'The Magic Show Part One
'Little Red Kings,”The Magic Show Part One” (Self Released)- The future of British alternative rock is in safe hands as long as outfits such as Little Red Kings are around to ply their trade with such grit and tunefulness. The Norfolk based band’s deliciously organic approach to music-making has prompted favourable comparisons to everyone from Hothouse Flowers to The Black Crowes and there’s also an infectious melodic edge to much of their best work which sets them apart from many of their contemporaries in the field. “The Magic Show Part One” supplies an attractive introduction to Little Red Kings’ appealingly timeless sound, with “Weather The Storm” and “Harry’s Town” capturing them at their brilliant best.
'The Magic Show Part One'
Little Red Kings – who’re they then?
I press play on the latest offering to be winged my way by a PR company to be greeted by a tastefully tuneful piano and vocal intro, and then . . . three tracks whoosh by in ten and a half minutes, borne aloft on a gale of song-led roots rock energy.
I still haven’t got down to the brass tacks of what the opener ‘Harry’s Town’ is all about, so I dunno anything about the identity of Harry or what’s so special about his town, but Little Red Kings make it sound like a good place to be. There’s kicking drums, rock’n’rolling guitar, sinuous bass lines and playfully delivered vocals, and ultimately a belt-it-out earworm of a chorus that collapses into a hollering terrace chant outro.
Little Red Kings making a big noise
‘Almost Over’ eases into earshot with pulses of organ and throbbing guitar before opening up into another adrenalin rush of booming drums and a big, gutsy chorus. It’s a well-constructed choon, but the energy still bursts out at the seams until they rein it in for the bridge – and then it breaks loose again, tearing off into an anthemic singalong while some lead guitar bleeps away, making like Angus Young on the intro to ‘Thunderstuck’. Then ‘That’s What You Do’ has a subtly brooding verse, with a thudding drumbeat and eerily droning keys, before crashing into another mountainous chorus with soaring backing vocals. It twists and turns teasingly, thrashes along with a post-punk sensibility, and chucks some buzzsaw guitar into the middle eight to add some extra edge.
Who are these guys?
The understated cover of the promo cd, with its peculiar artwork, doesn’t offer many clues. I take a squint at the accompanying press release, but it doesn’t leave me much the wiser. It does tell me that The Magic Show Part One is Little Red Kings’ second album though. It also quotes some reviews that refer to their “consummate blues rock” and such like. Well yeah, I can see that they deliver blues rock in exactly the same way that Mott The Hoople – didn’t. Or the Faces, maybe. Or Springsteen, even. Or none of them. Point is, the blues may be in there, but it’s all jumbled up with other strands of rock’n’roll. Except of course, just to confound my argument, on ‘Mama’s Boy’ - a two and a half minute vignette of Delta-like blues conjured out of nothing more than spooky, scratchy guitar playing and haunted vocals.
Their rootsiness takes a different turn on ‘Weather The Storm’ though. The lilting piano and gentle elegiac vocal could almost be Billy Joel until it’s melded with violin (courtesy of guest Rosie Toll) to take a Celtic turn as the lyric starts to reference the Irish Sea and – if I hear it right – Tir Na nOg, the “Celtic otherworld”. Which sounds appropriately epic as the song swells and the story-telling becomes more strident, before subsiding to a gentle ending.
And the following ‘Peppermint’ gets similarly windswept as it builds from a suspenseful intro, surging rhythm guitar and more of that supple bass to arrive at another BIG chorus. And a rare guitar solo plays out against the repeated refrain, brief and spiky, cymbals crashing around like waves.
Who the hell are these guys?
They get back on the rockin’ horse with ‘Lose The Light’, which teases again with a subdued
opening, all ticking drums and bumps of bass, before letting loose with a driving rhythm and dense jangling guitars, good harmonies and a romantic turn that sounds like Springsteen by way of The Gaslight Anthem – except British.
So that's who Little Red Kings are.
