King King + Sari Schorr
Thursday 7th February 2019
Now Koko is a pretty legendary venue here in London, but for some reason I don’t find myself here too often (checks his gig diary), blimey, in fact it was 2011 when I was last here - for the very memorable Kenny Wayne Shepherd. I’ve seen both Sari & King King play various cupboards around the town, so it’s great to see them together in this cavernous place. Koko has been around for a staggering 119 years now and during that time it’s had SEVEN different names and played host to The Goon Show, The Clash, The Stones, The Faces, a secret Prince show and even Madonna’s first UK gig. Legend has it that AC/DC’s Bon Scott was drinking here before sadly staggering off to pop his clogs in the back of a cold car in 1980.
One of the things I love about Koko is you can go where you like to any of the four floors each of which has a bar of it’s own, unlike similar London gaffs The Forum or The Empire, where if you try that trick you’ll be arrested by the house gestapo. Tonight however the upstairs bits are all closed off (except for VIP's it seems) and it’s downstairs only. Never mind, that’s where I like to be anyway and I’ve come bright and early to get a spot right down the front. The fabulous Sari Schorr swoops onto the stage like a leather clad Valkyrie to a huge cheer, obviously these punters know exactly who she is and what to expect. Before she kicks off she gives a shout out to King King for what they’ve done to support Blues Rock not only here but around the world. Too bloody right, cheers King King.
New Yorker Sari’s all-English band have quite a few connections to the upcoming headliners. Bass player Mat Beable was of course in The Nimmo Brothers with King King’s front man Alan Nimmo and keys man Bob Fridezma was in the band for three years, although Bob's absent tonight and has been replaced by the equally brilliant Stevie Watts, last seen on Danny Bryant's parish. The set kicks off with 'The New Revolution' from Sari’s rather wonderful 'Never Say Never' album from last year. Wow, everything sounds nice and fat on the Koko PA, the kick drum thumps you in the chest and the mix is great. Koko hosts a lot of dance music these days and those punters quite like a bit of bass in their face. The song and Sari’s voice reminds me a lot of Melissa Etheridge, not only is there grit and passion in every word but you get the feeling that Sari has lived and breathed every moment.
Next up is 'Damn The Reason' from her first album, one of those songs with that classic Blues subject - some useless bloke being a dick. We’re not all like that, honest! This one gives guitarist Ash Wilson the opportunity to step into the spotlight for a solo. He’s a well respected Blues man in his own right so you know it’s gonna be hot - and it is. Ash’s younger brother Phil is also a Blues man - he’s usually to be seen bashing the skins for Laurence Jones. Wilson is one of the few guitarists you see who’s always got the same guitar - normally they’re chopping about every couple of songs. Well, they have to justify having all those guitars to their wives somehow. And his guitar is a beauty - a Duesenburg Starplayer in the classic white. My mate Tim who was at the gig told me a great fact - Duesenburg originally made cars in the early part of last century and were so opulent that the word “doozy” came to mean anything that was the best of it’s kind. Thanks Tim. Ash and his doozy, what a team.
'Ready For Love' is announced by Sari as a Mott The Hoople song, I must admit that’s news to me, I thought it was a Bad Company song. I hang my Rock knowledge hat in shame. Anyway, Sari’s version is fantastic, channeling both Paul Rodgers and Ian Hunter. Sari has an interesting habit of seeming to act out every lyric with her hands, grabbing some unseen energy from the air and holding to her heart in the love songs, and flinging the bad energy out in the ones about bastard men. Next up is 'King Of Rock & Roll' which Sari announces is not about Elvis, but Robert Johnson who she reckons is the original King of Rock & Roll. Agreement from the audience there. The opening lyric - “Lord knows I gotta get to Memphis before I die” could have you thinking it was about Elvis, who did indeed do exactly that. But of course Memphis is also the site of the fabled crossroads where Johnson sold his soul to the devil. There’s even a tourist attraction there claiming to be the exact spot. Then again there’s also one in Clarkesdale. Nevertheless, Elvis is still here in Sari, she gyrates around on the spot in an extremely slinky way that would been illegal to show on American TV from the waist down in a different age.
Now talking of Elvis, here’s a story I must tell you. The man who took the excellent photos that accompany this review, Mr. Bruce Biege, was in another life a sound and lighting guy in the States and one of the gigs he did was indeed Mr. Elvis Presley back in something like ‘72. As Elvis was going on Bruce said “good luck” and Elvis said nothing but winked at him. “ELVIS WINKED AT ME”. Isn’t that the best four words you’ve ever heard? If you’ve got THAT as a story you actually don’t need any other stories. You can just have that chiselled on your gravestone and die with a smile on your face. Anyway, back to the song. It’s another corker and another showcase for Sari’s ability to wring every microgram of emotion out of every word. We get another scorching solo from Ash and Doozy (they’re a double act now) and some lovely soulful organ stabs from Stevie.
