King Of The Slums
NME 1989
Barbarous English Fayre (Playhard LP only)
Sometimes the when and the where are just as important as the what. I first heard King Of The Slums on a Walkman as I wandered along a canalbank in Wigan through the teeth of a winter evening downpour. What I heard slotted into the moment perfectly. . . though I'd heard nothing remotely like it before.
Sour, twisted guitars framing austere power-riffs, a lone violin sobbing to itself on the outskirts of melody, and that voice; cold and desperate as an Ancoates drizzle, informing me that he would disappear up his own backside or end up breeding whippets.
'The Pennine Spitter', along with 11 other excellent reasons why KOTS are one of the most compelling bands on the planet, is here on this summation of the band's career to date. 'Barbarous English Fayre' is a rasping litany of tattoos, gasworks, shaving cuts and squeaking prams. A haunting, savage voyage into the underbelly of English life.
For England, and specifically the North, is the love / hate object they return to constantly. It's this obsession, and subsequent use of images like Britannia, The Union Jack and Enoch Powell, that has seen them occasionally smeared as fascists. This is a dim and insulting slur. KOTS sing of this country entirely without gloss and sentiment, without political hectoring but with an ironic and trenchant realism.
In 'Bombs Away On Harpurhey' they explode the myth of Thatcher's 'go for it' culture (as if it needed exploding) with a sparking, snarling grace. In 'Venerate Me Utterly' the shabby dreams of the luckless are evoked brilliantly. Love, ambition, failure, all are viewed with the same pitiless, sardonic eye.
The absence of a lyric sheet may prevent you from realising that Charlie Keigher is the best unknown lyricist in Britain. Ordinary phrases ('Mere slip of a lad', 'You're not much to look at') are invested with a new and menacing meaning while the music has an alien beauty all its own.
The new stuff is stunning. 'Up To The Fells' is as wild and sombre as its title. 'Full Speed Ahead' is their most powerful and direct statement yet. It might even be a hit. Ha!
Forget the Euro art-bores and the pimply Yank college boys, outside of the mainstream King Of The Slums are practically peerless. In five years' time you'll be claiming you loved them. So do it now.
Stuart Maconie
NME, October 1989.
Dandelions (Midnight LP Only)
Despise it, drive past the place, drop a bomb on its city centre, but you can't ignore Manchester at the moment. Inspiral Carpets have found favour with - of all twats - Steve Wright and Radio One. 808 State are chewing up dancefloors and chart listings simultaneously. Happy Mondays' 'Rave On' is destined for more Chart Show exposure. And Stone Roses are poised to scramble yet further up the ladder of success with the distressingly aimless 'Fool's Gold'.
And so from this helter skelter of scallies and sublime songcrafting, King Of The Slums crawl, challengingly individual and chillingly independent, yet still incapable of suppressing their hometown heritage - be it coincidental or otherwise. For on 'Dandelions' you'll find The Smiths, The Fall and several other lumps of fall-out debris from an undeniably huge cultural explosion.
The stand-out feature is Charley Keighey's poetic profundity, which parallels Morrissey's patterns of twisted, bloated reality: "You gave me a knee-trembler to remember", "Like a lamb to the slaughter / I took my favourite plumber's daughter", "We've got you by the schoolys, pal", all deal with Keighey's perverse past; blatant statements which convey images of a soft-as-rock, hard-as-slush lifestyle, from sadistic schooldays to anguised adulthood.
His one political statement is reserved for 'Up The Empire (Balls To The Bulldog Breed)', a sneering bite back at prejudice and, more importantly, an attempt to kill off the racial slurs recently hurled at the Slums. The rest of the time he's content to paint pictures of a dirty city, of robberies, unwanted babies, perverted relationships and alleyway shags.
The Slums' idiosyncratic style is dragged further away from the mainstream by Charley's downright curious vocals, a rasped whisper, a mysterious mouth-piece which totters on the brink of disintegration yet always has the strength to carry on. As, in a sense, do King Of The Slums themselves, forever toying with oblivion, playing one step from the edge. And winning. Rattle and slum, all the way.
Simon Williams
Thanks to Mooney for supplying this clipping.
Melody Maker 1990
Barbarous English Fayre (Midnight)
For those unfamiliar with King Of The Slums, "Barbarous English Fayre", a collection of all of their releases on Manchester's Playhard Records spanning from September '87 to February '89 is the perfect introduction. And for those desperately trying to unravel the band's sound, the title is an excellent place to start.
There are three distinct elements to King Of The Slums. Primarily, they're an extremely English group, a band of faintly odd eccentrics who toy with both Northern contrariness and surreal art rock to create a sound which is both in tandem and at odds with its culture. They're also whimsical in a demented kinda fashion, the often atonal violin, off-tangent rhythms and unexpected melody changes vaguely recalling The Cardiacs. Finally, they're a monstrous uncontrolled mess, a frantic nasty sound that thinks nothing of using strange fuzz guitar, not to mention unrelenting pressure and raw slabs of power. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you can have KOTS on in the background. This is music you have to work at.