And then they take a sharp turn and head into left field for the closing two tracks. ‘Norfolk Border’ is all droning notes and hesitant piano chords as an ambient backdrop for a murmured, half-spoken vocal, like Roger Waters executing some minimalist tale of angst. Finally ‘Magic Show’ starts off in thoughtful mode, leaning on piano and organ, before and swelling into a majestic chorus, then fading back with quirky squiggles of keyboards and more of that sinuous bass playing, and effects-treated vocal interjections and some circus ringmaster declaiming taking it into Peter Gabriel-like dramatic territory.
WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
The Magic Show Part One is such an eye-opening surprise that part of me doesn’t want to know – just leave Little Red Kings as deadly guerrillas of roots rock, who strike and then sink namelessly into the night. But nah, I’ve winkled out the info, so let’s roll the credits. Little Red Kings were founded in Norfolk by singer and guitarist Jason Wicks. Dougie Archer supplies more guitar and vocals, while the keys are courtesy of Craig Stevenson, and the rhythm section of Harry Wickham and Ben Beach respectively provide the skin-bashing and that springy bass.
Now, I’m not going to tell you The Magic Show Part One is some earth-shattering masterpiece. But I will tell you that it’s striking enough to have made me sit up and listen damn close – in fact Little Red Kings’ firing on all six cylinders commitment wouldn’t allow anything else. You owe it to yourself to get an introduction to these guys and their music.
Get Ready to Rock
'The Magic Show Part One
'Little Red Kings last album ‘Callous’ was a veritable delight of blues, rock and gentler acoustic moments. Expectorations are high with this fan on any new music from the band. As vocalist Jason Wick explains about the recording of ‘The Magic Show Part One’ – “We recorded the album at Goat Pen Studios, a facility I put together here in Norfolk. It’s where we write, experiment, practice and record”. It certainly comes through on the sound, which is clear and organic, no programming or auto tuning here.
The swaggering opener ‘Harry’s Town’ starts things off in fine style, big riffs, catchy chorus and a gang chorus on the outro. Hardly time to draw your breath as ‘Almost Over’ breezes in on a tasty Hammond riff. Vocalist Jason Wick certainly has the pipes to deliver this type of blues rock that tips a respectful nod to the likes of Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin, whilst adding in Little Red Kings own sound.
It is not all high tempo rock ‘n’ roll as ‘Peppermint’ has more than a hint of Bruce Springsteen about it, whilst ‘Lose The Light’ has a country rock vibe and a song made for daytime radio airplay. Proving they like to go wherever the music takes them, the piano led ‘Norfolk Border’ is full of soothing vocals and gentle atmospherics.
Little Red Kings have found their sound big time on this album, making it one to be played often and loud. Working in their own studio and creating music together has paid off big time. Even better is that this album is only part one, roll on part two! ****1/2
Review by Jason Ritchie
Take 5 great musicians, give them a common cause that they believe in and if you are lucky you end up with a band approaching Little Red Kings. Those gorgeous vocals with sweet harmonies, bluesy guitar licks to die for, a tight, solid rhythm section and the fullness of keys gluing it all together. It's all there.... I just wanna hear more, and louder
It is quite rare these days to see such a receptive audience cheering and clapping to a "non-covers" band in pub on a Saturday night.
British Blues Rock is alive, very well, taking some interesting side roads and kicking hard in Norfolk!
Little Red Kings are a consummate, quality sometime Blues Rock sometimes Rock band with something a little extra that’s hard to quantify. They deserve a wider audience, go listen to this music, I don’t think you will be disappointed.
The album does move away from a Blues Rock approach into a more Rock centred approach, the sign this is a good band is that it works just as well.
I thoroughly enjoyed this album and would recommend it to anyone who likes quality guitar playing with a driving rhythm section and a great Rock vocal all wrapped round by a classic British Blues Rock sound with a few twists together alongside a Classic Rock vibe.
I’m not sure how many of the great Blues Rock songs were written about gypsy girls and farm boys, 'Josephine' could be the first, on the evidence of this song, it shouldn’t be the last. A new genre may have been born.
