The King Blues

By paul

Hello! Which member of The King Blues are you and what do you do in the band?
I’m Jonny Fox though most folk call me Itch, I sing and play the ukulele.

I understand you’re currently in the studio working on new tracks. Is this for a brand new album? Do you have any songs confirmed/release details?
Yeah we’re currently in the studio between tours with Clive Langer (Madness, Elvis Costello, Bowie) producing our next album. We’ve very excited to be hearing the songs back and I think this record will really prove to people what we’re capable of. Some of the songs we’re already playing live such as ‘The Streets Are Ours’ and ‘Save The World, Get The Girl’ but we’re experimenting in the studio with a lot of different instrumentation and stuff. Hopefully it’ll be out around September, but we’ll have to wait and see. Lyrically I’ve taken it up a massive step and I’m really proud of every line on the album, I went through them all so anally making sure I said what I had to say in the way I wanted to say it. Politically it’s much harder biting but there’s also some personal tunes on there and I’ve tried to keep things interesting. It’s definitely my proudest work yet. Musically we’ve tried new things and we’ve become a much tighter band and better players since we recorded the last record. We’re only halfway through it but already I know it’s gonna be killer.

Just to set a little bit of history for those unfamiliar with the band, how did The King Blues start? At the beginning what influenced you?

The King Blues started about 4 years ago, it was me and a bloke called Charlie, he then went on to play in London hardcore acts such as Bun Dem Out, TRC and 17 Stitches, that’s when I got Jamie in. We started gigging pretty hard anywhere that would have us but we wanted to play in the punk scene cos that’s where we grew up but without a demo it was tough cos there wasn’t realy such a thing as ‘acoustic punk’ then, acoustic just conjurred up images of James Blunt and the like. So we had to start opening up our own squats, kicking in the doors of abandoned buildings, changing the locks, hooking up the electrics and wheeling in a PA. Once people came down to party and saw we werent your typical shoe gazing acoustic band it very quickly became very easy to get gigs. One night we played at The Purple Turtle with Mouthwash and HHN were there, they said they were interested in working with us, we had a few chats with them and decided they were right for us. We released ‘Under The fog’ on that label and toured and toured and toured some more. By this point we had become a 4 piece. Eventually we moved up to becoming a 6 piece and after a large industry buzz we met with many labels and felt we needed to move on in order to move up. Field Recordings seemed the most suited to us as they got our politics and message and weren’t interested in watering it down. Early influences included The Rub, who we met during the peace movement’s hey day and shared many sound systems and stages with. Also Chris Murray, both acts were 1 man acoustic reggae bands and I just thought ‘I wanna do that’. Another crucial inflence was Tony Blair deciding to lead our country, against the will of the people, into war. I’ve always been of the mindset that one person CAN make a difference and I decided I had to vent my frutrations and creative ideas of resistance.

You released early material on Household Name – how did that partnership come about?
They saw us play at The Purple Turtle and from what I recall they were blown away. A few excited phonecalls later and we were sat in a pub in Camden shaking hands over the making of a record. I’ve known the guys over there for years after sneaking into too many of their gigs and just from around the London scene. Because we had come from the Hackney squat scene and they were more based in the, I guess you could call it, more commercial end of the punk scene, there were certainly people whispering ‘sell out’ when we signed with them. We laughed it off of course and the time we spent with them was really great and we learned a lot. We were the only band they had worked with in many years that were based in London so we had a very close and personal relationship with them, we played their daughter’s first birthday party for instance. Our meetings with them often involved going to a pub garden with an acoustic guitar and playing them songs, it was really cool. It was obviously a very hard decision we had to make about moving on, but we had seen the ‘glass ceiling’ that other bands had not been able to break through and we didn’t want that for us. We were always looking at the bigger picture and we’d taken it as far as we could with them. I’ll always be grateful for that chapter in my life.