This album reveals a driving personality which is both inspired and twisted. "Fanciable Headcase" is the sound of crisis, a twilight drone that resounds with a worrying amount of despair. "Simpering Blonde Bombshell" and "Up To The Fells" scream out with sexual frustration, singer Charley Keigher exploring mankind's more primal side with a great deal of honesty and irony. It's all intense stuff and it's this burning depth of vision that separates KOTS from 2D bands such as The Fall and Stump. Totally.
Ultimately, it's the strangeness of this record that makes it so compelling. A curiously self-contained pocket of mischief and pathos, King Of The Slums are an excerpt from The Far Side as set in mixed-up working-class England, an anachronistic reflection of life as we don't quite know it. And if you like the sound of all that babbling away in your bedroom then this is the record for you.
Melody Maker, 23 June 1990
IT'S DEAD SMART (Midnight)
Best of this week's baggy bunch, the Kings now fancy themselves as a flare-flapping Happy Monday from the sound of it - nursery rhymes and all - although they've retained a precarious grasp of their abrasive individuality in the shape of Sarah's piercing electric violin. Charley still can't sing, the song is undoubtedly a fine example of the much despised indie / dance crossover, but the Kings swagger with commendable lack of poise. Nice one.
Everett True
NME, 8 August 1990
Bear Wiv Me (Midnight Music)
"Bear wiv me, my best is yet to come, and I am a liar, wiv a lot of material. . . la, la,la we've got loads. . ."

A gangling beat, a snatch of 'Sympathy For The Devil' plus an entertaining commentary on the state of English pop music after 'One Love's flaccid performance. It's not cool for critics to sound off about the predictable and often banal way that things are shaping up just now - nobody wants to seem Old And In The Way - so it's nice when a few sour-minded musicians go out there and do the job for us. Fair to the Slummies!
Stuart Bailie
Thanks to Jo Fisher for the clipping.
Melody Maker, 19 January 1991
JOY (Cherry Red)
Bile and irony are ladled out in equal helpings, like The Fall making a protest record, but The Mekons are a more pertinent reference for Charley Keigher's scabrous inner-city worldview. "Cum 'ere, I'll mek yer 'appy," he leers here as a jaunty fiddle reels once more round the block. I invariably come away from King Of The Slums feeling soiled and vaguely threatened. Much my normal state of mind, in fact.
Ian Gittins
NME 1991
Blowzy Weirdos (Cherry Red LP/CD)
KOTS have been quiet since 1989's 'Barbarous English Fayre' collection of gnarled bedsit anthems. Has vitriolic wordsmith Charley Keigher got himself a social life yet? Does Sarah Curtis still use her violin like an offensive weapon? Have their scarred Mancunian soundscapes gone all baggy on us? Yes, sometimes and not quite.
Rather than go all baggy, Charley and pals have 'Gone All Weirdo', which seems to mean lumbering funk clothes in trademark scratchy fiddle and barbed-wire guitar. Most of these tunes still pace menacingly around the edge of the dancefloor, moody movers too wrapped in distortion and dislocation to shake a leg, but many display a swanky new confidence far superior to the monotonous moans of yore.
'Clubland Gangs', for instance, is a meaty and topical mini-drama sounding like the Inspirals on powerful steroids as it belches glitzy late-night atmosphere and muscular jazzy momentum. Similarly, 'Rimo' celebrates a loser's life with its acidic twists on Charlatans beat-pop while 'Hot Pot Shebeen' jabbers and spits.
The hesitant diversions into dub on previous releases have matured into full-blooded druggy workouts like the dreamily mellow 'Casin' The Joint' complete with comfortably numb vocals and some superbly crap whistling on the fade-out. 'Keepin' It All Sweet' applies echo-chamber effects to ethnic clattering while the shifty reggae rhythms and lost-soul cries of 'Joy' delve deep into Sherwood territory. A cool, convincing comeback.
Stephen Dalton
'Vox' issue 12, September 1991.
Blowzy Weirdos (Cherry Red)
Sour-faced Mancunians King Of The Slums live in a semi-derelict, seedy world, where song titles like 'Clubland Gangs' are common currency and paranoid pessimism is de rigueur. Frontman Charlie Keigher is a detached observer of the nastier aspects of British life, and his sardonic lyrics rarely fail to hit home.
Blowzy Weirdos is a claustrophobic, harrowing album. Even tunes like 'Smile So Big' and 'Joy' turn out to be odes to the urban dementia on which Keigher tends to concentrate, and his harsh words are beefed up by the band's hard-hitting blend of nervy rhythms and fuzztone guitar.
