By Cameron Arndt, pics courtesy of and © Mark Holloway/Waysted Photography
King King return to Edinburgh – and indeed Scotland – for the first time in a good while, and are given a hero’s welcome by a sold out crowd at the Queen’s Hall. This is a rescheduled date – after the tour planned to coincide with the release of newest album Exile & Grace in October was postponed due to mainman Alan Nimmo’s post-surgery vocal issues. Happily, reports have suggested that he’s all better now, and he certainly sounded excellent tonight as he fronted a band clearly on a high on the back of their biggest album to date. Exile & Grace topped the iTunes & Amazon blues charts, and even cracked the UK top 40 with a placing at 31.
Tonight also boasts an exciting double bill, with Aberdeen-based livewire blues rockers The Gerry Jablonski Band opening up the night – to my mind a group who complement King King perfectly, and more than enough reason to make it in time for the early kick off. Many others have had the same idea, so the standing area is already near full by the time Gerry and the boys take the stage at 7:20pm and, though the upstairs seating takes a little longer to fill, there’s plenty of folks ready to be entertained by the four piece.
The Gerry Jablonski Band
Well, entertained they certainly were. The half Scottish/half Polish group never disappoint and tonight they neatly showcase not only their outstanding musical skills, but the power and energy they bring every night as well. In fact, the band provide a textbook example of how to make the most of a short support slot by packing their 40 mins with a cannily chosen batch of songs which play to their strengths, and highlight the full range of the band’s output.
The advantage, of course, of a short gig is that there’s no need to pace yourself, no need for filler. Gerry & co. expertly show just how to approach such a situation, exploding into action with upcoming single Heavy Water and leaving it all out on the stage in a set that somehow manages to include scorching guitar/harp jams, some touching moments, hilarious hat stealing hijinks and even Jablonski’s Jeff Beck-style solo instrumental take on Nessun Dorma.
Heavy Water has long been their set opener, and it’s a great evocative beginning, with Jablonski picking out some subtle guitar notes and harmonica man Peter Narojczyk wailing expressively over the top before Lewis Fraser’s solid kick drum and Grigor Leslie’s hypnotic bass join the fray. The song eventually takes off into a clattering bluesy rock blast which shows the band are taking no prisoners tonight.
On they go, playing with near-telepathic cohesion and wrenching a vital, raw and ready sound from their four instruments. Leslie rips out perfect blues rhythms from the bass as Fraser lays down beats that are both startlingly heavy and also neatly inventive, while harmonica specialist Narojczyk is the icing on the cake with his swirling, howling harp style – a friend I was with, a newcomer to blues gigs to be fair, was heard to exclaim ‘I’ve never seen someone play the mouth organ like that!!’
As for the nominal frontman, Jablonski is a tornado of madcap energy as usual, leading the band with deceptively messy riffs and some astounding guitar solos. His vocals are, if not technically exceptional, uniquely individual and full of personality. You can believe him as he details his Trouble With The Blues on the upfront rocker of the same name. When he takes over from Fraser’s higher, softer – and indeed more varied – tones for the second verse of the beautiful Anybody, he equals the emotion the drummer brings to the opening, and the contrast between the two heightens the power of the piece as a whole.
That they make sure to fit in the affecting ballad shows how much the band understand the power of light and shade in the set, it’s not all bruising rock & roll. Narojczyk’s mournful harp – and smooth backing vocals from Fraser and Leslie – add layers to the latter part of the song and a fiery solo in the outro sets the stage for Jablonski’s short take on the aforementioned Nessun Dorma.
All of which provides a nice palate cleanser for the audience before it’s back into the uptempo blues, and the bouncing beat of Angel Of Love soon has the crowd bobbing and swaying about. It may not exactly be a full rave but it’s not bad for a (let’s be honest) generally ‘quite mature’ audience who’re still on their first or second drink and watching a gig before 8pm!
The band, of course, give no quarter to any such explanations and tumble into a lightning guitar/harp jam which sees Jablonski making off with a hat from the front of the audience (quite possibly from our friend John McIntyre I think!). The trilby suits both Jablonski and Narojczyk pretty well as they take turns wearing it while trading licks.
A breathless set is wrapped up with the catchy Soul Sister and driving Slave To The Rhythm. Grammy winning producer Stacey Parish produced the band’s new single (more on that very soon) and recently commented, “I loved the raw energy of the band. It was like they walked in to the place, played a rollercoaster of a show, spat on the floor and walked out again, cool as you like!”
We’d have to agree… hopefully there was time to give the stage a quick mop before the King King lads stepped up!
Gerry Jablonski & The Electric Band release their new single, Heavy Water, on Feb 4th with a show at Cafe Drummond in Aberdeen (Tickets here), they play a co-headline show at Oran Mor, Glasgow with the Andrew Eustace Band on 17th Feb (Tickets here) and return to Edinburgh for a show with Northsyde at the Voodoo Rooms on 2nd March (last time…. tickets here!)
AC/DC’s Highway To Hell booms out over the speakers and heralds the arrival of one of Scotland’s favourite bands – no matter that they’re admittedly 3/4 comprised of Englishmen these days! Scotland never gave up it’s rightful claim to Bon Scott and the Young brothers, and Alan Nimmo’s ever present kilt is the standard that proves all the Edinburgh audience need to know.
The group’s new album takes a much more classic rock direction than previous releases – something Nimmo makes no apologies for as his early Whitesnake/Thunder influences come more to the fore in his writing. It’s obviously a shift which has gone down well with the music buying public as evidenced by the acclaim for Exile & Grace and the fact this hasn’t been the only sell out show on the tour.
