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Michael Weston King
|Michael Weston King is a the singer and songwriter in the Good Sons; a band from the North West of England who have flown the flag for alt-country on this side of the Atlantic since the mid 90's. Recently, he has concentrated on his solo career, pursuing the more singer-songwriterly elements of his style, and has released three albums: "God Shaped Hole"; the live compilation, "Live in ... Dinky Town"; and, in his most successful outing so far, "A Simple Man", which refined and expanded on the previous work. Triste caught up with him in Birmingham in January 2002.
Triste: Can you summarise your early career as a musician?
Michael Weston King: The first band I played with was a band called The Tradition, which was myself and Chas Cole, who now runs CMP, and a guy called Steve Rowbottom, who before that was in a band called The Acrylics, which were a ska band which featured Roland Gift who went on to play in The Fine Young Cannibals. The three of us formed this band with my songs, but it was a three piece post-Joy Division/Bunnymen kind of thing. We did a few demos and a couple of gigs, but it didn't last very long. Then Steve left and Chas and I carried on as a duo and changed our name to Fragile Friends and we were together for about two and a half to three years. I was very much into Costello and Squeeze and we were trying to do that intelligent kind of pop. We put a couple of singles out and were part of that Merseyside scene with China Crisis etc.
Triste: That would be when? 81 or 82?
Michael Weston King: Exactly around that time. We had a couple of big management deals. It was the 80's and they were shopping for big deals, but we never got one. We had quite a bit of money spent on us, but the music became more and more commercial until it got where we sounded less like Squeeze or the poppy side of Costello and we were sounding more like Tears For Fears. The music was just being totally compromised to try and get a deal. I thought this wasn't what I really wanted to do, I had had enough, so I quit and went back to the folk clubs with my acoustic guitar. And that also coincided with bands like the Long Ryders, REM coming over from the States and I was also getting into the new country acts like Dwight [Yoakam]and Nanci Griffith.
Triste: You said about going back to the folk clubs, but you also mentioned being influenced by Joy Division, and straight away you think long greatcoats and doomy, post-punk synth music. That's the antithesis of folk isn't it?
Michael Weston King: Yes. When I said go back to the folk clubs, I mean even at that time when someone like Clive Gregson played at the Bothy Folk Club in Southport I'd go and see him - partly because of coming out of the post-punk scene with Any Trouble and also because he's a great songwriter. And there were certain other people like that I'd go and see - like when Richard Thompson played Southport Arts Centre, before he had that second resurgence, I'd go and see him play and Loudon Wainwrigh too. This was the early 80's when there was only a die-hard following for them.
Triste: So you were quite cosmopolitan then in terms of your musical influences?
Michael Weston King: Oh, totally. That's also why I couldn't stand what we were doing as a band. It became so insipid - like Tears For Fears and those other polished bands like Living In A Box which all the labels were after at that time. These management deals were in. We were being steered in that direction.
Triste: Were you playing live at that stage?
Michael Weston King: Yes. It was that classic 80's thing where we did piles of gigs with backing tapes as a duo like OMD. So it was a total switch from that to going back round the folk clubs in the North West with an acoustic guitar - in places like Leyland, in Preston and Chorley - with 10 songs I'd written and just getting out and doing it. Geoff who ran Probe records in Liverpool, who put out two of the Fragile Friends singles on Probe, I told him what I was doing and he told me I had to contact this guy called Gary Hall in Preston. "He's doing exactly what you're doing, he's had his bands and now he's focusing on this kind of thing." I contacted Gary, we got on very well, and I went out supporting the Stormkeepers, who were already pretty very active and then Gary said, "This is mad, why don't you join the band?" so I did, and we spent two and a half, maybe three years together and made two albums and toured all round Europe doing a sort of British form of country-rock, which really wasn't really going on at that time. There was a wave of bands in the North West, but because bands like The Levellers were huge and the Waterboys were huge and we had a fiddle player, we kind of got lumped into that. Which really we weren't - we were more of a country-twangy kind of thing. Anyway that finished and Shaun [McFetridge], the bass player, and myself went on to form the Good Sons. And we tried to take it on a little further with more of an emphasis on the rock than the country and combine the singer-songwriter stuff I liked with American bands that were happening like the Jayhawks and Uncle Tupelo and come up with a British version. That's what brought us to the start of the Good Sons.
Triste: Was there actually a market for the music when you were playing with Gary Hall? The Long Ryders were critical favourites for all of about 6 months, REM changed their style and moved on, while the Paisley Underground just faded away.
Michael Weston King: That's right. What we were doing was really pleasing ourselves, but it wasn't actually getting across to a wide audience. We actually fell in with that sort of Waterboys kind of thing.
Triste: You mean that Energy Orchard, Pogues, Van Morrison and the Chieftains, that rootsy kind of thing?
Michael Weston King: Exactly. Actually we toured with The Energy Orchard all the time and became good mates. Well good mates might be an interesting phrase, but we toured a lot and did a lot together and Richard, the fiddle player from the Stormkeepers played quite a bit with the Energy Orchard. So there was a bit of that going on, but perhaps because we were more on the country-twangy side of thing we weren't getting over into that Celtic kind of thing, which those bands were, and so maybe that's what appealed. But what we liked at that time was Joe Ely and the first few Steve Earle records and what Dwight Yoakam was doing. So we had always had that difficulty, which the Good Sons and other British bands have had, of doing authentic, essentially American music, but being original at the same time, not just going out and doing those standard covers which those other bands do as well. But we had some good times and we did actually get signed by a big label, albeit for one single, by BMG. We went to Europe a lot. It was good. From my own point of view having spent four or five years, more than that, where I had fronted bands where I had been the writer, I quite enjoyed just playing acoustic guitar and lead guitar and having no pressure to write.