Sarah Curtis' violin remains at the forefront, giving a brilliantly sharp edge, but her trademark screech doesn't detract from the album's refreshing eclecticism - its songs take in depressed lethargy, crazed mania and everything between. Like much of King Of The Slums' underrated back catalogue, the whole affair succeeds in being horribly affecting.
Liz Torres
Sounds, 15 October 1988
In the ghetto
Camden Falcon
When it boils down to it, the violin is all that matters tonight. Everything else just fades away in the gloom of the nearly empty room (there's a good documentary about Latvian war criminals on the telly).
The scene is exasperated by the antics of a handful of gits whose idea of fun is to say unfunny things very loudly.
King Of The Slums' singer, Charlie, hits back with a well-aimed withering comment, and before you know it, Sarah, the violinist - a mild looking character whose sole visual gimmick is her rakishly angled pair of sunglasses - has gone completely mad.
Arms excluded, she doesn't actually move anything, but the noise she makes has all the attributes of a rampaging tornado. Whirling, howling and crashing, it makes its way along the set-list in a rough approximation of what passes for normal rock music.
But there you have it. King Of The Slums, who play a song called 'Big Girl's Blouse' (a killer), are most definitely not normal. Nor are they amazingly brilliant, but at least they sound like nothing else on earth, bar a runaway train attempting an emergency stop, perhaps, or fingernails scratching down a blackboard.
They perk up a bit when the loudmouths leave. The bassist turns around so we can see his face, and treats us to some mind-boggling finger-work. This inspires the drummer to push push push, which in turn makes Keigher go all raspy, his vocals (and his guitar) becoming lost in a bizarre clutter of somehow agreeably conflicting noises.
I expect they'd be even better in front of a proper audience. They're all thoroughly pissed off, with the exception of Sarah. She continues to scrape hell out of her dilapidated violin - held together by black masking tape and pretty red ribbons - right through to the bitter end.
NME 1990
London Powerhaus
An odd mixture of heads have collected to watch King Of The Slums. Some openly display 'Wonder Stuff' T-shirts, whilst others wear crowns and are either drunk or on to a bad marketing scam. Most surprising, though, is the lack of casual-clad troopers, strange because King Of The Slums come from Manchester.
Doubly weird, because the band flaunt the right ingredients to have been involved in some of the clucking over the place. They have a psychedelic painted violin, plenty of wah wah, a song about robbin', a couple of tracks you can dance to and a tambourine to shake. Fate though, has also dealt them a receding hairline or two, an unfashionable wardrobe and, one supposes, a refusal to do things the easy way.
The new single 'It's Dead Smart' brought me here, such an easy song to like, obeying as it does the winning formula of a walloping bassline, dance rhythms and whiney, gravelled vocals. Warned by the cautious that it's not all like that, my expectations aren't running too high. After a couple of songs you realise the warnings were right.
But that's neat, because as the sound deviates it becomes harder, more gruesome. Sometimes it sounds a bit like listening to The Pogues and Happy Mondays at the same time. 'Keeping It All Sweet' stands out, shouts 'so what if I sound a bit like a Hendrix tune, I'm sussed enough to pull it off without sounding daft', and makes everyone smile. As things become a little tedious mid-way, they're picked up by the violin that's always there, poking you in the ribs, making you listen, keeping you absorbed.
If King Of The Slums would conform a touch more they'd be up there with the rest of the Manchester crowd, as it is they'll be kept on the outer fringes, just related, like a third aunt. But they will be there and that'll do nicely. For now.
Stephen Dalton
Sounds, 3 November 1990
Oxford Jericho Tavern
A couple of years ago, hot on the heels of critical acclaim, King Of The Slums were roundly ostracised by music-minded types for their misconstrued toying with the trappings of patriotism. Social secretaries and right-on hacks ran a mile when faced with a band who put Union Jacks and pictures of Enoch Powell on their record sleeves.
Outraged, vocalist Charlie Keigher & Co recorded a tune entitled 'Balls To The Bulldog Breed' and tried to resume their tempestuous career. 1990 sees them playing to ecstatic crowds in small-league venues when, by rights, they should be up there with the current kings of indiedom.
They are, simply, a scorching live attraction, mixing incisive grooves with an edgy, nervous impulse to great effect. Tonight, songs like 'It's Dead Smart' and 'Big Sad Fat Lad' manage to get the fans raving, but put the rest of us through a pretty disquieting experience - it's hard to remain unaffected by these tales of downmarket depression.
Keigher is, as usual, the centre of attention, standing entrenched while the band create countless frenzied backdrops for his killer bar-room couplets ("You're a cocky twat / But I like that"). He's a stroppy, chain-smoking frontman, but his awkward postures match his neurotic outpourings perfectly.
King Of The Slums' penultimate offering is 'Bear Wiv Me', a wicked satire on the current crop of baggy popsters. "Bear wiv me," Charlie croons in a nasal Manc whine, "my best is yet to come".
Irony, remember? Now can we leave King Of The Slums to rise to their rightful, regal place?
John Harris
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