Creative Review New Music
It is March 9th, 2016, and we are in the dressing room of Alan Nimmo, lead guitarist, vocalist and all round main man of King King, a band whose rise to the top since their foundation in 2011 has been nothing if not meteoric.
The date is significant, as is the location. It is the opening night of their headlining tour of the UK and Europe, with the gig taking place at The Epstein Theatre in Liverpool; an eponymous tribute to Brian Epstein, the man who set The Beatles and so many others from the city on the road to stardom, with more than just a little help from the genius who helped create their sound, Sir George Martin, who only that morning it had been announced had passed away.
It would be rude, then, not to start the interview there. “It’s such sad news and I don’t think that there is anybody involved in music today who can’t say that The Beatles didn’t influence them in some way,” Nimmo says, in a low Glaswegian drawl that simply oozes respect.
“They just changed the face of music across the world. Sir George was classed as “The Fifth Beatle” which is a testament in itself. A good producer can be the extra member of any collective and obviously the guys in The Beatles looked up to him so much. 2016 so far has been such a horrendous year for losing people in the music industry and I really did think that January was just out to get everybody. Tonight though, obviously, we’d honoured to dedicate the entire evening to Sir George Martin.”
For a band so widely travelled, somewhat surprisingly this is King King’s – and indeed Alan Nimmo’s – first appearance in Liverpool, which might be some cause for a few nerves, on opening night especially. “What’s even more surprising is that the fact that I used to live for a while over the water on Wirral in a small place called Bromborough, but I can’t wait to break my duck in Liverpool tonight. As to being nervous, my mum will probably tell you I don’t get nervous about anything really; I just sort of take it as it comes and enjoy it. The longer you’ve been in this game, and the older you get, you try and get as much enjoyment out of it all as possible. This is a very, very busy game in which to be involved. The more you get to know what you’re doing, though, the more comfortable you get, so the nerves sort of disappear anyway, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get excited. The band are so much like a team – a family in a lot of ways – that help each other out on stage, so we’re all happy and confident of each other up there and that certainly helps.”
King King’s third and latest album, Reaching for the Light, has been brilliantly received by fans and critics alike. Blues Rock Review called the album ‘master class in blues rock,’ and there were the five triumphs at the 2014 British Blues Awards for their previous outing, Standing in the Shadows, including gongs for Best Album and Best Band, which firmly set King King at the very top of the genre. “The reception for the albums has been amazing and there’s no denying that when you win awards and get great reviews that it is a fantastic help to your career because it attracts the attention of other territories and we’re always trying to take our music to new countries and places.
“Once you get the backing of the radio stations and the magazines it all kind of snowballs which is great. Above all though it is just nice to be appreciated and know people care enough about what you’re doing to take the time to vote for you. It just shows we’re doing something right, I suppose.”
King King have just finished supporting Thunder across the country. Prior to that, the band had been opening for John Mayall which saw them travel to India. Today, prior to this interview alone, they were busy filming a promo for a new live DVD and album, which is due out in the Autumn of this year, and been interviewed by German TV. Tonight, they kick off a tour with 15 dates scheduled between now and the end of May in the UK alone so far and a whole load more across Europe. Added to this is the news that the band’s fourth album is well underway.
Amidst all of this, the four of them have had to find time to write. “I do the main part of the writing and then when we get into the studio to start demoing things, the band come in and we begin arranging things and start getting input from the lads, which is great when we get to that stage. I write at home with an acoustic guitar and set them off, but it is only really when I hear the music getting played to me as a band that I can concentrate less then on what I’m thinking about for them to play. That suddenly opens the song up to me in a whole new way and I start seeing things with regards to where I want it to go and, luckily, the guys are on the same sort of wavelength so it just sort of comes naturally.
“Finding the time to do it, though, I think you really need to learn how to do it in your sleep. We’ve been together since 2011, nearly six years, and it seems like about six months it has been so, so busy. Not that I’m complaining in any way, mind, because you have to can’t sit on that and have to capitalize on it in any way you can to keep the momentum going which, in truth, is the hardest part because there is always something that needs taking care of. ”
It shouldn’t be forgotten either that, prior to King King, Alan Nimmo came to prominence as the younger sibling to Stevie Nimmo in The Nimmo Brothers; itself a multi-award winning and highly acclaimed band which has been performing 21 years this year. “Last year we got together and decided to give The Nimmo Brothers a wee bit of a rest for a couple of years so that we can concentrate on our own bands; Stevie with The Stevie Brothers Trio and me with King King.
“It was just getting ridiculously busy for both of us and we couldn’t physically fit it all in. We love writing and performing together and, in all honesty, Stevie did the bulk of the writing for The Nimmo Brothers anyway so there hasn’t been a conflict of interests as to which band gets which song because, up until recently, The Nimmo Brothers was his sole project. We have a very natural process together and when we’re in the same room it comes almost telepathically easy in that we know what the other is going to do before we actually do it, which is the same on stage. I know what’s coming from Stevie playing a certain bunch of notes and vice versa, which makes everything so much easier which comes from being brothers and working together for over 20 years.”