I notice Sari’s drummer Roy Martin looks a bit like Stuart Copeland and is doing a rather fantastic job. What’s his background I wonder and look him up. Crikey, he’s been around, he’s worked with EVERYONE! Aretha! Bono! Jimmy Barnes! Paul Young! PJ & Duncan! Oh yes, PJ & Duncan. Bizarrely, I’m currently editing a documentary about Ant McPartlin and have been looking at PJ & Duncan all week never realising that Sari Schorr’s drummer was on those records. Small world. Sari introduces the title track from the new album 'Never Say Never' as being written by Ian McLagan. It’s about loss, triumph and believing in yourselves says Sari. Well, I guess Ian would have played in this very room when he was with the Faces so he’ll be looking down smiling. On this one she slows it down and I notice her skill at doing that fantastic Chrissie Hynde style vibrato which adds yet another element of fabulousness to her act. Sari trained as an opera singer originally and it shows - her range and technique are incredible. Ash & doozy are sounding great on this one too, channeling SRV’s song-to-his-then-girlfriend Lenny.
Sari says they decided to add this next one as Planet Rock gave it a spin - her friend took a photo of his car radio when they were playing it as evidence! But what’s this? Ash has put down the doozy and picked up a Les Paul! Sod you Wilson, I’m not re-writing that bit. The song is 'Maybe I’m Fooling' and of course it’s great, the whole set is brimming with excellent material played with world class skill. The new double act Ash & Les get to shine on the solo, and the wah-wah pedal even gets a brief workout. Perfect. Sari announces it’s the last song and intros the band - well done chaps - and gives a shout out to the promoters Gig Cartel for putting the tour together. The song is 'Valetina', another of the highlights from the 'Never Say Never' album. Not that there’s any lowlights, the album is all killer no filler - as has been this set. There’s a line in the song “Welcome the latest great pretender to the stage” Well, Sari’s no pretender, she’s the real deal and leaves the stage tonight with some happy new fans.
AC/DC’s 'Highway To Hell' is blasting out of the PA to announce the arrival of the main act - I wonder if they know the Bon Scott story - here he is magically resurrected in the same venue nearly 40 years later. Spooky. King King stride onto the stage to a huge cheer from the faithful. It’s at this point I notice that the Koko stage floor is quite shiny and Glaswegian Alan is wearing his trademark kilt. You can see where I’m going here. I’m hoping the floor’s not TOO shiny, there are some things once seen cannot be unseen. “Hello London, thanks for coming” is all he says and it’s on with the show.
We kick off with 'Broken' from 2017’s 'Exile & Grace' album which bemoans the state of the world. Well sadly, as we all know, it’s only got worse in the past two years but it’s a thoughtful and hopeful song and a great opener. Suddenly we’re back to where it all began with 'Lose Control' which announced King King to the wider world on their first album back in 2011 - they’d been plugging away for three years before that. It’s sounding superb on the big Koko PA, solid as a battleship and just as heavy. It’s Blues-Rock in the classic Rolling Stones style, in fact the song does sound a bit like 'Satisfaction' if you shut your eyes. Alan steps forward for a solo and the photographers in the pit crowd around him like ants around a piece of dropped meat.
"We’re celebrating our tenth anniversary", says Alan and announces 'Rush Hour' from what is arguably their breakthrough album 'Reaching For The Light' from 2015. The believers sing along with the power ballad unbidden from the top. Other bands have to make an effort to get the punters to sing along, not King King fans, they just do it. I remember Robbie Williams at Live 8 trying to get people to sing along and looking miffed that they weren’t doing it. Mate, we’re not here to see YOU we’re here to see FLOYD!!! We’re gonna stay here with our arms folded and NOT sing along to bloody 'ANGELS'. Not if you paid us. Alan realises there’s some old fans here tonight and welcomes them. “To the newcomers - welcome to hell!” With that we get 'Heed The Warning' another appeal for the world to get it’s shit together before it’s too late. Some thoughtful stuff going on here.
In some ways you have to wonder just why King King have been so successful, after all there’s plenty of other British Blues Rockers who’ve been knocking their heads against the coal face for years and haven’t got any further than maybe the 100 Club. Of course the songs and the playing are solid - but I reckon it’s actually a great deal to do with Alan Nimmo’s charm and humour, his goofy grin just wins you over. He’s like a big labrador doggie in a kilt, you just can’t help but love him. Alan dedicates the next song to fellow Glasgow boy Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Rory Gallagher drummer Ted McKenna who we lost last year. The song is 'Coming Home' and it’s beautiful. At the end Alan kisses the sky in tribute. We love him that little bit more now.
