Review by Paul H Birch
Slade are playing on the radio as we head down the motorway – The gods are sending me a sign; variant coronavirus cases be damned; if we’re going to survive music will sweeten the pills needed, and in the heart of the Black Country is where the doors to freedom will begin.
Opening the Robin’s doors, When Rivers Meet are already on stage singing the quizitive ‘Did I Break The Law’. The husband-and-wife duo of Aaron and Grace Bond are fair on the eye, an attractive raven-haired couple, she sashaying about in a short leaf-patterned dress and tall boots, he more metrosexual-rustic, wearing jeans, waistcoat and an electric guitar; he’s also either tapping his foot really hard or got some kind of effects pedal that’s laying down a rhythmic beat. There’s healthy applause when they finish the number and its soon apparent the audience are familiar with the band’s songs, their recent We Fly Free album having one several UK Blues Awards.
Next up is ‘My Babe Says That He Loves Me’, from an EP that we’re informed preceded the album. It’s got a hip-hooked slinky swagger, she singing playfully wild and free, he responding manly in response. Not only is the affection displayed between the pair apparent, but their mutual appreciation of each other’s abilities and the mannerly way they each announce songs of reveal the stories behind them without it feeling like they’re taking turns. There’s a fulsome musical sound effected, applying slide on occasion, as does she when playing an electric mandolin.
‘Walking On The Wire’ is next, followed by first album single ‘Battleground’. Some earthy rhythms rustle warmly, Grace Bond eliciting some impressive vocal nuances. Aaron armed with cigar box styled guitar leads us into ‘We Fly Free’ and for final number, ‘Innocence of Youth’, the audience has its collective arms raised clapping along.
The overall musical impression of this set is akin to Blackfoot Sue with modern sex appeal. They’re headlining their own tour in the new year, where an added rhythm section should offer an added groove to their overall sound.
It’s a good start, and to be truthful, I’m really wondering about the kind of reception fellow multiple UK Blues Awards winners and tonight’s headliner act King King is going to get.
I’ve had the genuine pleasure of watching this band grow, sang their praises to many who’ve since attended their shows since; grown concerned when health issues have delayed tours, and listened as rockier albums got radio airplay and watched as their heartland blues rock stance took priority live. More so, grew much concerned as they shelled band members, leaving front man/guitarist Alan Nimmo with practically a complete, new line-up, and despite being a lover of blue-eyed soul, their most recent album Maverick, may have received favourable reviews aplenty personally left me a little unsure.
When King King has played the Robin previously, it has always been packed and you can barely move. Tonight, there’s enough space to stretch your legs. For all intents and purposes still pretty much a full house, and its more likely coronavirus concerns have kept a few faces away than my own musical concerns, and the Robin has both bars open so they’re obviously happy.
As AC/DC plays over the PA, the newly constituted King King take their place on stage: Andrew Scott on drums conspicuous by his relative youth compared to the others, keyboard player Jonny Dyke who’s been with them for two studio albums now, plus new bass player Zander Greenshields and Nimmo’s older brother, Stevie on guitar. As we’ll find out, the latter three will also add backing and harmony vocals through the night.
Taking the stage last, Alan Nimmo receives a fond and powerful roar of approval and they’re off into opening number ‘She Don’t Gimme No Lovin’. There’s a choppy sound affected by the two guitars stomping out this number, and when the Nimmos along with Greenshields each hit stage front legs astride singing into their own mics it’s all rather euphoric, recalling classic Quo, if we ignore the kilts… Overall though, the massed vocals take the song from the comparisons to Thunder that folk made when it was first released as a single, here it becomes more FM like.
New album track ‘Fire In My Soul’ comes next. It is now we begin to notice how Stevie Nimmo’s guitar outlines the songs, allowing brother Alan to concentrate on lead vocals (adding expressive hand gestures along the way) burst forth on the solos, and the overall burden of his previous roles lessened. Live this makes sense. It’s also noticeable, from here on, that Scott likes his drum rolls, and as the evening draws on will attracting some considerable attention. The song itself is soulful, there are some tight time changes and ends in an upbeat manner.
‘One World’ rides in on an epic groove, Dyke’s keyboards dancing infectiously, vocal harmonies to the fore on the choruses, plenty of stage movement in between. The song feels lived in, much better than the Maverick studio version. If you heard this back in the mid-eighties you might think it either Go West or a Paul Young hit; a crying shame, then, that records don’t sell like they did back then.