Triste: So it wasn't two front men like a kind of the Jayhawks?
Michael Weston King: No. Of course, I sang harmonies and on a couple of songs Gary and I swapped verses. It was his baby and I was kind of happy for it to be that way.
Triste: Did any of your songs get an airing?
Michael Weston King: No, I never even pushed for it. I often played support so I did my stuff that way. But eventually it got to the stage where I thought, you've coasted for a couple of years and taken a back seat. As it turned out the band was reaching its end and Gary was getting into doing the singer-songwriter things and that's what he did. And I formed the Good Sons and I thought this is how it's going to be; it's going to be my songs, but it's going to be a band. It's not going to be "Michael Weston King and the ..." It'll be The Good Sons, with my songs, and we'll all chip in, it won't be a dictatorial thing; the only point being that it's my songs but everybody will contribute to how we arrange things.
Triste: So how did you actually assemble the Good Sons. Was it by word of mouth?
Michael Weston King: There were three bands going around at the same time as The Stormkeepers. There was also Red Moon Joe from Chorley and Mirrors Over Kiev from Bolton/Manchester of which Phil [Abram]was one and Ben [Jackson]the drummer. Mirrors had been around a long time, more part of the Manchester scene, but musically were in that similar sort of acoustic Dylan/Waterboys kind of vein. But they too were reaching the end of what they were doing. When I said right this is what I'm going to do I took Shaun from the Stormkeepers, Phil from Mirrors over Kiev and initially I took Pat the last drummer in the Stormkeepers. We were a bit like Spinal Tap, we had about four drummers and they were always getting sacked or disappearing, but Pat was the last one and he was a great drummer, but totally unreliable, so after he had failed to show up for the first two rehearsals he was out. So Phil said Ben's not doing anything, so we got him in, so it's been those four ever since.
Triste: It sounds kind of grandiose, but did you have some kind of long term plan when you formed the Good Sons? Some kind of commercial or artistic ideas?
Michael Weston King: After my previous experiences with the musical heavyweights I was always going to please myself musically. If people liked it, great; if they didn't well it meant I 'd be broke, but at least I'd be happy with the music I'd made and that's always been the case. The only plan, as such, was to take the real singer songwriter stuff which I loved - not just Dylan Tom Waits, Springsteen, but also people like Townes, Guy Clark and John Prine - and combine that with the rock approach of bands like Uncle Tupelo and The Jayhawks, who although they weren't exactly big at that time were what I was listening to. That was really the remit. We recorded a version of "You Are Everything" on the first album and at the time we thought it might be a strange cover version which a label might pick up. But we never approached the majors. We just drew up a list of the labels that were releasing stuff by artists we liked and Glitterhouse was one of them and they signed us after we sent them 4 songs. We basically said we were going to make a record, so whenever we did any gig we'd put money aside to go towards making the first album and every time we finished a track we'd send it to Glitterhouse. Basically after we had finished four tracks they said how much money do you need to finish an album and we signed from there. And after that, the next one I sent was the one with Townes on, which of course excited them considerably, irrespective of the track, the fact there was Townes on it! Obviously that was a real boost, but it wasn't the cause of us getting signed as a lot of people thought. They hadn't heard that track before they gave us the money to finish the album.
Triste: How did you manage to get Townes to play on your record? Was it through supporting him in that period of 1994/1995?
Michael Weston King: Well I don't remember the exact dates. For the last three or four tours he did in the UK I was always supporting him on them. That was the first time or maybe the second. One day after a gig I said I was doing an album at the moment would he like to come in the studio and sing on this track. It would be perfect. He'd heard me sing this song at gigs anyway and he liked it and he said he'd do it. The track was virtually complete and just needed the vocal to be done, so he came in on the afternoon of the day we were playing Manchester University and we did it and it was great.
Triste: Looking back on the four albums you recorded with the Good Sons. The first album was a full electric band effort, the second album was more stripped down and the third was probably a more fully formed effort. There was a gap and then you recorded your current album which is a band effort, but different again with strong echoes of your solo album. How do you rate the albums now? Was there a continuous progression? Or a series of peaks and troughs?
Michael Weston King: I think with the first one we were trying to achieve that combination of singer-songwriter stuff and country rock. The second one the label suggested to us. They did this limited edition mail order thing. What they said to us was that if bands or artists have stuff lying around they send it to them and they'd compile it and put it out as a limited edition kind of thing. I said I've got songs lying around but they're not recorded. He gave us a pretty small amount of money - about £1000 - and we went and recorded them. Half of them I hadn't played at all so we approached doing it very quickly. We played the songs and just busked through it basically and that's how the second album was made. But it did seem to lend itself to that style as a lot of those songs were from playing with The Stormkeepers, or when I was supporting acts, so they hadn't been played live with a whole band, so it seemed strange for that second album to go that way and be very singer-songwriter. But it did get very good reviews - a lot of people in Germany seemed to like it, but it was still obviously a band record in the sense we all played on it, even though it was very stripped down. The third album we wanted to go and make a bigger fully produced band album. Glitterhouse never gave us a huge amount of money, so we had to do what we could with the money they gave us. The third record we wanted to make a rock record again and that's what we did with really lots of guitars rocked up high.
