Level 42 in 2009
|Origin||Isle of Wight, England|
|Genres||Jazz-funk, sophisti-pop, New Wave, pop rock|
W14 / Universal Records (2005–Present)
|Rowland 'Boon' Gould
The band gained fame for its high-calibre musicianship — in particular that of Mark King, whose percussive slap-bass guitar technique provided the driving groove of many of the band's hits. The band are also known for the combination of King's lead vocals and keyboard player Mike Lindup's falsetto backing vocals.
Having been a very successful live and studio band in the 1980s, Level 42's commercial profile diminished during the early 1990s following a series of personnel changes and musical shifts. After disbanding in 1994, the band reformed in 2001.
Mark King and the Gould brothers — Rowland (universally known as "Boon") and Phil — had all been brought up on the Isle of Wight and had played together in various bands during their teenage years. Phil Gould went on to study at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where he met keyboard player Mike Lindup. Although Lindup was primarily studying piano, he had also taken a course in percussion alongside Phil. The two musicians found that they shared musical heroes: Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Keith Jarrett and Jan Hammer.
By 1979, Mark King was also living and working in London. Both he and Phil Gould became involved in Robin Scott's pop project M — Gould contributed to the US number one single 'Pop Muzik'. Another musician who contributed to M was a renowned Afro-French keyboard and synthesizer player called Waliou "Wally" Badarou.
In late 1979, Phil introduced King and Lindup to each other and the band which would become Level 42 began to coalesce via loose rehearsal sessions, developing their own jazz-funk fusion style. The first of these incarnations featured Dominic Miller as guitarist, but he was soon replaced by Boon Gould on the latter's return from working in the United States (Miller would later find fame playing with Sting).
Initially, the instrumental responsibilities in the band were not easy to decide. Boon Gould was equally adept on six-string guitar and bass guitar, as well as playing saxophone. Like Phil Gould, Mike Lindup had trained as a percussionist and played drums in addition to keyboards. Although he also played guitar, Mark King was primarily a drummer but (after an ill-fated European venture) had recently had to sell his own drumkit in order to fund his journey back to the UK. With Phil Gould set to take the drummer's role in the band (and Boon Gould established as the most skilled guitar player) it made most sense for King to use his own guitar-playing skills in order to take on the role of bass guitarist, so he volunteered to learn how to play the instrument.
At the time, King was working in a London music store, where he observed visiting American funk players demonstrating the thumb-slap bass guitar technique. King (already a notably flexible musician) was an extremely quick learner and developed his own soon-to-be-infamous slap-bass style in a matter of weeks. With the bass player position taken care of, Boon Gould could now concentrate on guitar, Mike Lindup on keyboards (and occasional percussion) and Phil Gould on drums. The band was soon christened Level 42.
Having maintained their links with Wally Badarou, Phil Gould and Mark King invited him to work with Level 42. Although he never formally joined the band, Badarou would become a fifth member in all but name: co-writing songs, playing keyboards and synthesizers in the studio and co-producing the records. King, Badarou and Lindup would generally write Level 42's music, with the Gould brothers concentrating mainly on lyrics.
After they were seen jamming together, the band were invited to sign to a small independent record label — Elite Records — in 1980. They were also encouraged to branch out into vocal music (previously, the band had been purely instrumental). They considered looking for a singer from outside the band, but eventually King and Lindup (with some reluctance) became the band's singers. They developed a complementary style, with Lindup's falsetto frequently used for harmonies and choruses while King's deep tenor generally led the verses.
The Elite Records single "Love Meeting Love" brought the band to the attention of Polydor Records, with whom they signed their second recording contract. In 1981 they released their first Polydor single, "Love Games", which became a Top 40 hit. They then cut their critically acclaimed, self-titled debut album, which was an immediate success throughout Europe. The band quickly established themselves as concert favourites, taking advantage of the high performance skills of all four members.
Polydor capitalised on the band's success by releasing a second album, The Early Tapes later in the same year. This was a compilation of material from the Elite Records period (and is also known by an alternate name, Strategy).
