Soundcheck | Feature | August 1984 | Photo: Bleddyn Butcher
Breakfast with royalty. It's quite an honour. Well, not exactly royalty, but my eating partner is the frontman of King, Coventry's sky blue-eyed boys. Their name has been bandied about for many moons – King's look, their manager, sometimes even their music, has attracted a hefty chunk of attention. Yet despite the fact they've been signed to CBS Records for almost exactly a year, they've only just released their second single, "Soul On My Boots".
Why all the fuss? Between mouthfuls of bacon and eggs, Paul King spills the beans.
"Basically, it's a group that has feel, ability, skill, dedication and style."
Hmmm. So that's it.
But the correct proportions of those qualities didn't settle overnight for Paul and his companions – Mike Roberts, Tony Wall and Jim Jackal. And news often travels too fast.
"We played our first London date supporting Wah! 18 months ago and we had all the major record companies there to see us," recalls Paul. "We had some offers from that, but nothing really worthwhile. In all honestly, we had our ideas, but we didn't actually have the goodies. So we went on the road for three or four months, playing small clubs, toilets and dives. In that time, we found our direction and our sound."
With a nod to Coventry's 2-Tone movement, their music has been dubbed multi-tone. Or as Paul calls it, "the hybrid". It involves taking a few tablespoons of funk, half a pound of rock, a pinch of reggae and a pint of soul, stirring well, and serving with a pop garnish. Like most recipes, it sounds a complete bloody mess on paper, but in practice the effect is very refreshing.
Holding little or no regard for musical barriers is a common claim. So it's nice to find someone whose actions seem to match their words.
"At the moment, there is no movement a band can sell itself off of," says Paul. "We've had rock 'n' roll, mod, punk... It's all been done before. So to be original, you've got to take elements from a wide range of different musical fields. In the Seventies, Roxy Music took things they were into in the Sixties and created a hybrid. We're trying to do that with the Eighties."
Borrowing from the past and reshaping into relevance to the present is the King way. Although the times they are a-changin', the long hair sported by three members of the band is most obviously associated with the early 1970s. Those multi-coloured Doc Martens boots are similarly not new. For Paul King, they are legacies of his early teens. He remembers Chelsea football fans coming to Coventry wearing sprayed DM boots.
Dr Martens are delighted at King's choice of footwear and have produced a one-off batch of brightly coloured specials to celebrate. And with the company at last realising that DMs are not just for working in – or fighting in – a new line of grey leisure boots is planned for later this year. Be the first on your street with a pair.
"DMs are a practical boot anyway," says Paul. "We all had pairs and there we were, walking around post 2-Tone Coventry, looking to brighten the place up. There are thousands of kids out there with DMs and all we're saying is paint them! They've been a fashion boot for a long time, but often for the wrong reasons. King want to make them stylish and entertaining."
Fashion circles are ever moving, but someone, somewhere, has to help turn the wheel. One man who has been doing that for several years is King's manager Perry Haines, sometime magazine journalist, TV presenter and performing artist in his own right. His input is vital – Paul describes him as "a fifth member more than a manager" – and his involvement had much to do with the initial interest in the band.
"Now our own personality is evolving in the press and in the eyes of the general public," claims Paul. "We've moved beyond being 'Perry’s project'."
Yet a hint of cynicism has already begun to creep in. Paul King has been accused of having a string of rehearsed statements up his sleeve that he produces at will. It's not hard to see how someone might think that. Transcribing an interview always involves slight corrections of grammar and the striking out of endless umms and ahhs. But with Paul, this task is rendered almost completely unecessary.
But is it that his words are contrived? Or could it be that he has the enviable ability to communicate with confidence and competence? If so, in a sense, Paul King personifies the band he fronts.
This summer, it's "Choose Wham", "Choose Life" and "Frankie Says The Complete English Dictionary". Next summer, might I suggest – in big, black, bold letters – "King". Nothing more, nothing less.