Triste: That album seemed to get a lot of commercial interest shown in it. In America I think they wanted the title changed. Was there a lot of interest shown in that album?
Michael Weston King: The third album, Wines Lines and Valentines, when it came out in '97 at the same time the first album had been passed to a guy called Heinz Geissler at Watermelon Records and he really loved Singing The Glory Down and he wanted to release it. At the same time the new record was just completed, so I said it would be strange to release a record that was two years old when the new record was just out in the UK. He heard the new one and said he liked that as well, so he released it, but he wanted to change the title to Angels in the End which was the opening track. And there were also plans to release that as a single, so that came out in March '98 in the States, but sadly, within six months the label had gone bust. It had been in difficulties for a while, in fact it had been in difficulties when he signed us, although wee didn't know that at that time. Watermelon had been going a long time and had released some great records notably Eric Taylor's solo record, that was a marvellous album, and they made some albums with Alejandro Escovedo - good Texan music. It was great to be on it, but it was short-lived.
Triste: It seemed that at this time you hit a patch of bad luck, with several unfortunate non-musical events affecting you. Would you mind running through those key points again?
Michael Weston King: After the album came out in the States we thought we were going to go across there to tour. The label wouldn't finance and underwrite the tour so that didn't happen, and about this time Phil decided to move out to Italy limiting the activities the band could do. We did a lot of dates in Germany in June or July and during that tour we had a bad car smash and a lot of the gear was trashed and I was in a bad way. The vehicle got totally written off and we got fined quite a lot, so the label, Glitterhouse that is, had to bail us out on that. I had to pay some hefty fines as well. So finances weren't good, but '98 was quite a busy time. We played Glastonbury, we did quite a few festivals. We had to borrow gear for that, what gear which was still in one piece we couldn't get back from Germany. The vehicle had been written off and we had some things we had to bring back. Rheinhard, who ran Glitterhouse, lent us his second vehicle to get home in. It was a nightmare, so we had to borrow gear for those events. And on the personal side I separated from my wife, so all those things resulted in our annus horribilis or whatever it is and to cap it all we heard by the autumn that the label had gone bust. We usually get well-reviewed at least even if we're not selling lots of records and there were no reviews coming in from the States and the label was fobbing me off about why this was happening. In the end I found that the label owed the PR company in Nashville about $100,000 and hadn't paid their bills for about two years, so of course they weren't going to be plugging a new record by us when they were owed so much money. The next year I thought I'd do something different. I'd written a lot of songs which were very personal and weren't the best songs to go play with a band - maybe they were self-indulgent, I don't know. I felt like recording them alone.
Triste: Didn't you ever feel like packing it all in and getting a normal job?
Michael Weston King: Well in a way I've had it happen three times. The first was with Fragile Friends - I felt I've just had enough of this, this is just what you hear happens when you're forced into something you don't want to do. Towards the end of the Stormkeepers it became messy. It started out as good fun, but at the end, when we got that major deal with BMG people started falling out, things didn't go as they should and the band had a manger at the time and that was causing conflict. And then this, even though we were getting on okay, we thought things were going well and then started to conspire against us. I never thought about giving up actually , as I was more in control, they were my songs and I still had that to hang onto, but it was certainly getting more difficult as a unit. Glitterhouse had also suggested to me that I do a solo record for them. Part of that was a deal I had with them, as I still owed them quite a bit of money. I couldn't really foresee, especially with my impending divorce, how I was going to be able to pay it back They said we'd like you to make us a solo album. I said great. How about I just go and make the record and give it to you and whatever you sell you can knock off the debt? Don't give me any budget to make it. I'll just deliver you a record and hopefully it will be good enough to release. So, as it turned out, Martyn Joseph had told me that he had a new studio in his house and he'd like to experiment, where he didn't record himself, but he worked as the engineer and recorded with someone else and this fitted it perfectly. I still had to give him some money, but I made God Shaped Hole for something like £300 which is ridiculously cheap. And then sent it to Glitterhouse and it started to reduce the money I owed them. As a result in many ways it's a bleak, stark record, but that's the kind of sound I wanted so the fact that there was not much money there was perfect. That's how that record kind of came about and that how I branched out into solo work, even though I'd always done solo spots and solo supports, but to actually have the solo record was a good reason to get out and play.
Triste: It seemed in 2000 and 2001 that you seemed to be supporting every Americana artist touring the UK.
Michael Weston King: Yes. I know. Maybe too many. The main thing was because Phil had moved away it was harder to get the band together, but I wasn't going to stop gigging and so I carried on doing more and more solo stuff. But it's also a matter of logistics as I'm finding out now. It's impossible to make money on the road with a band unless you're being underwritten by a label. The indie labels can't afford to do that, and we've all been round the block a bit and we're not 18 or 19 and happy to have to sleep on floors for six months of the year. So really, that's why I'm doing so much more solo stuff, because there's just me to worry about. It's frustrating as it's always more enjoyable to be playing as a band, because when it's on, it's great.
Triste: Going back to God Shaped Hole - it's a very personal, confessional album. How do you feel about advertising such issues of the heart so openly?
