Gig Review: Level 42 @ Love Supreme Festival, 30th June 2018

Mark King tearing it up

What’s it like seeing ‘your’ band play at a big festival, when only a small proportion of the crowd are fans and most would rather have a chin-wag and quaff cider than listen to the music? Will your band win them over, or at least give a good account of themselves?

It was an interesting experience watching Level 42 under those circumstances last weekend. The Love Supreme Festival was celebrating its fifth birthday, no mean feat for an outdoor ‘jazz’ festival, thriving in a niche marketplace by focusing on the improvising musicians of tomorrow, established genre names and crossover artists whose presence no doubt raises some eyebrows (the other main-stage headliners this year were Earth Wind & Fire, George Clinton and Elvis Costello).

A big festival gig should, on the face of it, be a doddle for a band with as many hits and as much musical credibility as Mark King and his muckers – you knock off a lean, mean hour and get the crowd saying: ‘I’d forgotten about this one!’. But they did it the hard way this time, kicking off with nobody’s favourite Level 42 song ‘Heaven In My Hands’ then segueing speedily into ‘Dream Crazy’, ‘To Be With You Again’ and ‘It’s Over’.

A superb ‘Children Say’, complete with a reference to Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’, got things back on track musically but also seemed lost on the crowd. King was unsettled. Had he blown it? No. He soldiered on, making some cracks about the World Cup and the Alan Shearer lookalike on trumpet, before ‘Running In The Family’ prompted an outbreak of interpretative dancing from the Brighton teenagers.

Secret weapon Mike Lindup sounded in superb voice during ‘Lessons In Love’, ‘Something About You’ and ‘Hot Water’, but, predictably, it was the classic jazz/funk/fusion-era material that gained most traction: ‘Starchild’, ‘Love Games’ and a never-groovier ‘Sun Goes Down (Living It Up)’. Suddenly the crowd and gig came to life. There could have been much more in that vein. Where was ‘Almost There’, ‘Micro Kid’, ‘Turn It On’, ‘The Chinese Way’, even ’43’, ‘Mr Pink’ or ‘Heathrow’?

But when the material was right, the band sounded superb. King’s voice may be past its best but his bass skills have reached new heights. The slapping sometimes lacked precision but his fingerstyle playing goes from strength to strength. He embellished ‘Children Say’, ‘Starchild’ and ‘Sun Goes Down’ with some outstanding modal moves. There’s life in the Isle Of Wight lad yet.

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4 thoughts on “Gig Review: Level 42 @ Love Supreme Festival, 30th June 2018

  1. Being a Level 42 fan is what brought me to you site a few years ago now. But I liked what I read, have learnt a lot and discovered some artists that for whatever reason had passed me by. I read your stuff every week, its always entertaining, usually insightful and informative. I dont comment much but Level 42 at a festival…..I have alway fought shy of seeing the band at music fests for the very reasons you outline, other people not interested, only playing the hits, etc (or the KOH knackered old hits! as I once heard Mark King refer to them). So its interesting to hear your take on it. Sound like it might be a better day out than I might think. Many thanks!

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    • Hey, thanks for that, David. Very gratified that you’re enjoying the site. It was certainly interesting seeing them at a festival gig with Mark and Mike out of their comfort zone. I’d say the choice of material was a bit weird (and must admit I do have a few problems with the current drummer…) but they came out of it pretty well in the end. I’ve probably seen them live around 10 times over the years and this was somewhere around the middle in terms of quality (worst: Wembley Arena 1989, best: Hammersmith Odeon 1985…). Your favourite Level album/gig?

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      • Like you I saw them at Hammersmith in 85 & I agree that takes a bit of beating. I still enjoy their later gigs with the brass section. One at the Indigo O2 in Sept 15 was especially good. Interesting comments on the drummer Pete Biggin. I think he’s pretty good.(no Phil Gould but who is?) What are your reservations about him? Best album?. Well, I prefer the early stuff so I would say the first one. Damn fine jazz-funk! Not a poor track on it. Looking forward to the tour in October. Thanks again for a great site

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      • Agree, the brass section sounds great at the moment. The drummer is certainly technically superb but drastically overplays, to my ears. I guess there’s no-one else quite like Phil, and you just can’t replicate the fantastic hook-up he had with Mark. Fave albums? 1st album, Standing In The Light and World Machine, but I love ’em all between 1980 and 1987 really…

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