Big things are happening for Glasgow blues rockers King King, following what can only be described as something of an up-and-down 2017. On the upside, the year saw the band release their fourth studio album Exile & Grace to huge critical and audience acclaim, and their debut live Double CD and DVD, King King: Live on the back of a string of sell out gigs they’ve become renowned for.
On the downside, however, 2017 also saw frontman Alan Nimmo beset with vocal problems which unfortunately led to some gigs having to be rescheduled. On top of this, Dutch Hammond organ maestro Bob Fridzema decided he wanted to face fresh challenges and, subsequently, decided to leave the band.
Undeterred, however, King King are back out on the road in May and June 2018 – with dates at both Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre on May 10 followed by Chester Live Rooms on May 17 – and determined to deliver as fabulous a show as ever.
“I’m much better now, but it’s just one of those things where I have to be careful as far as my voice is concerned,” Alan explained. “I’d developed polyps on my vocal chords which required surgery. That meant I had to take two months off from touring altogether so my voice could recover. As well as playing live so often, which I absolutely love to do, I also think it may be a bit of age creeping in,” the big man laughed. “I have to make sure I’m in my bed by a certain time nowadays and get enough sleep and rest: all those kind of crazy things I thought only big stars had to do.’”
“I used to think those guys were all pretty weird when I’d read about them going on about this diet and that health drink, but it turns out they’re not. At the end of the day,
though, it’s turned into a good thing. The shows are always and have always been the main thing. We must always put on as memorable show as possible because it’s what the people who’ve paid their hard earned money for a ticket deserve. To do that, we all have to be in the best condition, not just me.”
To say the touring schedule for the band is gruelling would be an understatement. The upcoming Exile & Grace European tour begins in May at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings on May 3 and culminates, as it stands, 28 dates later, in August at the Colne festival. This after extensive dates in Germany earlier in the year and before King King set out supporting one of the biggest names in rock across the continent during September and October.
“It’s what bands like ours have to do now; everyone these days has to tour so much more than they used to. With the bottom end falling out of the music industry with the rise of downloads and what have you, touring’s become the only way bands can really survive financially as a business.”
“I’m pretty sure their are some who’d love to see us on the road 365 days a year, which is obviously physically impossible. I also think it actually helps in building the band – and the brand of the band – to play less, which is also impossible because you have to keep working.”
“It’s a Catch 22 sometimes; a constant juggling act. These are all First World problems though and at the end of the day, we’re not doing too badly.”
Exile & Grace was released across all formats in October, 2017 and it was no surprise to see it saluted by the rock media by being crowned as Classic Rock magazine’s Blues Album of the Year. The album also stormed to top of the iTunes and Amazon Blues charts, as well as making the official UK album charts at #31. This success, of course, has opened the band’s appeal to wider audiences and a greater appreciation all round.
Making the album, however, was far from straight forward.
“I honestly felt Exile & Grace was a long time in the making,” Alan confided. “We didn’t spend long in the studio in total, but because of the touring schedule and my being ill, we had to record bits here and bits there as and when we could.”
“The writing was getting done on the road as well, at any opportunity, so it was kind of drawn out a wee bit and left me wondering, at the end of it, whether it was actually any good. It really was like that when it was finally completed, because of everything being the way it had been while it was being put together, I’d forgotten a lot of what had gone into making it.”
“Now it’s out there though, it seems people really like it, which is the main thing, and if there’s a positive I can personally take from the experience itself, it’s that I know now I’ve not peaked yet as a writer. I know there’s so much more I can achieve in that respect and I’ve already started on some new songs. I’m really looking forward to what’s next because, as I say, I think these new songs are so much better than anything we’ve recorded before.”
Exile & Grace is undoubtedly a lot edgier, a lot more rock influenced, than its predecessors Take My Hand, Standing in the Shadows and Reaching For the Light. All were heavily blues influenced, yet Exile & Grace is much more of a mix of ‘anthemic’ crowd pleasers, some out-and-out rockers and some soulful ballads.
“I never sit down and think ‘today I’m going to write this kind of song or that I kind of song’. I just sit down and write what comes. Whatever I feel like at that moment, whatever music I feel like playing, that’s what gets written down and hopefully ends up as a song somewhere down the line.”
“Writing this album, though, actually gave me a sense of freedom. I felt we’d been sort of naturally and gradually moving away from the total blues feeling we’d built for ourselves anyway and I felt a lot more unrestricted in my writing with Exile & Grace. Of course the more comfortable you get with what you’re doing, the more older influences begin creeping in and start to form this new “voice” if you like.”
“I think everyone has their own way of doing everything and I’m not a guy who likes to stick to formats anyway. I rely on being as natural and passionate about what the music we’re doing, as well as being honest in my writing.”
“Whatever comes out, that’s the way it is for me and as long as I feel I’ve put as much of those three elements into each song as I possibly can, I’ll be satisfied. What I’m told is one of the best and worst things about me is that I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’m quite emotional. If that comes out in the music, I’m more than happy. I really don’t want to be too clever or technical about things, I just want to write music that means something and is honest.”
