Ever since I was a child, I've always been fascinated with England. From the locales to the weather to the women with those sexy accents and especially the music, I could never get enough of anything from across the pond (well, maybe the comedy). Growing up in the mid to late 1980s, I caught the tail end of the last British Invasion that brought over many groups to America that were heavily inspired by soul music: ABC, Spandau Ballet, and Swing Out Sister, just to name a few. But there was one group----no----one band, that towered above them all, and sadly didn't get the recognition they deserved for their incredible musicianship and ability to master just about any genre of music. You've probably never heard of them, but then this is why I'm writing this blog: To tell you about the band known as "Level 42."
Here in the U.S., Level 42 were best known (to those that were aware of them) for the hit single and intriguing music video "Something About You," in 1986, but their career as a whole takes them far beyond just that one perfectly crafted pop song. Formed during my birth year and month of June 1980, the band consisted of Mark King on bass and lead vocals, Mike Lindup on keyboards and vocals, and brothers Phil and Boon Gould on guitar and drums respectively. Level 42---named after a passage from the Douglas Adams book "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" where "42" is the answer to the meaning of life---played mostly instrumental jazz funk before moving onto vocal tracks with a more soul/R&B sound, then radio-friendly pop and later even some pop/rock. Their signature sound both vocally and musically were King's baritone vocals and Lindup's falsetto vocals (though they would often take turns with lead vocals on some of their songs), and Mark's mesmerizing slap-bass guitar technique that drove most of their tunes. They performed originally from 1980-1994 with various band member changes, but reformed back in 2006 with a new lineup that includes Mark's brother Nathan on guitar and Pete Ray Biggin on drums. After a new album and subsequent tour, they announced their 30th anniversary in 2010. And that's where the personal part of this story comes in:
It was July 2010. A month after my 30th birthday. I had just received the biggest news of my life a few months back via a friend's facebook message saying that Level 42 was returning to the U.S. for a tour. I couldn't believe what I was reading. A band that I had followed since I was five years old, would be performing live at four venues across California. I quickly snatched up tickets for two shows (One at the Grove Of Anaheim and the other at Club Nokia in Downtown LA), and asked my boss to let me out of work early, since the first show in Anaheim was happening on a weeknight. A three and a half drive later, I was at the stage pit with several other groups of fans, rocking along to the band's funky, chugging opening tune "Hot Water," grooving to the jazzy "Love Games," (complete with long bass solo), swaying to their heart-wrenching ballad "It's Over," and bobbing my head to their signature tune "Something About You," among their other fantastic catalogue of songs. When the show ended, I got to meet other "levelheads" as we all waited for the band to come out to sign autographs and take photos with us. It was here that I met two people who have become great friends of mine: Angel and Mark Riccardi, musicians, vocalists, and rabid fans like myself, who in turn introduced me to a whole group of Levelheads over the next year. Then came the other moment of the night: Meeting the band! As we patiently waited for Mark, Mike, Nathan, Pete, and Sean Freeman (their saxophone player for the live gigs) I had just remembered that I left my "World Machine" LP (from their fifth album in 1985) in my car. Following a sprint that would've made The Flash proud, the band came toward us for the long-awaited fan meeting. This is one of those situations where you always think that you're gonna play it cool when you meet someone or someones that you admire, but all that "play it cool" crap flies right out the window when it really happens. I couldn't tell you what I said to the band members when I finally got to meet them, since most of what I said was babbling, but I do remember just enjoying being in that moment, as nearby fans helped snap photos of me with keyboardist Mike Lindup, drummer Pete Ray Biggin, and I almost missed having my photo taken with lead singer and bassist Mark King, as their road manager was trying to rush them onto the bus, and my camera battery was dying. Thankfully, neither issue stopped "the money shot." As I drove home listening to their albums, I truly felt that If I died the next day, I would've done so a happy man.
And that's my story of not only seeing my favorite band live, but also meeting them in person. Five years later, it's still hard to believe that happened, which is why I 'm so glad I have the photo proof. While there are other funky british music men who I admire (Songwriter Rod Temperton also comes to mind, with the legendary tunes he wrote for Michael Jackson, George Benson, Michael McDonald, and Heatwave), Level 42 will always be on the top floor.
Sorry, I couldn't resist.