Michael Weston King: As a listener, and I'm thinking about artists like Tim Hardin, I do enjoy that sort of eavesdropping on the artist being totally open about things. And sometimes it can almost be too personal. It had a lot to do with the kind of music that I was listening to at the time - the older ones like Phil Ochs and Tim Hardin who were totally open and didn't hide behind anything. I wanted to make a record like that, and given everything that was going on at the time, it was probably pretty much the only record I could have made anyway. I didn't really have the capacity to be clever, it was kind of - this is how it is.
Triste: Looking back on the lyrics now a couple of years on would you change any of it? Water it down in some way? I know that Dylan when he recorded his most personal album Blood On The Tracks he cut it and then later went back and redid some tracks toning it down all the time. To put some distance in there and depersonalise it. A lot of songwriters seem to want to divorce themselves from their songs - but you seem quite open about them. Even the publicity around the album referred to the events surrounding the making of the album.
Michael Weston King: Some of the reviews did mention Blood on the Tracks - although it's nowhere near as great a record - or Impossible Bird by Nick Lowe. I like the idea of it having a theme and the theme being the obvious thing. I was quite happy. No, I wouldn't change it actually. I look back at it sometimes and I wince at some of the lyrics, but the actual idea of what the record's about I wouldn't change because everybody I know who's heard it has enjoyed that side of it as well as it being very personal.
Triste: It's very self-lacerating isn't it? You do sound disgusted with yourself.
Michael Weston King: There is plenty of that in there - but that's how I felt at that time. But I've had more people write to me about that record and the songs on it than the others. There's a few songs on there which are not personal: "Lay Me Down" is about Townes' funeral. "Beautiful Lies" is about being pissed off with the music business, so they're not all about my wrong-doing, although there's a general feeling of regret in there.
Triste: What exactly is your problem with the music business? You routinely mention Mojo readers at your live performances of the song.
Michael Weston King: The whole song isn't about Mojo, although there a few references in there. It's mainly having a dig at music journalists looking at the golden age and looking at music through rose-tinted glasses and enjoying the voyeurism of the distraught lives that some musicians live. A lot of music journalists live their lives vicariously looking on at other people screwing themselves up, but never get into deep water themselves, but enjoy that side of it.
Triste: The classic case of that is the rock press' perennial Syd Barrett pornography, where you've got a real human being with mental problems and all they want to write about are recycled stories of madness and green fridges from 30 years ago. I'm sure he has no desire to go on about that phase of his life, but they want to cling onto it. And that's very sad.
Michael Weston King: What encapsulated that was a review Gavin Martin for the Independent did of a gig Jackie, Andy and myself did at the South Bank and the whole review (he mentioned me and Andy in two lines) was talking about Jackie's history, about the fact that he was a heroin addict and tonight how he's drinking this type of drink and he hardly mentioned the gig. I don't want to sound like an old fart, but I couldn't believe that all a seasoned journalist would want to write about was this and dismiss my music and Andy's. Now he might not like our music, but he didn't really talk about Jackie's music either. The whole review was basically talking about what was in Jackie's press release. Inane journalism and I would have expected more than that and that's what the song's about, although it was written before then. It's just a general swipe at some journalists to say grow up, you know it wasn't as halcyon as some people would like to glamorise it. There's bits I that song as well about me looking at people who have done great things and whether I'm going to catch up. Then also it's about those bands who have their five minutes in the spotlight and then they're gone - life's hard in the breakers yard and all that kind of week. Someone who's on the front cover of NME this week and then history the next.
Triste: It's like Lou Reed said in a song once about how you can't be Shakespeare and you can't be Joyce, so you'd better make the most of what you've actually got to offer. Anyway, onto another song from the album. Wasn't "Dear Lord Why Did You Desert Me?" offered as a track to Johnny Cash for consideration on his Solitary Man album?
Michael Weston King: Yes. It was put forward for that and unfortunately didn't make it. But that would have been fantastic, especially in my view as it was the best of those albums in terms of the songs covered. Certainly "Mercy Seat" sounded as if it could have been written for Johnny Cash and the version of "One" - I'm not a huge U2 fan - but the version was just fantastic. The publishers put it forward to Johnny Cash, and that was it. You get that all the time with things being put forward. But it's a numbers game. The more you put forward the more likely you are to have something picked up.
Triste: I don't know if the song was made-to-measure but you can imagine Johnny Cash singing the song.
Michael Weston King: Lyrically, I thought this was perfect for someone who had their faith and then their time rallying against it. And Johnny Cash has done more than that that anyone.
Triste: Can we talk about the mechanics of the songs on God Shaped Hole. They seem like they were written for piano, even though you're not really a pianist.
Michael Weston King: I can't really play piano, I can just fumble around with a few chords, but none of those songs were written on piano. What I wanted to do, they were all written on acoustic guitar, I wanted to change them that piano and voice thing that early Tom Waits records I wanted to try and do that so some of the songs which I thought were better on piano I played them to Lou [Dalgleish] and she worked them out and played them. She played piano on them The version of "Beautiful Lies" on Dinky Town is a demo I did which is myself and Phil playing on acoustic guitars, which I think is a really nice version. I always had it in my mind, even though I sound nothing like him when I sing it, though melodically I was trying to do that kind of thing so I transferred quite a few onto piano, plus also I didn't want to do a whole album of acoustic guitar and vocals I thought that might be a shade too much. As I have been for a few years I've had a bit of a Nick Cave thing so I thought have a bit more piano.
