Scotland’s hardest working band King King is aiming for the stars
Having been proud recipients of awards for Best British Blues Band (2012 & 2013) and Best British Blues Album (2012) for ‘Take My Hand’, Scotland’s blues-rock outfit King King have no intention of sitting on their laurels in order to enjoy the prestige bestowed upon them by such accolades, as the band have already started the year with a touring schedule that can only be described as gruelling and one that will involve stints in the recording studio for a new album planned later this autumn.
Hard work is something that is integral to the King King setup because it is this strong work ethic, combined with genuine talent, that has propelled the band to the current position where they now find themselves, which is one garnering rave reviews from all parts of the globe and recognition from the likes of former Manfred Mann singer Paul Jones with his influential Rhythm and Blues programme on BBC Radio Two.
The ongoing success that King King is experiencing has not arrived overnight, however, as the band have spent several years building their profile and steadily increasing legion of fans by means of countless touring throughout the UK and Europe, as well as producing two fine albums to date with ‘Take My Hand’ (2011) and, more recently, ‘Standing In The Shadows’ (2013). In addition to all of this band activity, lead singer Alan Nimmo and his brother Stevie Nimmo are still fronting and promoting a separate project by the name of The Nimmo Brothers; therefore, any suggestion of taking a rest simply does not enter the vocabulary of The Nimmo Brothers or, more notably, King King for that matter.
With King King currently in the midst of a heavy touring schedule as mentioned above, Famous Last Words (FLW) was privileged to speak with the larger than life frontman Alan Nimmo who, it has to be said, was feeling a tad groggy in the vocal department after the previous night’s gig at a location somewhere in the UK. Nonetheless, the King King frontman showed his willingness to persevere and show that he is made of sterner stuff – kryptonite by our reckoning – by answering each and every question with much enthusiasm and attention to detail, which started at the most obvious starting point, and that being the more than active start to 2014.
“We’ve had a fantastic start to this year,” responds a croaky Alan Nimmo. “We went out to Germany first and, for some reason, every time we go somewhere in Germany, we seem to be averaging a really fantastic crowd all the time. We seem to be going down a storm in places like that, which we’re very, very happy about. Then we went up to Denmark, which we have not been to before and once again, we were well received. At first, I was a bit confused about the reaction from the audience in Denmark, Copenhagen to be precise, because we hadn’t been there before and people knew the words to the songs! I remember thinking at the time that something is going right somewhere because this wasn’t simply random people attending this gig out of curiosity. Also, from the back of receiving awards last year for Best Band, Best Album and all that kind of thing, which does help in terms of a marketing process and promotion, we’ve come back to the UK for the first round of gigs and of the ones we’ve done so far, every venue has been a sell-out. We’ve had venues saying to us that they could have sold-out the rooms again due to the number of people they turned away for tickets. This has been great and very positive and tells me that things are moving in the right direction for King King, which I’m very happy about. Hopefully, this will continue as we have more dates in the UK and Europe and, at the end of March, we’re performing at the Crossroads Festival at Harmonie in Bonn in Germany, so that will be a great end to this month.”
Were you quite surprised when things started taking off with King King?
“I was very surprised at how well it was received and how quickly it grew” says Alan honestly. “All of sudden we were doing a lot of shows and running around playing all over the place, and now it’s just getting busier and busier and we seem to be travelling further afield by entering new territories throughout Europe such as Scandinavia. Obviously, we’re really happy with how things are panning out and we certainly can’t complain.”
Considering the serious reputation that you have built for yourself on the music circuit with your brother as The Nimmo Brothers, why did you decide to set up King King considering the level of success you have experienced as part of this duo?
“I wanted to try something different, as I always wanted to write songs with a Hammond [organ] and some piano, along with the guitar, other than what I had been doing with my brother, which was two guitars with more of a rock edge,” explains Alan. “To be honest, though, King King was a little bit of a side project [to begin with] and just something for us to do and play as an out-and-out blues band. Very quickly the band became popular and people started paying a lot of attention to it, and it was at that point that I decided to start writing songs as well. Luckily enough, I seem to have found a formula for writing that eventually created what we now know as the King King sound.”
