Thursday, 12 August 2010

In defence of: Kingmaker

While there is a music press, there will always be bands that are considered a bit of a joke. Rightly or wrongly, bands such as Menswear, Mud, Flowered Up, Gay Dad, Kula Shaker, Cud, Gerry and the Pacemakers, (and, should Luke Haines be believed, every band of the britpop era bar The Auteurs) were the whipping boys of the muso monthlies and inky weeklies of the pop press.

In 1994, with a Small Faces best of on the stereo, wearing a second hand Ben Sherman button down and smugly clutching a copy of 'Shakermaker' to its B&H ridden heart, the NME used the term "patiently waiting for the Kingmaker revival" to slag off what it perceived as the old fashioned, Camden Falcon, Steve Lamacq type of indie that Oasis et al set out to destroy.

They really should have gone for a better target. Though not without their faults (some of their 7" singles came with those horrible black and grey middles that were all the rage on major label vinyl in the early 90's. Erk. Also, telling the press that you were going to kill yourself when your turned 25 may not have been such a good idea).

Kingmaker, a band with humour and po-facedness in equal measure, also had a knack of writing fucking good pop songs.

Formed in Hull in 1990, Loz Hardy (specs, charisma, between-song-quips), Myles Howells ( cheekbones, quiff, aloofness) and John Andrew (old, looking a bit crusty) dropped the age old bollock of signing to a major with an eye on fame and fortune. Hardy was gobby and questioning in a Mile Hunt vein, something a label like EMI will always find hard to manage.

Its easy to see why they were signed though. 'Really scrape they sky', the lead track from the Idiots At the Wheel EP is a subtle, hooky little masterpiece of shoegazey minimalist indie. Your can actually feel your fringe grow over your eyes as you listen to it.
Based around crashing drums, a simple 4 note riff and a space walking bass line, its the kind of song that buries itself inside your conscience and refuses to leave. Hardy (on stage in 1991)described it as "A song about a thing you dont really believe you've done-and i dont mean leaving the iron on".

By late 1992(and with what can be imagined as a hefty recording budget) they really started to hit pop form. Eat yourself whole, off the Killjoy was here EP saw the band go top twenty with a song where you could actually whistle the chorus. All this and lyrics like "turned out at midnight/Turned off the light/Added some words to the 20th century/I dug you a grave/Wrote in the sky/"I love the drug, the drug you sold to me" ". Whats to not like?

After tolerating the Brit award baiting 'Armchair Anarchist', its ironic that EMI creatively throttled the band at their most commercial period. I remember watching the video for '10 Years Asleep' on the chart show and thinking "This is top ten. This HAS to go top ten". It didnt. It would appear the record company was expecting a chart position just as lofty as i was. Despite hitting a respectable pre-Oasis chart placing of 15, the label panicked. The band gave good face in the press at not giving a shit. But the label had pumped a tidy sum into recording and making fancy promo videos. They now wanted the money back.What happened next killed not only the song writing, but ultimately the band itself.

Loz-"I dunno if you have that over Stateside but [formatting] basically means there would be different b-sides on the 12 inch (2), cassette (1), CD 1 and CD 2 (3 on each). So if the album has, say, 13 songs on it and with three singles that means you're gonna need 40 songs. 40 fucking songs! So the workload is near impossible and plus the fans get ripped left, right and centre to boot. What was also happening was that you did songs for the album and then b-sides but really fucking excellent songs were ending up tucked away third song on CD 2 and no one heard them.".

The pressure produced a few mediocre singles and two albums of filler and then the bands demise. Its tempting to imagine what they could have come up with on a sympathetic label and with a decent producer. The classic tale of money over art ended with whimper, the band disappearing into journalism, systems management and in Hardy's case, a couple of tracks on an Elastica EP then obscurity. Did he really scrape the sky? Very nearly.

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