As the tour approaches, so the band and their ever growing legion of fans are becoming more excited. “We’re all really looking forward to it. We we’re at the HRH in Sheffield earlier in April and played some of the new songs there. It was a great night. We had to cancel last year’s gig because I’d lost my voice, so this made up for that. It was also a kind of thank you to the fans for their patience. They’ve been just so supportive, it’s been amazing. If bands get awards, then fans should get them as well for their loyalty. The guys who have followed us, particularly over the past year or so, have done so through thick-and-thin and we honestly can’t thank them enough.”
Amongst all this activity, there’s also a ‘new’ keyboardist to welcome into the King King family: Jonny Dyke. “You know what, it’s been great and he was actually one of our original keyboard players. He’s a really old mate of ours. We’ve known him a long time and Lindsay Coulson, our bassist, played with him in a band called Out of the Blue. He’s really experienced and has played with the likes of Ellie Brooks, Aynsley Lister and Amy MacDonald.”
“When Bob [Fridzema] said he wanted to leave, we gave Jonny a call and he jumped at the chance. He felt as though he wanted to be part of something that didn’t mean he was just a session player and meant something to him. He’s done such a fantastic job since coming in and has brought a new injection of life and energy to the band. He’s a terrific character and accurately describes himself as being ‘irritatingly positive’,” Alan laughed.
“This is a tough business to be involved in at times and it can get quite difficult with one thing and another. Unfortunately, Bob felt he wanted to try something different. We all parted as friends, there wasn’t any animosity or anything like that, it was just a case of someone feeling his time was up in the band and that was that. We’ve all moved on and I think it’s been a very positive move for everyone.”
There are three different support bands at different venues on this tour. At Chester and Liverpool, Canadian One Man Rock band phenomenon Steve Hill joins the Scottish stars. A twenty-year-in-the-making-overnight-success, Alan can’t wait to get to hear more from the fast rising phenomenon. “I have to confess, I don’t know a great deal about Steve as it stands right now but I believe he’s another amazing talent and we’re really excited he’s joining us.”
“As a band we pride ourselves on giving guys like Steve an opportunity to show our audiences what they can do. Guys who are special and have a lot of potential. We like to showcase bands and artists and so help them build an audience of their own.”
“We struggled to get that support when we started. For a very, very long time nobody would help us out and it was just a stroke of luck that we got to support John Mayall all those years ago, which changed an awful lot for us. On the back of that, we then got a tour supporting Thunder which is where things really began to take off.”
“I’m really looking forward to Steve, Xander & The Peace Pirates and Austin Gold joining us. A great audience will get to see them, so it’s bound to help them all advance their careers. More importantly, they all deliver great music which makes it an even better night for those who’ve bought tickets for the gigs.”
And just to round off the year, King King themselves become support artists to the mighty Europe across, well, Europe. “I’m really looking forward to hanging out with Joey Tempest. What an experience that’s going to be,” Alan chortled. “It’s going to be really cool. They’re such a huge band. We get to start in Ireland, where we have a few mates, then get to come back to the UK where we end up ticking one huge box in being able to place The Royal Albert Hall. Dreams are coming true, which is just fantastic.”
“Then after that we head across to the continent which will be brilliant again. Not only to be a part of, but for King King’s overall career. We get in and out of Europe quite a bit, but to go over there supporting a band like Europe’s is a huge deal for us; to play in front of such massive crowds night-after-night, will advance us no end.”
So twelve months on from what was admittedly the start of a difficult year, King King’s star is very definitely back on the rise and on track to reach even greater heights. “I’m not going to lie: we were extremely worried twelve months ago,” Alan admitted. “I’m not shy to say there were times I was sat at home in pieces, thinking it was all over. Done. I thought that if I kept losing my voice and had to keep rescheduling or even cancelling gigs, nobody would take the risk of booking us. It was a really dark time, mentally and physically.”
“It’s been one of the hardest tasks over the past twelve months, maintaining that faith. In everybody, but particularly that of the fans who we are, as I said earlier, just so grateful to for sticking by us and coming out to watch the shows.”
“Now we’ve got our tour, the shows coming up supporting Europe and, behind the scenes, there’s a whole load of other stuff in the pipeline so now we can look forward with a great deal of optimism. Things are definitely back on track and we can only hope that’s how they’re going to stay.”
If ever there’s a band, or indeed an artist, who deserve all the good things headed their way, it is unquestionably King King and Alan Nimmo.
King King – May & June 2018 UK Tour
*with special guests *Steve Hill and ^AUSTIN GOLD
*Hastings St Mary in the Castle (Thursday 3 May)
*Pontypridd Muni Arts Centre (Friday 4 May)
*Southampton The 1865 (Saturday 5 May)
*Liverpool Epstein Theatre (Thursday 10 May)
^Playhouse Whitley Bay (Friday 11 May)
^Clitheroe The Grand (Saturday 12 May)
*Chester The Live Rooms (Thursday 17 May)
*Leeds Brudenell Social Club (Friday 18 May)
*The Picturedrome, Holmfirth (Saturday 19 May)
*Frome The Cheese and Grain (Saturday 26 May)
*Exeter Phoenix (Sunday 27 May)
*Bilston The Robin 2 (Thursday 31 May)
*Bury St. Edmunds The Apex (Friday 1 June)
*Newport Blues Rhythm & Rock Festival (Saturday 2 June)
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