Are you solely responsible for the songwriting when it comes to King King or is there considerable input from the rest of the band as well?
“I do the majority of the writing for King King in terms of the lyrics and a lot of the music,” responds Alan sounding just as hoarse. “Lindsay [Coulson] and I co-write together as well, but then we will go into the studio as I like to let the band play and try and soak in the new ideas. It’s at that point that you can start arranging songs and turning them into songs as opposed to ideas that you have.”
Do you feel that you are always learning new ideas and techniques when writing and recording new material?
“You’re always learning and there is always something new about writing songs and performing and especially recording, as every time you go into a studio you learn something new and you take the experience from the last time and hopefully try and make it better.”
How would you describe your sound?
“What a great question! I think we would say that we’re [pauses]…obviously there’s blues in there from a roots point of view and some classic rock, if you will, and there’s a lot of soul in there as well, with a twist of funk groove that surfaces now and again. So it’s a good, mixed bag and I’d say that it was pretty entertaining.”
Who do you regard as influences in terms of your music?
“I’ve always been heavily influenced by bands such as Free, Bad Company, Thin Lizzy, Stevie Ray Vaughan and all the blues players as well. To be honest, through the years of songwriting with The Nimmo Brothers, I don’t think those kind of influences have been as strong as it is now with how I am writing for King King. I can actually feel my influences coming across in terms of what I am writing for King King, which I’m very happy about.”
There seems to be a great energy about the band in both your music and when performing live – would you agree?
“Yes, certainly,” replies Alan. “It’s something that we pride ourselves on as I have often said in other interviews that there is an honesty about it and that we mean it. I certainly am the type of performer where I have to give my all. I have surrounded myself with likeminded players that have the same passion for music, and I think that’s basically what it’s all about for me as you have to be passionate about it and it has to mean something to you and you have to mean it. If you don’t, then at some point I think it will come across as fake and people will see it. Therefore, I mean every word that I sing and every note that I play on the guitar and all the lyrics are personal as I write from life experience. So it means something and hopefully that comes across.”
With current album ‘Standing In The Shadows’, released last year, winning many new admirers, how does the King King singer feel about this album now that the dust has had time to settle?
“There’s always something to improve on because as I said before, there’s always something to learn from, and a new experience to gain,” says Alan. “I am still very proud of both of our albums and happy with the end results. You take what you went through from the previous album and use that experience to make the next album what it will be. Of course, there are things I can personally pick out and think I’d liked to have done better, but overall I’m very happy with the outcome of our latest album. I’m old enough now to not let those things bother me too much.”
With your seemingly hectic touring schedule during this period of writing and recording ‘Standing In The Shadows’, it must have been difficult, at times, to get the album finished?
“We were in and out of the studio between days off during our hectic schedule for gigging. So the whole thing took about twenty days to complete the whole lot, but that was broken up with one day here and one day there. We literally didn’t have the time to set out periods to go into the studio and use, for example, three weeks to sit in the studio and get the majority of the album done. So we’d take what gap we had with being on the road and working so hard and trying to get it done.”
It must have been frustrating at times trying to regain any previous momentum regarding the recording of the album ‘Standing In The Shadows’?
“It was a bit difficult at times in terms of trying to recreate the moment again and get into the swing of it, but listening back, I think we’ve managed to achieve something really great,” reflects Alan on the recording experience of ‘Standing In The Shadows’. “It made it a little bit difficult, but we managed and this is probably how the next one is going to be because this year we are so busy. Again, we’re just looking at it in terms of how much time we’ve got in between times and using that time to get in [the studio] and get things done. We’re often writing songs when we’re on the road. For example, I might be driving the tour van and the guys often hear me singing away to myself and they’re used to that and let me get on with it. Sound checks are great for experimenting with new ideas as well, not so much for the sound engineers though, who want to get the job done [laughing]!”
Moving on to a different aspect of King King, what’s with the traditional Scottish attire of wearing a kilt when performing live on stage?