Triste: The reason I ask is because some songs -like Lennon's "Imagine" - are so obviously piano songs that they don't really lend themselves to guitar and vice versa.
Michael Weston King: That happens on Happiness too. All songs I write on guitar, but some songs I just thought would be better with the piano as the core instrument. You just try it and sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. But sometimes when you play one chord on the guitar and one chord on the piano you hear totally different things so even though I'd written the basic song on guitar when I transferred it to piano then you change it a little more because you hear different melodies and different tunings which are in a piano chord which aren't in a guitar chord. I suppose that's one advantage of having a piano player as a partner.
Triste: You mention loss of faith and this comes up time and time again on this album and on your next album with the Good Sons. Was that big thing at the time?
Michael Weston King: Yeah, well you look at the titles Singing the Glory Down which comes from an old gospel phrase which comes from the Bible Belt that would be a phrase for a joyous outburst of singing to bring the glory down the King's Highway which is another old phrase, cos I used to be in youth groups and that kind of thing and there's a song by that name.
Triste: The Carter Family played a song of that name.
Michael Weston King: That's right exactly. Even though I'm from dull old Southport and not from some interesting place in Tennessee or Georgia, I did grown up as a choir boy at church and played in little gospel groups and played corny gospel songs. But for every twenty of those there might be one or two fantastic songs. I've always liked those kind of Biblical lyrical imagery. The first record has got a lot of that in it and for many years I was a regular church-goer and I even went to ordination college for a while. I was going to become a vicar and then had a change of heart and bowed out of it. So that is still often, particularly with the early records, it raises its head quite a lot when I'm songwriting, maybe not as much in the last year or so, but certainly it's always been there.
Triste: So it's not purely a musical affectation. It's based on a deep and genuine feeling that's always been there? It's not just window dressing.
Michael Weston King: No, it's because I came from that background and its because for many years I was, I wouldn't say a devout Christian, but I was a church-goer and I had a faith. I've kind of slipped away from that in recent years and whether I'll come back to it I don't know. You find that there's times musically when you get close to it again. I find myself if writing songs that have some, not preachy message, but have some kind of spiritual connection and I find that easy to write about it. I'm afraid the Michael Weston King gospel record is not too far away. I don't think there are many spiritual songs of the last 20 years that you can identify with. Like "Have I Told You Lately That I Love?" you can be taken either way, but there's not that many songs that could be interpreted as a song to God or a song to your partner.
Triste: So, onto "Happiness", or not, as the case might be. How did you get from touring in support of your own solo stuff to getting the band and a new deal together?
Michael Weston King: After God Shaped Hole came out I had about a year and a half of touring solo gigs playing some headline slots in Europe and playing some gigs with Nick Cave and Ron Sexsmith and Chris Hillman. Then in Spring 99 we thought let's do two or three gigs again. We had a break of about a year and in that time we'd only played one or two gigs together and it was basically to see if we wanted to do it, and deep down it was really more whether I wanted to do it, I think everybody else wanted to play even though they weren't exactly ringing up every five minutes saying let's do something. So we did and I'd been speaking to a guy called Jonathan Beckitt, who led this label called Floating World, anyway and he came to see us play a ridiculous gig at the 12 Bar Club in London. We hadn't played for a while and we usually played the Borderline, so we thought let's play the 12 Bar and it'll be packed and be great. It was ridiculous! The stage was so tiny that you couldn't move. I mean it was just impossible and it was a crap gig too I thought. But Jonathan liked it and he said "Do you guys want to make a new record?" and we did, so he gave us some money and we made the album Happiness.
Triste: What were the other band members doing at this time? They can't have been just waiting for your call?
Michael Weston King: No. Phil was in Italy teaching. He moved out there because he met a girl. But then that's finished but he still stayed out there teaching English and making reasonable money. But for the first few records he worked at a studio in Manchester as an engineer as well. He is very qualified with regards to studio work. It was a reasonable studio so every now and then they'd get some name bands doing demos and things. But most of the time it was bands coming in doing their early demos and it's soul destroying knowing that they're going to split up after the next session. Shaun was doing quite a lot of work with other artists, tour managing or repping shows and sort of being on the road. I don't know what Ben was doing actually. He went back to college and started to re-educate himself as an occupational therapist. So everybody was doing other things and I was the only one still trying to make a living as a musician. We made the record, and it didn't mean everybody stopped what they were doing, it just was we'd had the opportunity to make the record and I personally wanted to make something different from the other albums - certainly from the first and third album - I thought we'd done our country-rock thing. So that's why I insisted we get other people in to play with us - Harry [Napier], who'd played cello on God Shaped Hole, pedal steel and more piano and did it in a different studio. We had a great time. Me and Phil had a bit more of a confrontation as Phil was normally a bit more of the lead instrumentalist in the band, and this time, even though I love his guitar playing, I wanted less of it on the record, because I wanted a record that didn't sound like the others.
Triste: But you still co-produced the record together, didn't you?
Michael Weston King: Yes. Certainly on Singing The Glory Down and Wines, Lines and Valentines, because of his knowledge in the studio he produced it. It was like him and me but this time it was more me and him. I insisted also that he didn't engineer the record, because we were going to a new studio and there was a house engineer and he could concentrate on playing and listening, as opposed to worrying about all the engineering side as well. It wasn't any indictment on him, I just thought that was the way it should be. As it turned out Dave [Wrench] was fantastic and played keyboards as well. It was better all round, we were in a lovely situation, we weren't in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, we were in Snowdonia and think we've made the best record by far. I was really pleased with the songs and really pleased with the diversity of sounds and arrangements on the record. It was really good fun.