Did the feedback you got at this point surprise you at all? HHN has a history of working with bands that have become seminal in UK punk circles,
did you ever think you would be mentioned in the same breath as bands like Capdown etc
The feedback was completely shocking, I’m being totally honest when I say I REALLY didn’t think people would ‘get’ us. I mean, as I mentioned earlier, there really was no ‘acoustic punk’ scene at the time, and we were playing reggae, there isn’t one punk tune on that album, it was all acoustic, working class protest music. The reviews we got were amazing and the reaction we started to get live was mind blowing. The punk scene we came out of though was very separate to the one championed by Capdown et al. We were very much rooted in the Hackney squat scene and were playing with bands such as The Restarts, Bottlejob, Rabies Babies and Short Bus Window Lickers. We never saw ourselves as part of the HHN ‘scene’ as such. Later on though we did start to play with all those types of bands and it was nice having a leg in both punk scenes, I think people started to perhaps associate us more with the other HHN and Deck Cheese bands after the Ruff and Ready tour with Sonic Boom 6. On that tour we were playing to crowds that were much younger than we were used to, a lot of those young kids come and see us now and there’s still the dog on a rope punks too, right next to the hip hop and reggae kids. It’s great to be able to have crossed over to so many different people like that.

At which point did you start attracting the attention of the major labels?
Well after a lot of airplay on Radio 1, we were checked out by quite a few people, but at In The City (a music industry get together in Manchester) there was a panel of industry heads who each brought down a track to play and to speak a little about the band they were showcasing. Some promoters from London called Turning Worm brought Mr Music Man along and described us to the panel as the most important band in Britain because of our politics and willingness to play anywhere, anytime. The whole panel just went nuts for it and my phone started buzzing like crazy. I was sitting in the job centre waiting for my turn to sign on and I was getting calls from all of these labels and managers and lawyers and stuff. We met with a lot of labels but we really felt comfortable with Field, it’s a label run by 3 people including Rollo from Faithless who had just released their single ‘Weapons Of Mass Destruction’. We all loved that tune and they just seemed right for us so we bit the bullet and decided to go with them.

At face value The King Blues don’t seem like a band that would go down the major label route. When that happened, were you surprised at the commotion it generated? Were you concerned that, as has happened with bands such as Anti Flag, people perhaps wouldn’t take your message as seriously by working with a major?
I don’t see why a band like The King Blues wouldn’t go down a major label route, from the word go when 2 people were turning up to our gigs, we always said we wanted to be the biggest band in the world and to change the world, we weren’t afraid to say it then and we’re not afraid to say it now. I don’t care if my music is seen as cool and I’m not interested in preaching to the converted, I want it to make major social change. We’re a war generation with songwriters totally ignoring that fact, we’re having our civil rights eroded away and sometimes there are just bigger issues than whether a punk band signs to a major or not, I’ve got big, big plans and I’m not scared to stick my neck out, get my hands dirty and make change happen. To be honest, I really haven’t noticed the ‘commotion’, everyone’s just been like ‘congratulations’. People are proud of us, no one’s called me a sell out to my face, if they think that I hope they have the balls to say it. I’m certain people will take our message seriously, just come to our gigs and you’ll see it in action, the good will out, I truly believe that and have faith in people or I wouldn’t be doing this. I’m an activist first and a musician second, or a Christian first, an activist second and a musician third. Either way, I will not be a cog in a machine that thrives on human misery, I’ll be a fucking spanner in the works. Some people just aren’t ‘cool’ enough to know about underground punk bands that play to 100 people a night, they need the mainstream, no one got into music because of an underground band, it’s always the bigger ones. I think that Marving Gaye changed more with ‘What’s Going On’ then Crass did with ‘Feeding Of The 5000’. Not to say anything against underground bands, there’s definitely a place for it, but it’s not how I want to be remembered, I don’t want this band to be pearly white and innocent, I want it to actually make a difference.

