Interview by Mandy Carter (www.myvillage.com)
It was a hot day as I settled down in the shade to call Mark King, vocalist and bass player extraordinaire from Level 42. “Where are you then, London?” asked Mark cheerfully. “You want to be in the Isle of Wight – its beautiful today!” Suitably envious, we establish that Mark’s day job is not with the Isle of Wight tourist board, although I suspect he could have a job there anytime he likes!
Level 42 were absolutely huge. Formed in 1980, they chose their name from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – those of you already aware of Douglas Adams marvellous books will know that 42 was the answer to the great question of life, the universe and everything. The ‘level’ bit was added by their first producer as it was thought 42 on its own might be a bit short. The band agreed ‘it seemed to work’…
I’d say. They had 29 UK Top 75 singles between 1980 and 1994. Hits like ‘Running in the Family’, ‘Lessons In Love’ and ‘Something About You’ made sure their unique sound of bass driven jazz funk stood firmly out from the crowd. They are about to release Level 42 – The Definitive Collection, why now for this album?
“Not quite sure! Polydor called and said they’d like to do this. They chose the songs but I am happy with the selection – I think they went for the biggest hits. It’s a nice collection – like a soundtrack to the 80s. I get so many people saying they remember this song from school or from when they met their first boyfriends / girlfriends, which is great.”
So, which out of such a great back catalogue is Mark’s favourite song?
“I always enjoy ‘To Be With You Again’, there’s something almost heroic about the melody. As for playing live – ‘The Sunbed Song’. It gives everyone a chance to really dig in; Sean’s a great sax player – gives him a chance to go to town!”
Mark says the timing for this Definitive Collection is like ‘kismet’ as he has been working on new material for the last 18 months. In fact, a new Level 42 album will be in the shops by September – the first album of new material since 1994. He is also thrilled to be back working with Gary Husband in the studio, as well as the news Mike Lindup will be joining them on the new UK tour, which kicks off in October. In fact, Mark has an extensive touring schedule this summer leading up to the UK dates, with dates all around Europe at various festivals.
Has he ever had any strings break on him whilst on stage?
“It happens ever so infrequently – only twice for me – and both on the same set! It was in 1981 – two strings broke at once. I just wandered off stage to find more some strings and left the others playing for a bit. I do change the strings though – we wind them up and keep them in our pockets. We auctioned some for charity and raised £500 for Children In Need.”
He keeps a couple of bass guitars tuned for each tour he does and it has been a long while since he last had to actually buy a bass…
“In 1980 we got an advance of £5000 around the time of Love Meeting Love. We had to divvy up between us what was needed – main priorities getting a van and then a bass. It was a Jaydee Supernatural. That was probably the last one I bought, I was luckily recognised as a bass player fairly early on and started getting them made for me.”
We agree he could probably very easily open a bass museum down there on the Isle of Wight. He gets a lot of questions on his bass playing style and technique on the ‘Ask Mark’ section of the Level 42 website. He says he has been a bit remiss of late in updating this, calling himself ‘an old git with new fangled stuff’ but thinks it’s a fantastic thing. He says its amazing how much things have changed since they first started, but the Internet does make things useful…
“I have a lot of unfinished tracks and bits and bobs I have been working on here and there – I stuck them on a CD and called it Trash, as it was really, and said online if anyone wanted a copy I would do them one for £10. It went really well!”
What would he say has been the highlight of his career so far?
“We have had some really good times – it’s hard to pick just one really. I know – being in Italy on the west coast when we were on tour, it was a glorious day and we were sitting outside the hotel facing this beautiful view, watching the world walk by. The German head of Polydor called us and told us Lessons In Love was number one – it was an amazing feeling, to be told you have a number one in such beautiful surroundings with all your friends.”
In fact, Lessons In Love hit the number one spot in an astonishing 17 countries, although not the UK I am sorry to say. Speaking of tours – is it true that Level 42 broke the house record for Wembley Arena?
Mark laughs. “Oh that must have been the ’86 tour. I think it was November / December – we played a few dates either side of Christmas. Wembley Arena changed the stage and seating and it meant we could get another 2,500 people in, which we did. Going on stage it was like looking out among a sea of people. Then I think they realised it went against their fire regulations so after our tour they changed it back. It was fantastic, a good gig that.”
What is the strangest thing a fan has sent you while you were on tour?
“On our 1983 tour we had a song called ‘I Want Eyes’. And backstage we were sent a delicacy of where we were touring – sheep’s eyes. In a bucket!”
So, a definitive hits collection, a new album in the near future and an upcoming UK tour (starts Oct 6 at Salford , finishes at Oxford on October 31st). What can we expect from the new tour?
“The tour – well, we’ll be getting in as many of our hits as we can, as well as mixing in some new songs from the new album. The London date at the Royal Albert Hall is actually my birthday as well – October 20th. So that is going to be a nice birthday for me – it doesn’t get any better than that does it?!”