In 1982 Level 42 released their third album The Pursuit of Accidents. This was a further development of the Level 42 formula, maintaining their instrumental jazz-funk skills and styling but also experimenting further with pop songs. Both of the singles from the album — "Weave Your Spell" and "The Chinese Way" — charted. The latter in particular rose high in the charts and gained the band a much wider audience than before, ensuring that the parent album went on to become a huge seller.
A fourth album, Standing in the Light, was released in 1983. Produced by Larry Dunn and Verdine White (of Earth, Wind & Fire), this album began a new era for the band, being less experimental and jazzy than previous releases. It provided them with their first UK Top Ten hit in the shape of The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up). Notably, the album featured no instrumental tracks whatsoever, with the band now focussing heavily on songs. (The band would not release another instrumental on album until 1988 and the Staring at the Sun album.)
The 1984 album True Colours veered stylistically between funk, power pop, mid-tempo rock and moody ballads. It yielded the singles "The Chant Has Begun" and "Hot Water". The latter was a Top 20 hit in Britain and a Top 5 hit in the Netherlands where the band became very popular (the song reached also #7 in Belgium). During the same year, Mark King released his first solo album Influences on which he played the majority of the instruments (with a guest appearance by Aswad's Drummie Zeb, and with Lindup guesting on additional keyboards).
By this time, Level 42 were known for their power as a live band (as showcased on the 1985 double live album A Physical Presence). For live gigs the band added Krys Mach, who toured with the group from 1984 to 1988 and contributed to some album recordings.
The next studio album, World Machine, was released in 1985. By this time, the band had moved on from their original pure jazz-funk sound towards a much more mainstream pop/R'n'B sound, with King's bass and Lindup and Badarou's chugging keyboards serving as templates for smart pop songs such as "Something About You" and "Leaving Me Now" which were both UK Top 20 hits (Top 40 hits in Holland).
Significantly, "Something About You" was also their first (and only) US Top 10 the following year; also reaching the Top 5 in Canada and the Top 20 in Italy. "Leaving Me Now" was the second hit from this album, peaking at #15 in the United Kingdom but less successful in Europe. Elements of Level 42's roots could still be found in the funky "Coup d'État" and "Dream Crazy" on the UK version of the album, as well as a long instrumental track named "Hell," which was also recorded during the World Machine sessions (This last track did not see the light of day until the early 2000s as an MP3 download on the original Napster).
During the recording of World Machine, the first major tensions between Phil Gould and Mark King began to surface over musical direction, production and their personal relationship. This clashing led to Gould leaving the band for a week. Allan Holdsworth's drummer Gary Husband was lined up as a potential replacement, but Gould and King's dispute was subsequently patched up and the group went on to enjoy their most successful year to date.
The "Lessons in Love" single arrived in early 1986—a song that would soon appear on 1987's Running in the Family album. The song was a massive international hit and became the band's biggest seller. It gave Level 42 their first number one album in Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and South Africa, increasing the band's popularity considerably (it also placed at #2 in Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden, #3 in the UK and in Ireland, #4 in Austria, #10 in Norway, #12 in the US in 1987 and #22 in France). Further singles continued and built on the band's existing success: "To Be With You Again" (#6 in the Netherlands and in Ireland), the ballad "It's Over" (#3 in Ireland and #7 in the Netherlands) and Running In The Family's title track (#1 in Norway and Denmark, #3 in the Netherlands, #4 in Ireland, #5 in Switzerland).
Keeping up the momentum, the band played at the Prince's Trust concert in July 1987, with Eric Clapton standing in on lead guitar for a performance of Running in the Family. King and Lindup—as house band—also performed with artists including Ben E. King on "Stand By Me" and The Righteous Brothers on "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'". .
During 1987, both Phil Gould and Boon Gould left Level 42. Both were apparently suffering from nervous exhaustion, but other factors played a role in their departure.