New tracks shared, they dip into their back catalogue and deliver us some highlights from Reaching For The Light album. First up, ‘Waking Up’ is introduced by way of a hard bopping bass line, guitar solos arrive and are peeled off tenderly, and there’s much audience vocal participation come the choruses. Dyke’s keyboards adorn ‘Rush Hour’, imbuing them with a certain spirituality in the manner Rabbit Bunderick’s applied to Free’s similarly emotional Heartbreaker album, the song itself imbued with the madness we each have to face dealing with this modern world. Once more, live the massed vocals work, added depth, and allowing Alan Nimmo more room to emote and phrase the songs’ lyrics, again the audience join in with the extended “Whoah-whoa” interchange between band and fans. The front man’s beaming smile as the song concludes, says it all.
Digging deeper into the past comes ‘Coming Home (Rest Your Eyes)’. Tonight’s rendition is Philadelphia soul meets country rock with a gently rolling blues beat, and it works. From the same, Standing In The Shadows album comes the epic ‘A Long History Of Love’ – From the start Nimmo’s voice resonates with warmth, raging with a determined passion as it progresses, while the music cradles the listener and swings its blues lament in gentle metronomic presence.
Between audience singalongs, and general song introductions, Alan is also being drawn into conversations with a lady down the front, Donna, if we recall her name clearly; she’s calling for numbers and telling him she loves him, we get the impression she’s big fan and familiar to the band, so he jokes back at her, but the look of puzzlement on his face gives the impression he’s wondering how the hell the band’s going to get onto the next number. For those “King King virgins” who’ve never seen the band lively previously, he explains how they used to dedicate ‘You Stopped The Rain’ to his brother, but now he’s on stage with them “he can just sing along himself!” It’s somewhat prettier in overall sound, still stirred through with emotion, albeit different as the man who it was dedicated to when facing a serious ailment is now thankfully there up on stage.
The hard hitting ‘Never Give In’ is more akin to an arena rocking Bad Company taking a Southern rock bent tonight; going so far as the Nimmo Brothers playing a solo in unison.
We’re told the next song was written in reflective mood, climate change, covid and political unrest all pitching in to form ‘Whatever It Takes Survive’ – Live it’s another where the group harmonies echo those of the mid-eighties, this time The Christians. That stated, it’s possibly the weakest of the numbers heard tonight, and there’s a noticeable swop between up tempo and slow number ensuing. ‘I Will Not Fall’ makes up for this, it pumps and thrusts rhythmically, Dyke’s keyboards swirling and imbibing the piece with varying melodies, a couple of piercing guitar solos bursting forth, as the audience dance in the space available to them. It proves the main event’s last number and its only now I realise how few punters have spent the evening staring into their mobile phones making bad recordings they can show others, instead they can now tell them they had a great time and be honest about it.
They return for an encore, but there’s only the Nimmo brothers and Dyke; the later paying electric piano, Alan Nimmo lead vocals, and Stevie backing on ‘When My Winter Comes’. With guitar changes and the return of the rhythm section we get a stirring ‘Stranger To Love’ followed by show closer ‘Let Love In’ – Once the funkiest number the band performed, far less so now, begging the question all bands suffer concerning what numbers to start thinking about dropping – Still, it remain s a celebratory goodtime tune, with band introductions, thanks to roadcrew and audience alike, much dancing and, ahem, posing, about the stage, many a flashy drum rolls, and some big smiles before they wave goodbye.
So, while I miss the familiarity of past band members, my prejudices aside, live certainly the addition of Stevie Nimmo prevents his brother Alan being completely burnt out at the end of a show and instead deliver premium talent; the four-man strong vocals are a force to be reckoned with, and that young man behind the drum stool is unlikely to let this band rest on its laurels. Fully worked in by the end of this tour, they’ll back round the UK in early 2022 – Be there or regret it.
King King Set List:
- She Don’t Gimme No Lovin
- Fire In My Soul
- One World
- Waking Up
- Rush Hour
- Coming Home
- A Long History Of Love
- You Stopped The Rain
- Never Give In
- Whatever It Takes
- I Will Not Fall
- When My Winter Comes
- Stranger To Love
- Let Love In
When Rivers Meet website: www.whenriversmeet.co.uk
King King Website: www.kingking.co.uk