Northwood-born Mark King, who found world fame as the front man of Level 42, who have sold thirty million albums and enjoyed hit singles in so many countries, is still passionate about the Island. He moved back here from London many years ago to enjoy this way of life. Now he has deep concerns for our future.
“I love the Island dearly and can’t think of a better place to live and raise a family.”
“I love the Island dearly and can’t think of a better place to live and raise a family. I’m doubly lucky to have been born here in the first place. Now there are so many changes and not all for the good. We are twenty years behind the mainland in so many ways but this is not a bad thing. There is a safety and security here that you feel as soon as you step off the boat.
“However, we are on a hiding to nothing with the cost of the ferry fares. They are astronomical and this is going to have a big impact on the failing, over the next few years, of the tourist industry, which is so important to the Island. We have so many hotels and wonderful attractions for visitors and these can be expanded on but not if it costs so much money to keep coming here. It will have such an effect and we’ll feel the ramifications a few years down the line. We need the money and it has to come from somewhere. “Despite my love for the Island I now think a fixed link is a sensible alternative.”
Mark is an Island boy from a very working class family and has certainly earned all his world fame. He still fondly remembers a few local teachers who proved so influential in his school days. These include Mrs Drudge, his first music teacher at Parkhurst Primary, and later Graham Holmes and Alan Senior at Cowes High.
Musically, he was also inspired by local bands like The JAE, who comprised John Wheeler, Andy Newman and Graham Elderfield. In those days Mark was a young drummer.
“They were real musical heroes of mine after I saw them play in a Newport church hall. I then went on to play with John in Joe Bear,” said Mark.
John Wheeler still vividly remembers the day he interviewed Mark in the Union pub, in Cowes, for the job in the band, particularly, as he found out later, that he was only sixteen and not old enough to even go into the pub. Also in the Joe Bear line-up was guitarist Boon Gould, who a few years later went on to help form the original Level 42. Phil Gould, Boon’s brother and another Level 42 original, had also been in Joe Bear.
Mark played in local holiday camp bands which proved a great grounding in a wide variety of musical styles – anything from Rockin’ Robin to the Gay Gordons. Eventually he put his drum kit into an old Bedford van that he’d used on his Cowes area milk round for Don Butchers and headed for London to seek his fortune. Life was not easy and once he had to sell his drum kit to get home from a gig in Belgium.
In 1980 he formed Level 42, who initially played in the jazz funk style, with the Gould brothers, Phil and Boon, and Mike Lindup. By this time Mark was a formidable bass player with an innovative style that was almost an extension of his drumming. He also volunteered to sing the lead vocals as there was no obvious front man. The rest is history.
From their early jazz funk style Level 42 suddenly broke through into mainstream pop with the release of World Machine which produced their first American Top Ten hit. The follow-up, Running in the Family, sold over half a million in the first week. They toured with Madonna and Tina Turner and undertook their own worldwide tours. Their manic lifestyle eventually took its toll and fellow Islanders, Boon and Phil, left the group for a quieter life. Boon still writes songs with Mark.
His unique bass style influenced generations of budding musicians and a special limited edition Mark King bass was marketed, with just forty two available. Level 42, with two new members, continued to enjoy world success but by 1994 it was all over. “I had just run out of steam and needed a break. We thought we might have a few months of real fame but it went on for several years. Within two months I was songwriting again.”
In 2001, after a few solo tours, Mark, who had purchased the right to the band’s name, thanks to Mike Lindup, reformed Level 42 with another line-up. Now they are preparing for a nationwide autumn tour with original Mike Lindup back in the line-up which brings them to the Southampton Guildhall on October 17. Mark is currently impressed with the number of young Island bands and the work Platform One are undertaking. He is also delighted with the comeback of the Island Pop Festival. What a great attraction Level 42 would be for next years event! He could even have lunch at home.
He claims to be semi-retired. That may be because he is playing a lot of golf at the Sandown course. His golf pals certainly don’t talk about Level 42. They hate his music, anyway. Well – it’s a little different from James Last, Cliff Richard and Jim Reeves.
Just before I left, Mark made a few points about another of his Island worries. “I can’t see why we are so backward in adapting some forms of renewable energy, whether it be wind or wave power. Our tidal surges are some of the best in the world and why are we not harnessing them? We could take a lead here. Things have got to change to keep our lifestyles and we need a cleaner way of producing energy.
“It’s no good saying we don’t want wind turbines on hills because they would be an eyesore. Everyone has got to chip in to help cope with the problem.”