Triste: Were you influenced in any way by the surroundings in which you recorded the album? You weren't getting your head together in the country like Traffic?
Michael Weston King: Or Big Pink? No, I wouldn't say so. How I wanted it to sound was in my mind already. I wanted to try and make a record which was a bit more poppy and I think we kind of did that. I was trying to write songs that were less country and rootsy so they would lend themselves to be treated in a certain way and not in a twangy country way. I don't think the location affected our sound, though it may have affected our approach to it. We weren't playing banjos because we were in the country! (laughs.
Triste: The title Happiness I take it was an ironic comment?
Michael Weston King: There was a great film a couple of years ago called Happiness which was one of my favourite films. I mean that is a really bleak film, but it's an incredibly diverse film and I liked that. I had also written a song called "Rush Of Happiness" and, with the exception of God Shaped Hole, I had never had a title track. The title of the album usually came from a line of a song and we had a few titles. There were a few possible working titles and "Rush Of Happiness" was one, so when we came up with a song called "Rush Of Happiness" we shortened it to Happiness.
Triste: The art work is quite distinctive. It has lots of those pre-rock and roll images on it - the start of that era of economic mass-consumption and the buoyancy of the post-war American Dream. Did you take a lot of time over it?
Michael Weston King: We always take a lot of care over the sleeves. I always think it's very important. I hate it when you get a great record and a crap sleeve. I can never understand why an artist spends so much time making a great record and then the presentation of it is so poor. But with this I had seen a magazine while on tour in Germany. It was kind of like a German 50's version of Life magazine with these three healthy, pure Aryan breed women on the front and I thought this was a good contrast between the clean lifestyle of these women and the record - which on a lot of the songs is the antithesis of this. I liked that so I bought this at a flea market in Germany with a whole load of others. And I sent two of them off to the guy who designed the sleeve, thinking only really of these images on the cover. Inside it was full of those 1950's adverts and so on. When it came back he'd taken some of these too and the lettering. I'd basically given him a whole theme, but he'd seen all that and took it. It was great, I didn't expect all the things which went along with it like the Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh photo. A lot of people do comment on the artwork.
Triste: I know there's a lot of pedal steel on it, but it's definitely not explicitly American sounding. It has very much a European flavour to it.
Michael Weston King: I'd agree. That's exactly what I was trying to aim for - not twangy and drew comparisons with the Jayhawks which we had before. I was listening to Costello again. I had always been frightened of using pedal steel in a "pedal steel kind of way". One of my favourite bands ever were the Triffids who used pedal steel in an atmospheric, very untraditional kind of way, and that's what I wanted to get away from. And once we had it playing with the cello it blended really well together.
Triste: They both provide washes of sound.
Michael Weston King: We wanted that weeping melancholic feel and that worked well together. I had to bash everybody to get other people to play on the record, but in hindsight everybody thought it was good that we did. A lot of people, who have bought all the albums. say they often go back to that album, maybe because it is the most varied. I'm really proud of that. I think there's lot of lovely playing on it. Harry plays some great cello, certainly on the end of "Rush of Happiness" it was fantastic.
Triste: Was that improvised or pre-written?
Michael Weston King: With Alan we gave him a little more direction in terms of the type of sound, and melody, that we wanted from him. Whereas with Harry, it was just, like, "Just fill this gap, will you?" And he'd heard the songs before, but he didn't come in and say, "This is what I'm going to do," we just went and did it, so that was great. But I'd kind of worked with Harry before and done some gigs with him as well, so I kind of knew what he was capable of. And it was just a matter of, he didn't need that much time. But if he didn't get it first time, within two or three takes, he'd have done something which we thought was fantastic and catchy. I think this was the first time for Allan, though, that he'd been in the studio in this situation. Certainly one where he had to be a bit more focussed rather than just playing whatever he wanted. He had a tendency to just play: the song would start and finish three minutes later, and Allan would have played for three minutes, you know? If you play all the way through it doesn't give the same effect. He had to learn to be selective. But his contribution was fantastic.
Triste: I think he found it quite beneficial, he said afterwards.
Michael Weston King: Well, I'm sure he did. He was in a good studio and he must have learned. But Alan was very enthusiastic, and obviously came on the road and did the gigs with us as well. And that was great.
Triste: Just a few words about the songs. You start the album off with a cover version of "I Can't Cry Hard Enough". What was the real reason for including it, and in particular for starting off with it? I know on your previous solo album, you kind of "top and tail" the album with covers, which kind of fits in with the general theme of that record. But what about this one?
Michael Weston King: Well, I suppose that fifty per cent of it was down to how the songs turned out when they'd been recorded. As we went through making the record, we played that record, and it just sounded great, we were really pleased with the way it turned out. I mean, we're really pleased with how a lot of them turned out, but everybody said, "This one sounds really good." And that wouldn't necessarily be the reason why I would put it first, but lyrically, I like what it says, and the way that it follows on from the previous album, but with a little bit of optimism. It seemed to fit. If I could have written those lyrics, I would have been really happy, because they would have fitted in with the mood of what was going on with me at the time.