Boon Gould left the band in late 1987, following a support slot on a Madonna tour. He had been suffering from nervous exhaustion and also wanted to leave the lifestyle of a constantly touring musician in order to settle down and spend more time with his wife and children. His relationship with the remaining members of Level 42 remained amicable, and he continued to write lyrics for the band following his departure.
Phil Gould left the band mid-tour in December 1987. In addition to his exhaustion, his relationship with King had broken down and they found it difficult to work together. Phil was also reportedly dissatisfied with the band's direction in terms of its newer "pop" sound (even going as far to call it "shallow pop music, which I'd had as much fun playing as when I played in holiday camps").
Boon Gould was temporarily replaced by a stand-in guitarist, Paul Gendler (ex-Modern Romance and sessions), for a six-week headlining tour and for further support slots with Tina Turner. When Phil Gould left the band during the tour, he was also replaced by another stand-in - Neil Conti (drummer for Prefab Sprout). 
Following the tour, Level 42 recruited Gary Husband as the band's new full-time drummer. He in turn recommended Steve Topping (ex-Drowning Not Waving, Esquire, John Stevens) as a replacement guitarist. Unfortunately, Topping and King's personalities clashed and Topping eventually left the band in early 1988 after initial writing and rehearsing sessions in Dublin.
Most of the next Level 42 album, Staring at the Sun, was recorded without a permanent guitarist. Rhythm guitar on the studio recordings was handled either by the band's old friend Dominic Miller or by an uncredited Mark King. In April 1988, towards the end of the sessions, the band recruited lead guitarist Alan Murphy (a highly-rated session guitarist who'd worked extensively with Kate Bush and had also been a member of Go West). Murphy recorded all of the album's lead lines and guitar solos in a single day.
Staring at the Sun was released in 1988, reaching number 2 in the UK and the top ten in several European charts. It included the hit-single "Heaven in My Hands" (number 12 in the UK and also top twenty in the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, etc.). Boon Gould co-wrote many of the tracks with King, Lindup and Badarou. Gary Husband was credited with his first co-write with King on "Tracie".
The band then went out on a four-month European tour, culminating in six sell-out nights at Wembley Arena (recordings from these concerts were released seven years later as the Live At Wembley album.)
During 1989, Alan Murphy contracted pneumonia, which was complicated by the fact that he was already suffering from AIDS.  His decline was rapid, and he died on October 19, 1989. This was a huge shock to the band, who had not known of Murphy's condition and who had grown so fond of him that they stated at the time that they "could not replace Alan." Murphy may have been aware of his condition before joining Level 42. At the time, Go West had been stalled by internal disagreements, and one of Murphy's reasons for joining Level 42 was to ensure that he spent his last days playing the music that he loved. 
Devastated, Level 42 took a year off to regroup and rethink. To cover the gap and to fulfil the band's contract with Polydor Records, Level Best (a greatest hits compilation) was released in 1990. During the break, Mike Lindup also recorded and released his debut solo album, Changes (featuring Dominic Miller, Pino Palladino on bass and Manu Katché on drums).
In December 1990, Level 42 returned to play a record run of concerts at Hammersmith Odeon, London (the concerts had been booked almost two years before). The role of guitarist was filled by Gary Husband's former employer—virtuoso jazz-fusion guitarist Allan Holdsworth, whom Husband had asked to play as a favour while the band searched for a permanent guitar player. (Holdsworth had also been a hero and major influence for the late Alan Murphy). These concerts also marked the arrival of Lyndon Connah (ex-64 Spoons) on additional keyboards and backing vocals and the horn section from the Guaranteed album, John Thirkell and Gary Barnacle.
The band signed a new contract with RCA Records in 1990, for whom they produced their next album, Guaranteed. Musically, the album demonstrated that Level 42 were trying to blend more of their earlier influences, such as Mahavishnu Orchestra, into their smooth pop sound. Although most of the rhythm guitar work was once again handled by Dominic Miller, Gary Husband asked Holdsworth to provide some guitar work (notably on "A Kinder Eye"). Husband himself contributed keyboards to the album (as well as drums), and also increased his role as songwriter, co-wroting many tracks with King, Lindup and Badarou. The album includes the only track completely written by Husband ("If You Were Mine"), which also featured on the Guaranteed single release. Mark King also collaborated with British lyricist Drew Barfield to expand the songwriting.