Not every song works, but the clear majority do. Some of the lyrics are not perfect, I don’t think ‘Blacken’ works as a description for what the song is trying to say but I think I understand what they were trying to do.
There are times as the album goes on that you could forget this is a relatively unknown British band, it occasionally feels like it could be any one of a number of top quality US Rock bands, at one point I was thinking of Red Hot Chilli Peppers 'Under The Bridge', at others there is an Aerosmith vibe, yet at times they are channelling Led Zep, Free and Fleetwood Mac before they want West Coast USA.
Will I play this again, absolutely yes, I can see myself listening to it a lot. I will also try to persuade friends to give it a listen.
I occasionally have to work in Norfolk, I will now be trying to ensure that my next trip coincides with the next Little Red Kings gig.
If this is the future of British Rock I’m in, this band deserve to be big!
What is the purpose of a prelude? I come across them every so often and find that, far from introducing the listener to the band’s signature sound, they often throw a curve-ball, leading you right off-scent. And no ball could be more curvaceous than the one hurled by LITTLE RED KINGS at the start of their gargantuan 17-track new album, 'Callous'.
That said, by the time the first song, ‘Said to Me’ kicks in, the Norwich five-piece has turned on some whiskey-soaked charm and struck out with a big, bluesy, Black Crowes vibe. This is the moment they reveal their true intent and an explosive, ‘rootsy-tootsy’ rock rampage hits you like a hurricane. The vibe is more laid back for subsequent tracks ‘Josephine’ and ‘Blacken’, but the record is then given a swaggering classic rock injection by hooky head-turner, ‘No Friend Of Mine’, which includes a galloping drum solo.
With most of the songs on the album coming in at around the five-minute mark, some easily exceeding that (arena ballad ‘Chaperone’ is a meaty six and a half minutes long), LITTLE RED KINGS clearly didn’t want to leave anything out and were keen to squeeze every facet of their vision into this release. Lead singer and guitarist Jason Wick has a tender, emotive tone to his vocals and really hits his sweet spot during the slower tracks, but is equally capable of leading a blazing trail through the fiercer up-tempo numbers.
Since their last release, the band have gone through a change in lineup and have solidified their sound, which has resulted in this bountiful collection of down to earth, modern-yet-classic blues rock compositions. Standout tracks include the punchy ‘Said To Me’, (which embodies a similar sound to Maker), heartfelt ‘Chaperone’, sultry slow-burner ‘Josephine’ and the gritty ‘Propaganda Lie’, all of which impart their own distinctive flavour and make a firm imprint on the record.
LITTLE RED KINGS -"Callous". Hailing from Norfolk, but sounding like they've come from the American heartland, Little Red Kings have delivered one of my favourite albums of the year. You can forget your Doomsday Outlaws, your Massive Wagons and other such acts as they are mere pretenders. This album sounds like it was recorded at Muscle Shoals in the seventies, imbibing the spirit of legendary rock n roll acts whilst creating a gumbo of styles. If this was the new album from the Black Crowes or even the Magpie Salute, it would be lauded as a classic. Theirs’s is the future, so get in quick as they're gonna fly. PS. "Chaperone" is the song of the year.
Little Red Kings hail from Norfolk. UK. They play, according to their bio, music that is reminiscent of British classic blues rock bands of the 70’s with strong melodies and elements of modern alternative rock.
I would argue it’s way more than that. There are moments on ‘Propaganda Lie‘ for example where classic ZZ Top springs to mind. The choppy whiskey soaked, blues fuelled riffs and licks that Billy Gibbons would be proud of. Elsewhere there are moments that make me think “this is what it must have been like to have heard The Who or The Yardbirds for the first time in the 1960s.” That moment where you realise a sound is sufficiently different to make you stop whatever it was you were doing and focus on the music to the exclusion of everything else around you.