Although a guitarist, Alan always had a set sound – and a particular instrument – he wanted to incorporate into the King King philosophy. “The Hammond Organ was always going to be involved. I’ve never wanted to play in a band where the keyboards are a replacement for the guitar. I’ve always wanted The Hammond to stand out on its own merits, so it has always been the plan to use it as a real to for writing and a real tool for arranging the songs I wanted to produce. In that sense, it’s pretty different to playing with The Nimmo Brothers and their two guitars, so that impacts on your writing style a bit. If you use The Hammond as an integral part of the arrangement, though, you get some great results. On top of that, we have a Hammond player in Bob Fridzema who can play it properly: an authentic Hammond player, which is a very different discipline altogether and helps the writing process no end.”
So where did the name King King derive. “We’ve always loved the Blues and always will and there was this band from LA who were knocking around in the UK around 1990 who had something of a whirlwind romance with the scene at that time because the singer, to say the least, was something of a party boy who sadly didn’t last long on this Earth. They produced one album, which was a live recording, and because the guy died and the band broke up they were never heard of again, but this one album became something of a cult record. That band were called The Red Devils and they recorded their live album at the famous Blues club in LA called The King King. I wanted to acknowledge that album and I also kind of thought it was a pretty cool name anyway; a bit obscure and bit daft, but also a tip of the hat to all the great artists who’ve played at The King King in LA. Also, when we see the name on banners and t-shirts or what have you, it helps us keep in touch with our Blues roots.”
As mentioned, King King recently returned from India where they supported John Mayall at The Asian Blues Festival. “My God, what an experience that was,” Nimmo laughs. “It was a fantastic and also an incredibly humbling place to go. It literally is like walking into another world. The contrasts are impossible to describe. We were privileged to be living in five star luxury but just outside the hotel door, people were living and sleeping on the streets under tarpaulins, selling green beans for a living. It was really overwhelming because what you’re looking at can’t help but make you feel guilty, and I don’t mean that in a condescending or patronising way at all.
“I’m sitting in a hotel restaurant where they are throwing away tons of food on a daily basis, when outside the front door there are people literally starving. All I wanted to do, really, was to take all of that waste and give to them. There are 23 million living in Mumbai alone and it is just crazy. You cannot walk in a straight line down the street and the noise from the traffic is phenomenal. And there are no rules for the road, either; there’s people two’s up on a motorbike carrying babies and you just think ‘are you having a laugh, or what?’ It’s just insane.”
The Mahindra Blues festival boasted an audience of 5,000, which when you consider the size of Asia and it cultural diversity, is pretty impressive. “I was asked during interviews whether I thought Blues was dead and I’d say ‘what? Are you kidding me? Look at where I am right now, a bloke from Scotland, sitting in Mumbai at the largest Blues festival in Asia alongside the likes of Joss Stone. I think you may have answered your own question.’ And the crowd were just amazing, they loved it. They just went nuts and we were treated like proper, proper stars. It was just incredible.”
What strikes you most about Alan Nimmo is that he just a down-to-earth guy, who clearly loves doing what he does: making Blues Music extremely well. Let’s be fair you don’t get invited to support John Mayall and Thunder without being pretty darn good at what you do either. “When you’re immersed in it all it is kind of hard to take it all in, but you do have to try and take a sit back and appreciate what’s happening at that particular time. To get to play with these kinds of people is just amazing, particularly as, like I’ve said, being a Blues fan through-and-through and grew up listening to John Mayall. We did 36 nights on the road with him, who was 81 at the time and I just wanted to search his bags to find the potion that was giving him so much energy. What a set of performances he gave, night after night. It was incredible to watch.
“He was also just so nice, so humble and just so supportive of the band too. He would tell the crew to look after us because he felt we were important to the tour. At sound checks he’d give us thumbs up and would jam away with us. One night I was watching and he invited me on stage to play with him. One other really nice thing he did was in my home town of Glasgow. He was stood on the side of the stage as we were playing – not in his dressing room getting prepared – on the side because he wanted to see the crowd’s reaction to my home town gig. Just amazing and it is mark of how, after all of these years, he is still in love with the music.”
King King are working on a live album and DVD, which is set for release in the Autumn. “We’ll be recording it over two nights on the tour, so there’s going to be very little margin for error at those particular gigs. With five or six cameras swinging around, I would think it’ll be pretty tough to ignore what’s happening. As far as we’re concerned though, we’ll be performing in front of our audiences on those nights, same as ever, and that is just how it should be.”
King King are appearing at The Manchester Academy 2 on Thursday May 12th with support provided by Dan Patlansky.
For Tickets: https://www.manchesteracademy.net/order/tickets/13311431/king-king-manchester-academy-2-2016-05-12-19-00-00