Guaranteed was well-received by American music critics, who appreciated the group's musicianship and regarded it as Level 42's most musically sophisticated work to date). However, the album did not get good reviews in the UK, and the pop music scene in the UK had simultaneously moved in a different direction. Despite Guaranteed reaching #3 in the UK charts (while the title track, released as a single, reached #17), it was ultimately less commercially successful than previous efforts. Many of the band's jazz-funk-oriented fans, although they had accommodated the shift towards pop, apparently did not appreciate the album's more rock-oriented style.
After the recording of Guaranteed (and a week-long promotional tour), Level 42 found themselves in need of a permanent guitarist. Mark King assumed that Allan Holdsworth would not be interested in taking the position, and therefore looked elsewhere for other musicians. (King subsequently discovered that Holdsworth would have been willing to continue with the band after all).
The permanent guitarist position was soon filled by Jakko Jakszyk, a musician with a broad pop, progressive rock and jazz-fusion background who'd previously played with 64 Spoons, Dizrythmia (with Danny Thompson), Henry Cow spin-off The Lodge and Tom Robinson (as well as on innumerable sessions). Although he didn't play on Guaranteed, Jakszyk did appear on the album's cover photo and took part in promotional duties and the tour for the album. (He would also play on two B-sides from this era: "At The Great Distance" and "As Years Go By.")
Despite their lower commercial profile, the band continued to be a potent live draw, with the studio members joined on stage by singer Annie McCaig (who also did backup vocals on the Guaranteed album).
Following the end of promotion for Guaranteed, the King-Lindup-Jakszyk-Husband line-up of Level 42 returned to the studio to record several new tracks. At least two of these (Fire and Free Your Soul) were completed before the band once again changed its lineup. recorded between the Guaranteed and Forever Now albums.
In early 1993, Gary Husband left Level 42. Various reasons for this were cited at the time — some stated that Husband did not like to play with a sequencer or click track and that the band were increasingly using more of these in their performances. Husband was also keen to continue his ongoing work with Allan Holdsworth and to develop his other career as jazz composer and bandleader (both as drummer and keyboard player/pianist).
However, some music industry rumours suggested that the record company had put pressure on King and Lindup to work with Phil Gould again, after the disappointing reaction to Guaranteed. Gould's role as co-writer on many of the bands early hits was seen as a recipe for creating a more commercial Level 42 album. Whatever the truth of this rumour, King extended an invitation to Gould, after which both agreed to put their long-running differences aside.
Gould returned as Level 42's drummer and principal lyricist for 1994's Forever Now album, which saw the group move closer to its R&B/jazz roots (especially in the lush ballad "Romance", the acid-jazz-influenced "Sunbed Song" and the dance-pop "Learn to Say No"). Further changes to the band were evident in that all guitars on the album were played by the American session guitarist Danny Bloom. Jakko Jakszyk did not play on the album, and has suggested that this too was a result of record company politics - with Husband gone and Phil Gould only formally contributing in the studio, Level 42 were now being marketed as just King and Lindup. This theory was supported by the fact that promo shots and videos for the album's singles (Forever Now, All Over You and Love in a Peaceful World), only featured King and Lindup. (The only other time this had happened was for the promo of 1987's "Children Say", which was the first promotional video shot after the Gould brothers left.) Forever Now was a critical succcess: and with one further album required as part of the band's three-album deal with RCA, fans saw a bright future for the band.
However, the reunion was short-lived. When Level 42 began to promote the new album (with Jakszyk returning to the live band for concerts and TV appearances) it was without Phil Gould. Dismayed at what he felt was the record company's ineptitude, Gould played only one promotional gig and did not go on the road for the Forever Now tour. He was quickly replaced as live drummer by Gavin Harrison, a widely regarded session drummer and long-term Jakko Jakszyk associate who'd previously played with Renaissance. (Harrison would later drum for both Porcupine Tree and King Crimson.)