Back then, one of the singles from the album would have been enough to trigger a rush to the local vinyl store where a 2 side 45rpm single would have been purchased to be played at home on a record player that probably had a spike on it that allowed the owner to stack 10 or so singles to play in succession as one dropped onto the other as each song finished. Vinyl owners now will be horrified at the thought of something quite so archaic.
Modern record decks aside, music is delivered digitally as well and the MP3 files on my phone make for a glorious commute home through the Kentish countryside. It’s as if the music and the scenery was matched on Tinder.
Recorded in their own ‘Goat Pen Studios’, Callous is, again according to the band, a “rootsy,tootsy”, rocking , rolling ,modern take, on a classic rock, rhythm and blues album. Again I argue this does the band a disservice. There are moments of true greatness here that “rootsy tootsy” does not do justice to. Once opener Prelude has closed, the first track proper is Said To Me, an absolute belter that ZZ Top and Skynyrd clearly influenced.
Elsewhere tracks like Blacken and No Friend Of Mine offer thoroughly modern, blues infused, fuzz guitar driven songs that, when overlaid with some magnificent vocal work from Jason Wick, serve to remind us just how much good music is out there if only we are made aware of its existence. The album came to me via a friend and the band were a complete unknown at that point. With all of the digital methods of music delivery, how is it a band this good can simply pass you by. And that is the problem, there’s too much out there, too many bands with 101 different ways of pushing music out and to latch onto something new can be a tough thing indeed. Therefore the old approaches are those that work best, word of mouth, reviews like this one, getting to a gig early enough to see the support ‘because that’s what you should do…’ And thus, I’m now aware of Little Red Kings.
So by virtue of word of mouth, I drag my (almost) 13 year old daughter into the mix and ask her for an opinion. Eluding to good beats and other stock phrases, she then latches onto Blacken, not for the lyrics but for the way the song switches seamlessly between the louder sections and the almost silent segments, areas within the song that allow for a moment of contemplation before storming in with the guitars once more.
Chaperone saw me focusing on the wonderful keys work from Craig Stevenson, asking Sophie what she thought of his playing only to find her fixated on the subtlest of guitar solos taking place at the back of the mix, drawing out it seems, long mournful, solitary notes to add a real haunting intro to the track.
The intro to Meth Mouth Blues had me digging out some classic Prince and ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ to compare it to. It’s a really mellow tune with shades of David Gilmour’s guitar playing apparent throughout. The song is, according to my daughter, the perfect slow dance for a couple at the end of the evening. I did quiz her on how she knows this but the conversation was dodged as the next track began to play!
Prize Of A Life brings to mind REM on the intro before a truly modern British rock sound kicks in. Southern France, evoking memories of Suicide is Painless (The Theme from M.A.S.H) to which I get the “Oh my god, it’s just like it but slowed down”, raising a smile and the recognition that we now have a new TV show to watch from the beginning together. The differences of course disappear once Jason’s voice is let loose reminding us just what we are actually hear to listen to.
The rest of the album plays out in a similar fashion. “Why do you like it?” is answered with a simple “Because everything is just so catchy” from my picky daughter who, like all children these days has the attention span of a gnat. It’s reassuring therefore that we got through the whole album with her switched on and enjoying it.
Overall, I love it. The hints of nostalgia harking back to classics from bands of the late 60s and early 70s when studio trickery wasn’t available to mask a lack of talent is mixed with a modern southern rock, blues rock, classic rock sound that can clearly appeal to old and new. You want convincing…. check out Long Live The Quiet Man first.
Well done !
Little Red Kings, hailing from Norwich, have been around since 2011 and thanks to a fellow music fan on Facebook I was made aware of them. Glad they did as I have been missing a treat on this band!
Little Red Kings consist of Jason Wick (vocals, guitar), John Pallister (keys, vocals), Harry Wickham (drums), Dougie Archer (guitar) and Ben Beach (bass).
