King Of The Slums
Melody Maker, 11th August 1990.
After a year's silence, the Manchester band described as the finest commentators of Britain's decline and fall return with a new EP, 'It's Dead Smart'. IAN GITTINS finds out why the fascist and racist jibes that followed their decision to put a Union Jack on their last single sleeve nearly forced them to give up music. Pics: PHIL NICHOLLS
At home with King Of The Slums, by all accounts, used to be a sordid and grubby experience, the band lodging high in the yellowing, piss-stained hell of a council tower block in Hulme. Now, it's all changed. Singer Charley Keigher and violinist Sarah Curtis have relocated to a big, rambling old house owned by Sarah's dad in Manchester's Chorlton, and are earning their keep by doing up the upstairs rooms to rent out as flats.
King Of The Slums are back, and in fine fighting form, with a new EP called "It's Dead Smart". It's more scabrous, brilliantly twisted post-punk ire, more guitar-fuelled bolshie trouble-stirring, more venomous asides on what passes for normal round their way. Cluttered, busy and given spectacular slants by Sarah's abrasive electric violin, it re-establishes them as commentators par excellence on England's rise and fall, reinforcing their status as singular amateur sociologists. King Of The Slums reflect on, and convey their environment more succinctly and provocatively than any band around now.
Once we're all cosily settled in their shoebox-sized basement rehearsal room, however, the idea that King Of The Slums are political gives Charley grief.
"No, I hate that word!" he shudders. "It makes me feel really cold. I either hate things or love 'em, but I'm reserved about saying what those things are, cos it's all come back at me in the past. When we used a Union Jack, everyone started saying we were fascists, and I really hate all that shit. We're sensitive. One little thing can f*** us up. A lot of bands would have given up over that racist shit. It was nearly the end for us. We nearly gave up. But then I just thought, 'Why should we lie down and take it?' It was all f***ing bollocks!"
Aside from killing off their racist controversy, it's been a lean time for King Of The Slums, with no vinyl and few live dates so far this year. But they've lost none of their incendiary genius. "It's Dead Smart" combines severe, shuffling guitar / violin ructions with Keigher's sardonic sneer of a vocal to supreme effect, as if Mark Smith were forced to focus his scattergun vision and actually say something. And, like Smith, Keigher shapes his words in the same way he thinks, or more correctly, speaks.
"Yeah, I think that's important," confirms Charley, "because when I started I was too bothered with how words looked on paper, and it bore no relevance to how people spoke. It was good to read, but now I've thrown the dictionary away and I try and write more like twisted-round speech. I got fed up writing something poetic, then having to put something snotty next to it.
"The quality of my writing's got cheaper, if you know what I mean. I used to think I was a f***ing smart lyricist and nobody could come near me! Every line was full of jewels! Then I thought I was giving away too many good lines in one song, and I thought, "F*** this, keep it down to one good line and fill in around it, that way, the good line keep coming across!"
The EP's title track, has a fine comic ear for social embarrassment and finds Charley trying to admire a brick box that a friend has decided to buy, while attempting to hide his own antipathy to the property-owning lifestyle. It's a clever conundrum; how does he pass supposed approval on one about to slip into security and complacency, while trying to maintain the edge in his own, nomadic lifestyle?
"Well, I know a lot of people who've done it, just accepted their lot," he says. "And you can see the change in people when they've got an 'ouse and a mortgage. What they had before goes, they all become different. I couldn't handle that at the moment. But it's a state of mind, innit? Some people are dead happy with it, and I'm not slagging them off for wanting it. I'm just saying, 'I don't want it yet! F*** off!'"
Far from being the dour commentators they're often painted, King Of The Slums are truly fine comedians. There's much humour in their tangled tales.
"Oh God, yeah!" says Charley. "I can't listen to anything that's written dead seriously. It's gotta be a bit humorous, but not too jokey, or it gets crappy. It's a thin line. It's like, I can see what you mean when you say we're like Alan Bennett, but to my mind 'Spitting Image' taking the piss out of him is far funnier than anything he's done. I'm more into comics like Viz. Our song 'Schooley' is like Viz, but it's got a point an' all."
It's a source of some vexation for King Of The Slums that their record sales have never truly equalled critical plaudits. There's some muttering on their part of getting shafted by the music biz at various turns and Charley, who's actually far more reticent and charming than his loudmouth image would suggest, can't help yelling "F***ing hell! We're too good not to have any money!" It's even more galling when so much of Manchester's output is on a hype-supported high.
"Yeah, I can understand the Roses and Mondays doing well, but I can't for one minute understand why Inspiral Carpets sell as many as they do," says Charley. "They must sell as many as Jason Donovan! But it's just sales, not the quality of music. It's just luck. This whole Manchester thing, about 80 per cent of the success of the bands is the publicity behind them. Some of it's good, sure, but a lot of it is utter wank!"
How have you changed since you first started?
"We've got more BALLS," Charley decides happily. "When we first started, we just wanted to be noisy f***ers because we'd got an amp. Now we've learnt about spaces. And I've started putting myself in songs, started writing 'I', which is a f***ing big step, really! It helps me make the songs more optimistic. I have to make sure I come out in a good light, cos if I'm in a song, things are going to get better for me at least."
Indeed they will.
The "It's Dead Smart" EP is out now on Midnight Music Records.
Melody Maker, 11th August 1990.
King of the Slums, 1990
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