The years of personnel upheaval and hard gigging had taken their toll, and it was announced halfway through the Forever Now tour (on the day of the Manchester Apollo gig) that Level 42 would be disbanding permanently following their concert commitments.
In 1996, a second Level 42 live album, Live At Wembley, was released, featuring a 1988 concert from the Staring At The Sun band.
In 1996, Mark King signed to Virgin Records and released a solo single "Bitter Moon" (Lyndon Connah, who played with Level 42 at the Hammersmith Odeon live shows in 1990, played keyboards on the track). This was followed up by his second solo album One Man (featuring lyrics by Boon Gould). The album was not a big commercial success. King has subsequently expressed an unwillingness to get involved in record industry politics again after his experience with Virgin Records .
King later toured as a solo act, playing his own new compositions and some Level 42 favourites. In 1999, he played some shows at the Jazz Cafe in London under the name of "The Mark King Group." This was of notable interest to Level 42 fans as the band included former Level 42 members - drummer Gary Husband and guitarist Jakko Jakszyk - as well as second guitarist Nathan King (Mark King's younger brother) and Lyndon Connah on keyboards. Over the next couple of years King toured with his new band (sometimes called "Grupo Mark King"), although Jakszyk left the band after the Jazz Cafe shows and the lineup was augmented by saxophone player Sean Freeman.
In August 1999, three-quarters of the original Level 42 line-up reunited for a private show. Phil Gould invited some musician friends to play at a party, including his brother Boon and Mike Lindup. In 2001, Mark King, Mike Lindup and Phil Gould played together (at Lindup's wedding) for the first time in ten years. This led to a tentative get-together of the original line-up along with Wally Badarou, to work on a new studio album only. However, the reformation was short-lived and the sessions were abandoned.
Increasingly, Mark King and his band were playing more and more Level 42 tracks at their live shows. In late 2001, King came to a business agreement with Mike Lindup and bought the rights to the name Level 42. Although Lindup agreed to play on future albums, he did not want to tour.
King announced the new lineup of Level 42 as himself, Gary Husband on drums, Nathan King on guitar, Lyndon Connah on keyboards and Sean Freeman on saxophone. (In effect, King was relaunching his solo band under his old band's name.)
On 13 February 2005, Level 42 played a historic date at The Forum in London. For the first time since 14 October 1994 at The Royal Albert Hall, Mike Lindup joined the band on stage.
2005 saw a burst of reissue activity. In March, two classic-era Rockpalast shows from 1983 and 1984 were released on DVD, and in April a show from 1983 recorded in Scotland was released on CD as The River Sessions". In June, The Ultimate Collection II was released (including a brand new song called "Genius Of Love" - this was in fact a Level 42 tribute/collaboration by Italian-American dance producer Hardage, featuring Mark King on vocals and incorporating a sample of the Level 42 track "I Want Eyes").
A new album, Retroglide was announced in February 2006. The album was chiefly recorded and produced by King at his home studio, with Gary Husband, Lyndon Connah, Sean Freeman and Nathan King all contributing. (For Husband, this was his first Level 42 studio album since 1991's Guaranteed.) Retroglide also featured input from past Level 42 members. Mike Lindup added keyboards and vocals to many tracks, and Boon Gould co-wrote most of the album with King as well as contributing a guitar solo on the track "Ship." Although Phil Gould is uncredited on the album, the track "Ship" is the first song since 1986 worked on by all four original members, as Phil originally arranged the track with his brother Boon. However, Retroglide was also the first Level 42 album not to feature any contributions from Wally Badarou.