“We performed at a few festivals and I wanted to use the fact that I am from Scotland as a bit of a theme,” begins Alan regarding his kilt wearing. “I wanted to create an image or character at the front of the band, so that it was a bit noticeable and therefore along those lines. I decided to wear a kilt as I thought it could work, especially as we go overseas a lot and people have taken to it and therefore it became a bit of an image. After a period of time, I received an email from a company and they really liked the kilt look. So I now have an endorsement deal with a kilt company [laughing]! As I mentioned earlier, I started off wearing the kilt at music festivals and this was the only place, but then it started a reaction at other gigs as the number of people who complained that I wasn’t wearing the kilt when walking on stage meant that I was stuck with it! As an artist, you try not to get offended when somebody in the audience comments that’s all they came for [laughing]!”
Has wearing the kilt caused some negative reactions and publicity whether from people in the audience at gigs and/or music press?
“Fortunately enough we’ve never had any kind of negativity or any hassle and nobody has treated us like that,” confesses Alan. “There’s been nothing but positive feedback from that side of things [music press]. I think one of the reasons why we don’t get treated as a jokey band is that I might be a large Scottish guy in a kilt, but the music speaks for itself. I maintain the fact that it’s not all about what you see, although it’s a big part of it, but the music, at the end of the day, is what I’m here for and that’s what we present. At this level, we’re able to deliver a strong set that eventually takes their minds off the fact that I wear a kilt. I’m proud of that fact that I have a bunch of strong musicians behind me and they do their job exactly the way I need them to.”
FLW has not seen that sort of look, with a part of the traditional Scottish attire, since the days of Big Country.
“I remember that as well,” agrees Alan. “I remember going to watch Big Country at the Barrowlands when I was younger, as they were a great band and still one of my favourites. I also remember during the first few years of the millennium guys like Robbie Williams playing in Glasgow and his whole band were dressed in kilts! To be honest, Scotland is probably the one place where I wouldn’t wear it [kilt] because I’d probably get into trouble for not wearing the traditional kilt and having the whole regalia on [laughing]. Having said that, I have worn it in Glasgow and it was well-received and I didn’t get any grief for it.”
FLW understands that King King has plans to enter the recording studio to start laying the groundwork for a new album this year. How has this been progressing in terms of the new material?
“We’ll be in the studio soon to start on preproduction work in order start recording, as we want to get the album recorded and finished by June this year,” replies Alan. “We want a release for the album in October because we’re doing thirty-four nights supporting John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers right across the UK. So it’s going to be very tight the first six months of this year, and a whole lot of work, and therefore we’re getting started immediately.”
With Alan Nimmo in need of a well-earned rest as far as his vocal chords are concerned, FLW had one last question to ask and that was whether the King King vocalist had a final phrase of the day before departing on the next leg of the band’s current tour?
“I have taken this one from my dear old grandmother who, ever since I was a young kid, always used to say, ‘What’s for you won’t go by you’ and I have lived by that as I’m a firm believer in life being what you make of it. There’s a side of me that believes in the fact that we’re all destined for something, but it’s about how we deal with it and how we get ourselves there. If something’s going to be for you, then it will happen for you if you’re prepared to put the effort and work in. A strong work ethic, in my opinion, is guaranteed success in whatever you do.”
(Photos courtesy of Guape Tom and Tony Joe Gardner)
...there is an honesty about it [music] and that we mean it. I certainly am the type of performer where I have to give my all."
Alan Nimmo, King King
FLW - From the Tapes
Alan Nimmo expresses his gratitude to Paul Jones at BBC Radio Two for the support King King has received.
“We have now done a couple of Maida Vale sessions down at the BBC. Paul Jones and, in particular, Paul Long [Live Music & Sessions Producer] have been so helpful to us over the last few years and very supportive. I always thank those lads because they have always shown us great support and we’re regularly played on Radio Two as they’re always championing the band and getting behind us. I chat personally now with Paul Jones because he is such a fan of the band and it’s great to know. It’s funny as well because I could be talking with Paul Jones from the Rhythm and Blues show and my mother is standing there jumping up and down like a school girl saying, ‘That’s Paul Jones from Manfred Mann!’ and me saying, ‘Yes, mum I know!’, but we need guys like that, and all of the other digital radio stations, because we do get amazing support from a lot of these people in terms of airplay, and that’s just great.”