She Don’t Gimme No Lovin’, with Alan Nimmo doing a fair Paul Rodgers impression, was a great way to approach the task though oddly it was the only selection from most recent album ‘Exile And Grace’.
Instead we got many of the songs King King regulars have grown to know and love – indeed ‘Waking Up’, bolstered by the pleasantly rolling electric piano of Jonny Dyke, had a few at the front waving their hands from side to side, while ‘You Stopped The Rain’ featured a typically mellifluous guitar solo from Alan that never outstayed its welcome.
‘A Long History Of Love’, both in Alan’s vocal delivery and the lengthy solos from him and Jonny, owed a lot to classic soul and ‘Rush Hour’ has been established as a crowd favourite especially with its sing-along section.
Both the previous songs illustrated a potential difficulty with King King squeezing their typically lengthy songs into a 50 minute set, so it was a sharp move to slip in a tight and punchy rocker in ‘Losing Control’, with even a Stones-like groove alongside the usual Bad Company influences.
The usual set closer ‘Stranger To Love’ was epic in fashion with its changes of tempo, stripped back from their usual live version when they slow it to a mid-song standstill, yet still weighing in at nine minutes. There should have been plenty to appeal to Europe fans and hopefully this will boost interest in their recently announced 2019 tour.
In keeping with the stage backdrop, Europe kicked off their set with the title track of latest album ‘Walk The Earth’ which, with its ‘like champions’ refrain, was a slow growing epic followed by another newie in ‘The Siege’, showing that in this period of their career the Zeppelin influences have become ever stronger.
One of the usual crowd pleasers ‘Rock The Night’ came surprisingly early in the set, perhaps too much so as even Joey Tempest leading some vocal participation failed to tempt anyone in the stalls off of their seats in a disappointingly polite atmosphere, though I am sure the feel was different for the fanatics standing at the front.
It was the only oldie in the opening part of the set, reminding us that the contemporary Europe come with a health warning. Indelibly associated, both music and image wise, with the eighties, they have successfully reinvented themselves with six albums since reforming, all with a heavier and darker sound that has increasingly looked for inspiration to the early seventies or even further back, Mic Michaeli’s almost-psychedelic sounding keyboard work on ‘Turn To Dust’ a case in point.
My head fully supports any band that makes new music and tries to stay relevant rather than being stuck in a nostalgic pas t- but my melodically inclined heart misses the lightness of touch of those old hooks and choruses that are less apparent in the contemporary material.
It was therefore a relief to hear Joey sing an acapella intro to perhaps the surprise oldie of the night, ‘Ready Or Not’, which was almost one long hook, though he did seem to be singing in a somewhat lower register, and another highlight was ‘Sign Of The Times’ with some audience participation and not one but two superb solos from John Norum.
The guitarist together with bassist John Leven are rather static, studious presences so the burden of carrying the spectacle always falls on Joey Tempest, The years have been kind to him and his stage moves are exemplary for a frontman, though he did seem a little short of his usual sparkle and wit. Whereas earlier in the year Foreigner’s Mick Jones was close to tears at realising a lifelong ambition to lead a band at the Albert Hall, I expected Joey as an Anglophile to make more of the occasion than he did.
While the likes of ‘Hole In My Pocket’ and ‘Pictures’ made little impression on me, the post-reformation material still had its moments, notably ‘Last Look At Eden’, the song which arguably sparked Europe’s reinvention as retro rockers, while ‘Firebox’ featured some ferocious drumming from Ian Haugland and flashing white light effects reinforcing the song’s heaviness.
It is also easy to take for granted the band’s musical ability, which was never in doubt even when overshadowed by the hair and toothy smiles, and with a stable line up they have honed their tightness to a fine art. Impressively, the band also barely drew breath between songs, other than Ian’s usual drum solo to the accompaniment of the William Tell Overture.
Two of the more accessible and uptempo of the newer numbers in ‘GTO’ and ‘Nothin To Ya’ bookended Mic’s keyboard intro to the ballad ‘Carrie’, where they stayed faithful to the original style, whereas ‘Scream Of Anger’ was probably the ‘oldie’ that fits best with their current musical direction.
Even late into the set, newer material was being played and I spotted a fair few singing along to ‘War Of Kings’ before ‘Superstitious’ with some fine parping keyboards from Mic. Joey led the audience through a singalong though a mid-section burst of ‘Here I Go Again’ was halted before we could work out whether he was a ‘hobo’ or ‘drifter’ type of guy.
For the first encore I was relieved that ‘Cherokee’ remained in the set as a classic slice of ‘old’ Europe as I feared we weren’t going to hear it. I did spot a small knot of pogoers in the front section, but that was nothing to the scenes as a taped intro and an explosion of smoke gave way, of course, to ‘The Final Countdown’ and at last, the whole place was to their feet.
It has of course been appropriated far outside the rock scene, and is (pardon the pun) light years away from Europe’s current musical direction yet, if they are jaded by it, it never shows as there was a celebratory atmosphere with the band finally relaxing and messing about with each other.
They may never be able to escape that past, but – whatever the reservations of old school fans like me – Europe are wholly committed to balancing it with maintaining the momentum of the second phase of their career and staying a relevant contemporary act.
Review by Andy Nathan
Europe photos by Paul Clampin
King King photos by Colin Hart
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