Triste: But as a songwriter, starting off an album with a cover, when the lead song often sets the tone for the rest of the record is quite brave. It could be seen as a lack of confidence in your own material.
Michael Weston King: Yeah, but it's not a particularly well known cover. Not many people have heard it before, so it wasn't as if we were doing something that was particularly well known. So that didn't bother me really. I don't know; I think it was more of a band decision. We all kind of liked how it sounded. I kind of like starting albums with slow tracks, even though Wines, Lines… has got a real rocker to start with, but this song kind of just eased it in, and it set the pace. Because Happiness is not a particularly "rocking" record - it's quite mellow - and I thought it was a good yard stick for what was to come.
Triste: The song "Rush Of Happiness" is a strong song, but for me, the section where you quote from Ken Dodd's song "Happiness" makes me cringe. Can you explain why you used this? Because to me, it does jar – that's just my personal opinion, but it doesn't seem to make sense? Was it deliberate?
Michael Weston King: Right, okay. Yeah, obviously it was deliberate, yeah. Those lines are from the song, but it was being put in an ironic way. I mean, each verse is – there's a verse to my son, there's a verse to my ex-wife, there's a verse to my daughter within, so it's like a verse to each of them – but maybe I'm just being too clever arse for my own good?! I thought well, I'll put this in, you know?
Triste: Did Ken Dodd actually write that?
Michael Weston King: No, no, somebody reviewed the record in some real anorak's country magazine, and did actually criticise them for not crediting Fred Bloggs, or whoever it was who wrote "Happiness"? If Ken Dodds had written it, I probably would have credited him, so it could have been a 'Dodd / King' composition. (laughs) So, no, I can't remember who it was who wrote that song, but it wasn't Ken Dodd. Maybe I screwed up there, I don't know. I just kind of liked the lyrics, obviously. I mean the whole song is so jovial, isn't it? And those lyrics are exuding happiness, and obviously, I'm trying to sing it totally the opposite way, and it was just me trying to be ironic, and probably being a bit of a twat, really... (laughs)
Triste: Another standout track is "I Can't Reach Him" which you preface in concert by telling the audience is specifically about your Dad. He's still alive, is he?
Michael Weston King: Oh yeah, yeah. I mean, ask any artist who does solo stuff, they tend to expand their stories, because they've got something that the crowd kind of enjoys. I've kind of expanded on that -I've probably portrayed my dad as something that he isn't. All it is, and I'm sure lots of fathers and sons have similar relationships, is that we just don't have a great deal in common, you know? That's all it is. He's not a bad person, in fact, in the last few years, he's thought much more of me than he probably ever has done in the sense of sticking to my guns and carrying on with this ridiculous music business "lark". So it was just that, but when I tell the story live, you can feel people connecting with it, and you tend to maybe milk it a bit more, because you can see people are responding to it. But lyrically that's what it was about, and I felt it more keenly, because being a dad myself, you kind of think well, do my kids – certainly my eldest son, who's now 19 – what does he think about me? Like "Oh, bloody dad, again…" in the same way that maybe I do about my dad. And if he does, then maybe that's not what I want the situation to be. And so that's kind of what it's about, really. But the chorus of it is still saying, "I can't reach him," but there's things that he's done – and I will never know what he's done – that if I did, I would probably respect a lot more. And if you think about the things, the sacrifices your parents make for you, it's kind of in there. But maybe the story I tell before it is one that does him a bit of a disservice. My brother was at one of the gigs and he told me exactly that.
Triste: Isn't that one of the dangers of autobiography? Everybody tends to exaggerate certain aspects? "I" in a song is more often a kind of a metaphorical "I" than literally?
Michael Weston King: Yeah, that's right. There are lots of songs where I write in the first person but it isn't me that is the subject. That one, it is. But it's funny because my mum – we were having dinner one night – and my mum actually said, "This song, is this about your dad?" And if he hadn't been there, then I might have had the courage to say, "Well yes, it is, actually," but he wasn't sitting here, he was sitting over there, in an arm chair, watching the telly - but I knew he could hear us. I thought, well I really don't want to tell mum, because - I just didn't have the balls, really, to just say it is, for fear of upsetting him and her. And I made up some nonsense story about maybe, "Oh no, it's about maybe how I imagine my son might think about me," or something like this, you know.
Triste: But isn't that the danger of writing autobiographically based material which drifts for artistic reasons in a different direction? There are still "real" people, who the song was based on, who will see your artifice as being your true feelings or thoughts when it's just a neat way of tying up a song or something.
Michael Weston King: Well I don't know, I mean it's different. I know a lot of artists in the last few years have been really influenced by have been involved in real "bear all" situations, and I kind of like that. But sometimes it's not actually right as a song-writer to describe totally what every song is about, and give the game away. And it also maybe makes the listener think, "Oh, that's what it's about, but to me it should be about something else," and then it's kind of spoilt it for them. But I think certain songs, it's pretty black and white, you know?
Triste: This ties in nicely with my next point. You do like your little stories in between songs. When you were playing at Chester with Rab Noakes and Andy White, and Rab Noakes was just about to sing after a bit of patter on stage and some bloke in the audience heckled him with, "Talk less and play more," and you replied with something like, "We like to talk".