'Stranger To Love' is up next. Oh great, this is one of the highlights of King King’s Live album from a couple of years ago. The song was made even more fantastic, says Alan, when we played it at Wembley Arena and Joey Tempest (singer from Europe that KK were opening for) wandered on and sang it with us. “That’s when I shat myself”. When the solo comes everyone is on tenterhooks. Alan does the globally understood palms-down-patting-the-air signal which in all languages means STFU. We do and let him do his thing, because THIS is when Alan Nimmo is at his absolute best, when he slows it down to a crawl and wrenches every drop of blood from that Les Paul. He pats his chest to thank us from the heart and lets rip with a proper meaty Gary Moore-esque solo. It’s at this point in the song, drummer Wayne Proctor springs into life and shows his immense skill off - he’s all over that kit with the passion of a man who hasn’t see his wife for a month. IMHO he’s one of this country’s greatest drummers. Wayne, I’ll have my tenner now.
The Les Paul is swapped for the Strat and 'Waking Up' is served up, another slice of Blues with a spoonful of Soul. The solo comes and it’s one of those that can ONLY work on a Strat, like 'Comfortably Numb'. 'Crazy' is next and this one gives keyboard player Jonny Dyke the opportunity to do his funky Stevie Wonder impersonation on the clavinet preset - it’s all too brief though and he’s back to Hammond duties. Alan says he wrote the next one about his big brother when he was battling a “little bit” of cancer. He asks if anyone’s on FaceBook Live could they turn it on now cause I’m dedicating this one to my mother. Tracy in front of me obliges and 'You Stopped The Rain' duly goes out live. Alan gets up to sing along with the riff and we oblige. I watch the comments scroll down on Tracy’s phone from her friends - "fantastic song!” says one. Yes, Tracy’s mate Jon, you’re right. I hope Alan’s mum is enjoying it too.
After that, a bloke from the audience shouts out “I love you Alan!” and of course Alan in time honoured fashion says “I love you too” but then adds “…in the words of Kevin Bridges, "enjoy your night fella.” Nothing like being taken down a peg by a Scotsman. He says the next one is the last song and goes out to all the fathers of daughters - and it’s 'Find Your Way Home'. Is there anyone this man doesn’t love? His brother, his mother, his daughter, the world? You just want to go and give him a hug. What you don’t get on the album version of that song is the searing Gilmour-like solo that we in Koko are treated too. Wow. King King leave the stage but this crowd ain’t finding THEIR way home just yet, and neither are the band. They’re soon called back, and for the encore, says Alan, we’re gonna take you back to the first album, to the title track 'Take My Hand'. The song features the sadly hitherto underused wah-wah pedal but it’s missing the album version’s brass section and lady backup singers, but no matter, it’s a Funky storm and we’re happy. Time for some sadness now. Alan says “Some of you know this, some of you may not know this, some of you may not give a fuck. This is the last tour with Lindsay Coulson, this one’s for you pal.”
Yes, founding member and bass player Lindsay Coulson, who goes all the back to the Nimmo Brothers, is leaving the band at the end of this tour. King King have their sights on the USA you see and Lindsay feels he can’t commit to the time away that would involve. The song is of course King King’s sublime cover of Clapton’s 'Old Love' - always the highlight of any of their gigs. I saw King King do it at the Half Moon (the back room of a pub) back in 2014 and there’s a point in the solo where Alan is playing SO quietly that nobody dare breathe. Then he takes it one step further and turns the guitar’s volume to zero so all you can hear are the naked strings. Surely he’s not gonna do THAT here in the enormous Koko? Wrong. He’s got the place so entranced that he does that very thing here amongst much shushing from the punters at the back. Then he takes it back to the climax and the absolutely searing solo that Clapton never did. It takes a brave man to cover Eric in the first place but to go and make it BETTER is extraordinary. Sometimes covers are like that. I was at a gig the other day and the band announced they were doing a Hendrix song, and proceeded to play 'All Along The Watchtower'. The Hendrix version is so great that it completely supplants the original in the minds of the public. In fact, these days when Dylan does 'All Along The Watchtower' live he actually does the Hendrix version! Maybe in some distant future some spotty kid will announce that he’s doing a King King song and then do 'Old Love' - oblivious to it’s actual origins. And it might well be great, but it won’t hold a candle to Alan Nimmo at Koko on the 7th of February 2019.
Pete Elphick (photos courtesy of Bruce Biege)