Are music fans naive when it comes to the difference between indie and major labels? With the internet as it is is there actually such a huge
difference nowadays between indies and majors? How much of a difference has working with a larger label made to band life?
Completely and utterly, nowadays the lines between small label= good, big label= bad have been utterly blurred. The music industry’s been turned on it’s head and it’s a whole new game now. No one knows what will or won’t work, it’s just a case of making educated guesses and following your heart and hoping it works. Major labels are on their knees because they refuse to take any risks, they only want success stories, so people are seeking out more music underground, bands that sell maybe 3-5,000 records, which are too small for the majors to deal with. The underground has become stronger where as the majors really are crumbling away. Who will win in the end is anyone’s guess. Working with a major hasn’t made a vast amount of difference to the way we get things done, we’re still very hands on and we like to get those hands dirty. A lot of bands think that when you sign to a major it’s all easy sailing but we still work passionately in order to push things forward.

How do you feel about the fact that a lot of fans feel you could have helped out HHN a lot more by releasing a new record on the new label, instead of re-releasing Under The Fog?
‘Under The Fog’ is an utterly relevant album as far as I’m concerned, it’s a small step in the right direction for kids to hear it. If we turn them on to the ‘movement of movements’ that we are a part of then job done. I want to organise a generation into mass resistance, it’s far more important to me than anything else. Music is the messenger.
I think that as a band we definitely did help out HHN through a rocky period but I have much bigger fish to fry. It would be silly to say that that album didn’t help out the label, but we took it as far as we could with them and we made sure they got paid. We’ve all seen hundreds of bands who are great break up because they simply aren’t progressing. You don’t make records hoping noone will hear them.

How far will you go with a major to spread your message? Gallows, for instance, have attracted criticism for having sponsorship deals with the likes of Nike and going down a corporate route. Is this something you would be willing to do if it meant a wider audience would listen?
Galows have their own agenda and for the record I think they’re one of the greatest bands this country has seen in years, but we would never have a Nike sponsorship, no.

Why do a large amount of your promo photos only contain three of the band?
The King Blues is a collective of musicians playing rebel music, there are no set amount of members, we’re anything between 1 and 8 people on stage. Everyone else was working the day we did those promo shots so it’s just the 3 of us.

Which bands do you see as your contempories? Which bands are your tips for the top? How healthy do you think the UK punk scene is right now?
That’s a tough one, I think we’re pretty much out on our own at the moment, I’m not sure who our contemporaries are because we kind of have our feet in a lot of scenes. If all was right with the world you’d turn on the radio and hear Sonic Boom 6, The Rub, Babar Luck, Chris Murray, Moral Dilemma, TTTW, Mike Park, The Grit, PJ and Gaby and many more. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not convinced there will be any bands from our scene that really get to ‘the top’ over the next year. I do think Gallows will smack it in America though.
The scene is pretty healthy, it’s not the healthiest it’s ever been but there are a lot of gigs happening, good bands and fanzines and stuff. I’m glad that we’ve got our own sound now and we’re not trying to copy off the Americans anymore, the UK’s really come into it’s own and I’m excited to watch and be a part of it developing. I love how the industry has no clue about this thriving scene, we’ve been able to come into our own with no pressure.

What career goals have you set for the band and have you achieved them?
1 goal. To change the world. We are the change we want to see but we haven’t done it yet. There are moments in this world where we see that another world is possible and we are allowed to exist within them. We’re here to build as many of those moments as possible until they break through into real social change.

What happened to the projector?
We used a projector for about 4 or 5 gigs, then decided that it took away from the show. I’d perhaps be interested in using it again at some time in the future but it’s not top of my priorities list.

Finally, one reader submitted question if you
love Brian Haw so much, why don’t you marry him?
Though I admire Brian Haw’s one man protest outside Parliament, he’s a bit ugly ain’t he?

Try these three interviews

Interview: Greywind [Reading 2016]

Interview: Arcane Roots [Reading 2016]

Interview: Trash Boat [Reading 2016]