This is the second album from the band and boy is it a belter! Little Red Kings have their roots in the 70′s blues rock of Free and there are hints of the Black Crowes, the pop rock sensibilities of Gun, the Foo Fighters pace, even the Answer on ‘A Lovers Tragedy’. They have such a variety of songs on here from the up and at ‘em chorus of ‘Josephine’, an instant hit on the ears, through to the laid back ‘Southern France’, Little Red Kings know their way around a good melody.
Jason Wick has that soulful singing style that can be silky smooth one minute, then off soaring into the stratosphere, ably demonstrated on ‘Rigor And Roll’, which also features a tasty guitar solo. Loving album closer ’1967′ a simple yet effective song with Jason Wick’s almost gospel like vocal coupled with a electric guitar.
‘Chaperone’ builds nicely from the piano/keys intro from John Pallister to a Foo Fighters’ approved riff and a rock solid rhythm section. Loving the spacey keys midway through before the song kicks off again. One of the instant songs on the album and one that would sound good in a live setting.
Harry Wickham manages to sneak in a quick drum solo on ‘No Friend Of Mine’ – not heard a electronic drum solo like that since Queen’s Roger Taylor on ‘The Game’ album.
At sixteen songs sometimes an album can seem perhaps too full, not so here bar maybe opener ‘Prelude’. With the likes of Inglorious, Bad Touch, the Temperance Movement et al gaining traction and interest Little Red Kings deserve their time in the limelight based on ‘Callous’. ****
Their sound is like old Blues veterans being shown how to get a bigger sound from younger gunslingers, there’s a recognisable riff, an organ, good warm vocals and nicely apparent backing vox. This is all there as the album opens with ‘Said To Me‘, but then multiple claps arrive, it starts to shudder and lazy writers like me write the word ‘Zep’ for, those Bluesers are having a bit of a talent exchange with the older skool organ fest of ‘Propaganda Lie‘. But they also do the quiet verse and massive chorus thing with real class and a knowing wink, ‘Josephine‘ explodes (best to wear an old shirt) and that Indie sharp guitar attack, but ‘No Friend Of Mine‘ is wearing tight trousers and strutting with its chest out, just wonderful.
There aren’t many downsides here; nope, even ‘Meth Mouth Blues‘ is a gospel confession with a heartfelt plea, OK, ‘Prize Of A Life‘ is a bit U2 bombastic, but some like that. Tried to dislike ‘A Lovers Tragedy‘, but who can take against that massive chorus?
And look at that souped up Blues ‘Till And Toil‘ shaking the rafters and smoking up the room with a subterranean bass and stabbing organ (ahem), but don’t forget the riproaring finish to ‘Patience (Losing Sleep)‘. Is there a double bass line in eastgoing ‘Rigor And Roll‘? Damn near, what a 70’s guitar solo soaring treat.
This is standing next to amazing. For a young band out of Norwich, this could be amazing. What an introduction, a party you’ll kick yourself for missing, one you’ll always remember if you were there.
The only time I’ve ever bowed the knee to a King…
The majority of the album is daring and should be considered as thinking outside of the box, not merely as Black Crowes copyists. You don’t pick up a hint of Jethro Tull in the background of ‘Blacken’? Just me then? Or how about the stunning ‘Meth Mouth Blues’, that’s a proper tune in and drop out moment. I love the laid back guitar tones and the haunting keys on this beauty. It also forms part of an epic mid-section with ‘Prize Of A Life’ and it’s soaring melodies, as well as the majestic ‘Southern France’ and the Springsteen-like imagery of ‘A Lovers Tragedy’. The standout moment on an album (a proper album, in the truest sense) of many, is the sublime ‘Long Live The Quiet Man’. Wick excels on the slower moments on the album, and this is his crowning moment. A track that gets better with each listen, and a high calibre musical performance from players still cutting their teeth as a band.
Little Red Kings don’t play it safe at all. A bass solo on ‘Fetch Me Water’ is not playing it safe, and for that they should be commended. The fact that it’s a little bit different, means that ‘Callous’ never seems to drag. You simply don’t know what is coming up on the next track.