It’s for sure a sound and genre the band excel at, and first track (She Don’t) Gimme No Lovin lays down a marker with it’s sizzling riff and hooky chorus. With four albums to draw on the band make sure not to overdo it on the rockers, with only four cuts from the new album making an appearance, leaving plenty of time for old favourites as well.
A double from Reaching For The Light (2015) appears next, before another new one: The expansive Waking Up and superlative You Stopped The Rain are followed by the intense Broken. You’re struck not only by the muscular energy, but also the sleek crispness to the band’s sound. The new songs, Broken in particular, feature some high, held notes in the choruses and Nimmo handles them beautifully, his big soulful voice back to it’s very best – just in time you might say!
It’s far from a one man show, of course, Lindsay Coulson and Wayne Proctor are a rhythm section right at the top of the British blues/rock tree and they propel each song forward with strength and precision. King King’s USP, meanwhile, is the use of a proper Hammond organ player instead of simple electronic keyboards. The big, matchless sound of the organ is a vital component to the group’s sonic arsenal and something that has set them apart from day one. It’s still very much present, but the chair is tonight occupied by new member Jonny Dyke, who slots into the band seamlessly.
He’s given the spotlight on Long History Of Love and contributes a polished solo with a cool church-organ type sound that distinguishes this version from the one on the Standing In The Shadows (2013) record. Alan Nimmo’s follow up solo is typically brilliant – many times we’ve observed how the man is capable of making even the most technical lead parts into something more, with superb elements of melody always included. The crowd sing along heartily with the final chorus which couldn’t help but remind me of Classic Rock Magazine’s astute observation in their review of King King’s Live album: It takes a certain kind of band to be able to pull off a song called Long History of Love in a roomful of Glasgow (or in this case, Edinburgh) punters, but somehow they manage it!
For it does indeed take a certain kind of band, and a certain amount of confidence, to do something like that and, even if Edinburgh doesn’t have Glasgow’s hard as nails reputation, the real reason it works is because there is a tremendous amount of goodwill between this band and their fans. The boys have rightfully engendered said goodwill over the past several years, always conducting themselves with style and grace. No exile forthcoming!
The second half of the set visits their debut album for Lose Control, and returns to Reaching For The Light for fan favourite Rush Hour. The sound has been pretty good all night, though it must be said that the sight lines in the venue leave a bit to be desired, the stage is extremely low, so it’s difficult to see more than the top half of the band from the standing section, unless you’re right at the front. Nevertheless, the cauldron-like shape of the theatre lends itself well to the ensuing raucous crowd singalong, which requires barely any prompting from Nimmo.
His signature ‘unplugged’ guitar solo in the blues-by-way-of-Whitesnake juggernaut Stranger To Love likewise comes across wonderfully. I feared, and still do, that the band are fast outgrowing venues where this trick will work – and they likely are – but tonight it still has plenty of impact, and you can see newcomer’s looks of surprise and admiration, even as the long-time fans nod sagely.
It’s soon encore time, and the band deliver the gorgeous Find Your Way Home – a key track on the new record – and finish up with the bright and cheery Let Love In, tonight bolstered by an excellent saloon-piano solo from Dyke.
Post-show both bands mill about amongst the fans in the bar, happily signing albums, taking pictures or just chatting away. There’s a laid back, friendly atmosphere that I’ve found at every King King (and indeed Jablonski) show and it’s one of the many things that makes the fans so loyal to this band.
Firing on all cylinders, with a charting album behind them and extensive tours in the offing – including a high profile support for classic rock titans Europe, which King King’s new, more rock-oriented sound will doubtless be well suited for – this is just the beginning of a big 2018 for the band.
King King Set List 30/01/18
(She Don’t) Gimme No Lovin’
You Stopped The Rain
BrokenLong History Of Love
Long Time Running
Stranger To Love
All Your Life
Find Your Way Home
Let Love In
King King UK Tour Dates
APRIL 14TH 2018 Huntingdon Hall, Worcester, UK
APRIL 15TH 2018 HRH Blues Festival, Sheffield, UK
APRIL 20TH 2018 Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, UK
APRIL 21ST 2018 Darvel Town Hall, Darvel, UK
MAY 3RD 2018 St Mary In The Castle, Hastings, UK
MAY 4TH 2018 Municipal Arts Centre, Pontypridd, UK
MAY 5TH 2018 1865, Southampton, UK
MAY 10TH 2018 Epstein Theatre, Liverpool, UK
MAY 11TH 2018 Playhouse, Whitley Bay, UK
MAY 12TH 2018 The Grand Venue, Clitheroe, UK
MAY 17TH 2018 The Live Rooms, Chester, UK
MAY 18TH 2018 Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, UK
MAY 19TH 2018 The Picturedrome, Holmfirth, UK
MAY 26TH 2018 Cheese & Grain, Frome, UK
MAY 27TH 2018 Phoenix Arts Centre, Exeter, UK
MAY 31ST 2018 Robin 2, Bilston, UK
JUNE 1ST 2018 The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, UK
JUNE 2ND 2018 Rock & Blues Festival, Newport, UK
JULY 15TH 2018 Blues On The Farm Festival, Canterbury, UK
JULY 20TH 2018 Chagstock Festival, Devon, UK
JULY 28TH 2018 Steelhouse Festival, Ebbw Vale, UK
As Special Guests To Europe