The album was promoted via a supporting tour throughout the UK, Netherlands, Germany and some other European countries, scheduled for October 2006. In May 2006, Level 42 announced that Mike Lindup would return full-time to replace Lyndon Connah on keyboards. (Connah went on to play keyboards with a revived Go West, as well as continuing work with his own band 3 Blind Mice.)On Sunday 26 August 2007, Level 42 played an outdoor gig at the Arundel Festival in West Sussex. Set in the grounds of the ancient Arundel Castle, in the village of the same name, the performance had a number of unexpected changes to the setlist. "Running in the Family," a top 10 hit from 1987, was the second song in the set for the first time ever. The track usually appeared towards the end of the show in a medley of the band's most successful singles, which King affectionately refers to as "a string of knackered old hits." The concert was Level 42's only UK show of 2007.
In 2008, Universal Music was set to reissue Running in the Family in the label's 'Deluxe Edition' format, which takes a single disc album and turns it into a double disc package with previously unreleased bonus material. Extended reissues of the Standing in the Light, True Colours and Staring at the Sun albums were scheduled for release at the same time. As of September 2009, all four have yet to be released. Previously, Universal had reissued World Machine in the 'Deluxe Edition' format, along with single disc reissues of Level 42, Strategy, and The Pursuit of Accidents. A new twenty date Level 42 UK tour was announced by the band on January 16, 2008. 
Both King and Lindup have been quoted (King in the magazine Record Collector, Lindup at level42.com) saying they are considering releasing a new studio album. This would possibly consist of new acoustic versions of Level 42 songs, following the band's success in performing acoustic shows on various European radio shows in 2006 while promoting Retroglide. Two notable points in these live radio performances were King singing and playing acoustic guitar (along with his brother Nathan), instead of his trademark bass playing, with both Lindup and Husband performing on acoustic pianos. This possible "acoustic" album was also mentioned in syndicated radio interviews. The band is contracted to deliver a further two albums to Universal Music subsidiary W14 Music, as part of a Distribution deal signed prior to the release of Retroglide in 2006.
The Level 42 lineup has stayed consistent since 2006, when Mike Lindup returned to the position of full-time keyboard player.
1 Boon subsequently wrote lyrics for the albums: Staring at the Sun (1988) and 2006's Retroglide. He also played a guitar solo on the track "Ship", which was originally his composition, which was added to by King.
The original formation stayed intact during the period of 1980 up to 1987.
The origin of the band's name has been variously described as being inspired by a sign in a lift in a very tall building in the US; the top level of the biggest car-park in the world, in Japan; the floor on which Jonathan Pryce's character resides in the film Brazil (which was released long after the band gained international recognition); or after Tower 42 (also known as the NatWest Tower) formerly the tallest building in the City of London.
King and Boon Gould decided the band should be called simply by a number, and they both favoured '88' - the number of the bus they used to catch to the recording studio. However, Lindup and Phil Gould saw a poster for a band called Rocket 88 so their idea was abandoned (although '88' was later used as a song title). King and Gould both claim to have been reading Douglas Adams' comical science fiction novel, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy wherein the Answer to The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, is '42'. Therefore '42' was suggested as a name for the band.
It should be noted that their then producer, Andy Sojka (now deceased), similarly claimed to have been reading the book, and claimed to have put forward the number as a suggested band name. It is known therefore, that the use of the number '42' in the band name came from either King, Boon Gould, or Sojka. The appendage of the word 'Level' is claimed to have been from either Sojka's lawyer, or John Gould's (the third brother and band manager) lawyer.
Other names considered for the band were 'Powerline' and 'Kick in the Head'. 'Powerline' was rejected and given to another of Sojka's groups, and it was on a white label promotional record numbered 'DAZZ 4' that the words 'Level 42' first appeared. The band providing the B-side—a track called "Sandstorm" (a track which they also wanted to call "Kick in the Head"). The A side was provided by 'Powerline'.
'Kick In The Head' was finally used by the band as a working title for the song "A Floating Life" on their True Colours album. The lyric features in the song.
Three further songs (all instrumentals) were 'numbered' by the band: '43', '88' and the B-side 'Forty-two'.
Between 1980 and 1994, Level 42 had a total of 30 Singles in the UK charts. The following 20 singles reached the Top 40 of the UK Singles Chart:
1981: "Love Games" - #38
1987: "It's Over" - #10