Mark King

Category: INTERVIEWS 4 0



There’s no two ways about it – Mark King is a legend in the world of bass guitar.

Renowned for his distinctive slap-bass technique of playing, Mark King’s unique guitar sound has helped his band Level 42 sell millions of records worldwide.

With hits like Running in the Family, Lessons in Love, Something About You, The Sun Goes Down, Level 42 were a huge force in the 80s and early 90s, bringing their jazz funk pop to the charts.

Decades on, and Level 42 are still busy with numerous music projects, and are currently in the midst of a tour of festivals this summer, including playing at all three Rewind Festivals.

We spoke to Mark,about his forthcoming gigs, his memories of the 80s, Level 42’s plans for this year and the time his thumb was insured for £3million!

You’re often called a legend because of your unique way of playing the guitar. How does that feel?

It’s very sweet and I think they could call me a lot worse, let’s face it. But who in their right mind would go around thinking you’re a legend? It is true that I did kick off the thumbslapping. Coming full circle, that’s what people who come to the Rewind Festivals are going to see. They’ll see me fronting my lovely band, who I absolutely love playing with, and just knocking seven bells out of my A String!

Do you still wear the gaffer tape round your thumb, and do your fans copy you?
Yes I do, it’s like a lucky rabbit’s foot. The fans used to, but not so much anymore. I always remember hearing stories of people like Tom Jones getting knickers and bras thrown at them, and I just used to get blokes with black tape round their thumbs! It’s not quite the same, is it?! (laughs) Things like that keep your feet on the ground.

What’s the truth behind the story that your thumb was insured for £3million?
We had just signed to Polydor records and I think they knew I was a keen gardener/DIY-er at home, and the record company saw me as this idiot who might chop his thumb off with a chainsaw so they said we may as well get it insured. So they took this policy out which has run down now , and I’ve got so many years of no claims, it’s about £27.99 now!

Although you’re known as a legendary bass player, you actually started off as a drummer?
Well I did. That’s really reflected in the way I play, it’s a very percussive way, it’s like drumming but on a bass guitar. I was listening to guys like Nick Clarke, Louis Johnson, and Larry Graham who was kind of the father of that style.

Your band (which still includes co-founder Mike Lindup) are playing all three Rewind Festivals this year, what do you like about the Rewind Festivals?
I like everything about it actually. The first time we played was either 2012 or 2013 so we’ve seen the whole Rewind thing grow as this event from a thousand people to tens of thousands people. I know that the camping tickets sell out in no time at all so it’s obviously grown so much in popularity and it doesn’t surprise me at all because you know, you’re talking about a weekend full of great music and great fun. You’ll have ten thousand people stood around you, who want exactly the same as you do. They want to listen to some of their favourite songs of the 80s and maybe the early 90s.

Do you like the fact that most people dress in 80s costume at the Rewind Festivals?
Yes I love that, the whole theme thing. It’s such a buzz looking out at the audience and seeing 15 Freddie Mercurys and 20 Madonnas, and not to mention how ever many Village People there are out there – it’ll be interesting when they take to the stage this year! The Rewind Festival has this special sort of magic, of just fun, there’s a lot of love out there. And I suppose in these sad times, after Manchester and Borough Market, it’s a great two fingers to people who don’t want us to enjoy life like this.

And why do you think the 80s were so special as a decade of music?
I think the answer’s kind of in the lineup for all the Rewind Festivals. I think the success of that is shown by how popular BBC4’s re-running of the 1980s Top of the Pops are – 1985, 86 and 87 were just fantastic years for songs that just really last the test of time.

What was it like to be a successful band in the 80s?
It was incredible. We started out in 1980 and we’d been playing small clubs like Zero Six Club and Goldiggers in Chippenham, places like that. Wind forward six years to 1986, and we are on a run of 8 nights at Wembley Arena and then we did another 8 nights at Wembley Arena later on that year. We played there 21 times, just incredible to think that then it was kind of the norm. Now you can almost count on one hand the artists that you would expect to do that these days. Back then, it could have been any of them, any one of this list of Rewind artists.

What were the highlights of your career in the 80s?
I was lucky to get invited and be part of the Prince’s Trust Rock Galas , and that was working with Midge Ure, and of course all of the top artists. You’d have Elton John, Tina Tunrer, Mark Knopfler, Phil Collins. David Bower and Mick Jagger got up and sang Dancing on the Street, George Michael got up and did a duet with Paul Young. I mean, these were just incredible evenings , and of course, everybody left their egos outside. You’d go backstage in the green room, and everyone was crammed in the same room together. It was just wonderful days, really exciting times. And you can imagine for a young player as I was then, 24/25 years of age, I kept having to pinch myself, saying wow, this can’t be happening.
We were also lucky enough to headline Glastonbury on the Sunday night in 1986. That was pretty special coz you’re looking out and there’s 90,000 people there. Festivals are great, and even if I’m not playing, I go with my wife to Glastonbury and Camp Bestival Festivals, and just really enjoy them. These weekends are magic moments, these are things that give you great memories.

During the 80s, you appeared on lots of TV shows, are there any fond memories or funny moments from these?
Doing the whole Top Of The Pops thing was always quite fraught becaue it was very intense. You’d never know if you got the TOTP slot til the Tuesday morning. The charts came out Sunday, then Monday they had a meeting and then let all the record companies know on Tuesday, then we’d go to the studio on Wednesday and pretend to re-record the song coz it was all part of the Musician’s Union thing. Everyone went along with it, and then we were frantically chasing around trying to get a stylist to pick some clothes up for you, or you went to town to get someting to wear on TOTP, and then you’d record it, and then out it goes. It was just really crazy.
I remember one time Midge Ure, bless him, had got into a bit of a barney with the director or producer of the show, and he was getting a bit belligerant with him, saying to Midge that he’d never work on the show again. So Midge said “I’m on every week mate, I wrote the theme tune! What are you gonna do?”
There’s some footage on You Tube of us playing Love Games in 1981 and all members of the band are constantly looking at the monitors, seeing ourselves on TV. It’s like a bunch of five-year-olds who for the first time are realising they’re looking into a camera. It shows how long ago it is, I actually got a telegram from my mum and dad saying Good Luck tonight on Top Of The Pops.

You were recently name-checked by Peter Kay on his Car Share TV programme, did you see it?
Quite right too (laughs). Peter did bombard me on Twitter to let me know it was all happening so thank you for that, he’s a funny guy.

What else are you working on at the moment?
We are going live with this band called Gizmo Drone, with Stewart Copeland from The Police, Bowie’s old guitarist Adrian Belew, and Vittorio Cosmo. We started working on an album last July, and it’s now finished.
We’ve also been touring with UB40. We are doing cricket and football grounds, and it’s just great feelgood music. UB40 have just go so many hits behind them. Before us, you ve got the original Wailers so you’ve all the Bob Marley stuff going out. And then, there’s a vey good reggae band from America called Raging Fire.You’re talking of people coming out, pint of ale in their hand, sunhat on, just having a lovely time, listening to all this music, and that’s what I think we do better than anyone else in this country.

Level 42 play Rewind Scotland 80s Music Festival at Scone Palace in Perthshire on Saturday 22nd July 2017.
Level 42 play Rewind North 80s Music Festival at Capesthorne Hall in Cheshire on Saturday 5th August 2017.

Level 42 play Rewind South 80s Music Festival at Temple Island Meadows in Henley-on-Thames on Saturday 19th August 2017.

Tickets – http://www.rewindfestival.com

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