Take one ex-Sex Pistol, one ex-Pretender, one hot young surf guitar freak, a classic ’70s singer and a rock ‘n’ roll guitar legend, and you’ve got a sleazy, low-slung new band called King Mob. Interview: Trenchard Cleats
It’s hard at first to equate Stephen Parsons, Chris Spedding and Glen Matlock with the dirty, greasy opening of King Mob’s debut album, Force 9, a tune which demands volume, and lots of it. But Parsons – full of nervous, glittering vitality, jumping into every silence feet first – seems to treat the G&B interview itself as a performance. ‘If you’re gonna do a rock show, tear the fucking place up,’ he exhorts. ‘It’s Jerry Lee Lewis or it’s nothing. I don’t understand, what is the point in just presenting your music? I never really got that – you’re there to destroy the house. There isn’t any other purpose.’
Having trodden the boards with Spedding in the early ’70s in the gritty but shortlived Sharks, Parsons dropped out and spent 30 years composing film scores before ending up as a DJ in Dalston. ‘I’m playing Ike and Tina Turner, Led Zeppelin, anything that I fancy, and they’re all going crazy. I thought I might as well actually do it… something back to basics: kick-ass rock’nroll. Chris went for it.’
Chris Spedding – 67 years old, quiet, considered, softly-spoken, with a CV to die for – is currently touring with Bryan Ferry and providing guitar for the War Of The Worlds musical. Contrary to popular myth, he didn’t actually record Steve Jones’ Sex Pistols guitar parts, but he admits that he showed Steve ‘a couple of Motown things. Which he didn’t use in the Pistols.’ Though, as Glen Matlock points out, they did use his amp.
Matlock, erstwhile Sex Pistols bassist before his much-discussed replacement by Sid Vicious, has contributed bass to bands ranging from Primal Scream and Iggy Pop to the Philistines and Slinky Vagabond, both onstage and in the studio. He’s as direct in person as in his playing…
‘The best gig I’ve seen in 30 years was when the Stooges reformed with James Williamson on guitar,’ he says. ‘They came out and played Raw Power and they’re all 60 years old and it was fan-fucking-tastic. That was the most refreshing thing I’ve seen in 30 years… and I was in the Sex Pistols.’
The King Mob album was recorded in just four days. ‘That’s the thing that we know how to do – and it’s the one thing that most people aren’t doing,’ notes Spedding. Matlock agrees: ‘I think with a lot of records nowadays, there are so many drop-ins for each chord that you lose the personality of the player. It’s the way someone plays something a little bit sloppily that makes it sound like them. Also,’ he grins, ‘we’ve all learned the lesson that the bigger the studio, the less royalties you get.’
Spedding: ‘It’s not that people can’t play properly now – it’s that some can play far too well. You don’t have to be that good to play on a hit record. You don’t have to be brilliant, a virtuoso. It might get in your way.’
Parsons also champions the more spontaneous approach. ‘Idealistically I look to people like Ray Charles, the way he finished a live set at 11 o’clock and went straight down to the studio, and cut What I Say.’
King Mob’s swampy grooves are dripping with raggedly yet spot-on playing from Spedding and the other half of King Mob’s guitar force, Sixteen, who was talent-spotted by Parsons playing in a Dalston surf band. Sixteen cites Link Wray and Dick Dale as his formative influences, and nominates the intro and melody riffs of Lover Of High Renown and Vah Vah Voom as good examples of his overall style. ‘I tend to do a lot of high arpeggiated melodies with the trem bar in my hand and a good dose of Fender reverb,’ he explains.
Sixteen is also full of praise for Spedding’s awareness and musical generosity – such as in the song I Was There. ‘I had an idea to layer up this whole orchestration with a low growling octave part, a middle harmony, and the screaming lead on top,’ he explains. ‘Chris gave me the space to do this, playing a really sweet arpeggiated line, yet we never clash. This combination of two players playing intertwining lead stuff and not making an ’orrible mess is very rare.’
Perhaps surprisingly, Glen Matlock and ex-Pretenders drummer Martin Chambers weren’t the first choice for King Mob, who first recorded two tunes with Andy Newmark on drums and Guy Pratt on bass. Big names with high skills… but it turned out that they weren’t right for this band. ‘Neither of them really “got it”, not exactly what we wanted to do,’ says Parsons. ‘With these guys, though, the whole thing clicked.’
When it comes to their set-ups, Spedding and Matlock are both quite straightforward. ‘People have forgotten how to get a sound out of a guitar, because the sound comes from the stompbox,’ says Spedding. ‘Yep, like Carlos Santana,’ Parsons chips in. ‘Now they have the “Carlos Santana sound” and he actually uses it, which is pretty ironic. You spend all that time developing a beautiful tone, and he uses the one they programmed in, and it doesn’t sound as good. He was better when he was just himself.’
Spedding still uses the Fender Deluxe Reverb he’s had since 1970, though he’s been known to use an Ampeg 60, as he did when the Sharks were touring with Leslie West’s Mountain. ‘Leslie had three 200W Stramp amps hooked up together, and he was onstage with us – and he actually came up to me and said “Chris, can you turn down? You’re too loud”!’
Though Spedding claims not to like stompboxes, he uses the Line 6 XT Live – and, to Parsons’ chagrin, he admits to programming it on his laptop. ‘I do stuff with people that need these effects,’ he explains. ‘These big tours like War Of The Worlds and Bryan Ferry, they want a certain sound – and the only way for me to get that and do those gigs is to have these things.’
Glen Matlock owns several Fender Precisions, but always chooses the lightest. Amp-wise, he used a Portaflex for the album. ‘If we’re gigging I’ve got a really nice Fender Bassman which I bought for £99 in a sale 25 years ago, and it’s still going strong. It’s great, and the best thing about it is that when you’ve finished touring, you can take the tolex cover off and put your dirty washing in it. More room in your suitcase.’
While Spedding and Matlock are happy to quietly take care of business, Parsons is animated to the end, and in expousing the virtues of the old-fashioned apprenticeship, the M1 school of music, he hits on a good point.
‘The system that everything is based on now, don’t work. All systems teach people is how to work with systems. The systems themselves are mostly flawed – if you make systems king, you’re fucked. But take people, and what they know, what their hands know, what you actually know, not what’s in a magazine, you won’t go far wrong.’
He ends the interview by explaining the significance of the name. ‘King mob,’ he says, ‘is old – it goes back to at least the French revolution. I like it because it’s like Led Zeppelin – it’s mutually contradictory. You can’t have a king of a mob.’
Perhaps this mob is not quite the rabble it purports to be. Parsons signs off with an open question: ‘Does the world need a kick-ass rock and roll band?’ he asks rhetorically. ‘Yes, it does.’