Michael Weston King: Well, Jackie Leven's a great example, I mean Jackie sits back in the chair for ages, and very rarely plays! But, I don't know – it's very rare that people are critical of you for that. There's a lot of people who seem to enjoy the anecdotal kind of thing, especially in that sort of singer/song-writer environment where it is kind of very conversational. Especially if everyone's sitting and listening and you get a good rapport going, it's great. So no, I think it's good, I think it lends itself to it. I mean, if I go and see somebody as a solo singer/song-writer, and they just played the songs, then they'd have to be pretty special songs for me to be totally gripped. You know - if you're a band, then that's different, but if you're just you and your guitar, it's a communicating experience. I know from my own personal experience when I go and see people like Loudon Wainwright and whatever, if they tell stories and things, it's not that you want to be bloody Jasper Carrot, or anything, but the fact that if you tell a few stories that are relevant to – and even if they're not necessarily funny, they might just be poignant or relevant to the songs – then that to me, I would find that very entertaining. So I kind of do it in the hope that people who listen to what I do find it entertaining as well.
Triste: And do you have your set stories? Just to go back to Townes Van Zandt again. He had his set stories and the same jokes that were still being told 20 years apart.
Michael Weston King: Well, hey, everybody does, everybody does. You might have a pool of ten or fifteen different stories, and depending on what songs you're playing, then, you've got your set intros to those songs. And then sometimes you find you just adapt things. I don't know, it's strange. It's not a conscious thing of sitting down and writing something, like you're writing a script. It's just – especially on that last Englishman, Irishman, and Scotsman tour, we had some quite good things happening. Somebody would say something or something would happen.
Triste: I'm sure two or three people like that could spark off things?
Michael Weston King: Yeah, and it was a shame you remember that Chester gig. It was a particularly down night, actually. It wasn't very busy, and we'd had a long journey, and I wasn't really very sparkling. But the Bury gig, there was a good crowd, it was really busy, and it was really funny because that morning, we'd all been staying at the Bolton Moathouse. Midge Ure was staying at the hotel and Nils Lofgren was staying at the hotel, so Bolton was for one night only, kind of like the rock 'n' roll centre of the world! And I've always hated Midge Ure – not him personally, because I never knew him – but his music. And Andy said jokingly that he once had done a song writing workshop with him, for a Womad thing. I said, "Andy, you didn't play that bloody 'Dancing With Tears In My Eyes' song?" He said, "Oh yeah!" I said, "Oh no! That's one of the worst songs I've ever heard! If I ever I saw Midge Ure, I would just have to tell him that is just so shite! That's terrible! And as for that 'Vienna' song, well for fuck's sake, what's all that about? If I ever see him, I just won't be able to contain myself, I'll just have to tell him!" And of course, three days later, we're staying at this hotel, Andy and I are having breakfast, and Midge comes over and goes, "Andy, how are you?" "I'm fine, how are you? – Mike, this is Midge, Midge this is Mike," and I say, "Hi, how are you?" And of course I'm Mr Polite, and I haven't got the balls to say exactly what I wanted to say!
Triste: Did Andy not set you up by saying, "What was that thing you were saying about Midge's songs?"
Michael Weston King: No, no, no!! He was too busy grovelling as well. Midge was very nice actually, but it still doesn't excuse those songs… But we were throwing these kinds of stories in at the shows, just because it went along. So, once you've told them, you might forget them, and occasionally something might spark it off again at a gig, and you'll tell them again. I mean Jackie's a great one for telling stories, but on the Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman Tour we did together, me and Andy would have heard those stories ten or fifteen times. At all the gigs in other towns, just over and over and over again.
Triste: I'm just going back to "Tim Hardin '65": you tend to explain the structure and ideas behind the song; how the first two verses had a certain intention and then how it changes tack at the end. Do you often "explain" your songs?
Michael Weston King: Well with that one, again, just because, I like talking about music when I'm on stage, and I know by and large the sort of people who come to see me, are like yourself, who are sort of – not just got a sort of passing interest in music, but are pretty fanatical about music, and the history of it. Again I would know if someone was on stage talking about your favourite Tim Hardin song, I'd be really interested. So, yeah, I just tend to talk to people about music and hopefully connect with people on that level, as well.
Triste: On the new live album do you do the song as a medley with "Lady Came From Baltimore" as you're doing in your live sets?
Michael Weston King: No it's "Black Sheep Boy" actually. The version that's on Dinky Town I hadn't started doing the "Black Sheep Boy" into it. Basically that song, "Tim Harding 65", was written – and we based it on that song in the way we recorded it. I wanted to keep it really sparse and simple, and hardly have any drums, and it's similar kind of chords. And that's why I kind of do a medley into it, really. Similarly, in a way, "Lay Me Down" goes into "Waiting Round to Die", the Townes song. It's got similar kind of chords, but the version that's on the live album sort of links into the song.
Triste: But on Happiness you've also some quite "produced" numbers haven't you? For example there's "Reason To Live" and "Both Sides Of The Faith".
Michael Weston King: Oh and "Happiness" too. I mean "Tim Hardin '65" is pretty sparse, but it's still got the cello and the pedal steel on it. But "Reason to Live" is the rockiest kind of track on there, and "Both Sides of the Faith", that was kind of interesting: everything was just one take on it. We wanted to get a kind of "Swampy JJ Cale" feel on it, and the song essentially is just three chords. It's kind of a bluesey thing. Ben just played this loop and we recorded that for ten seconds, span it for five minutes and then just built up on top of it. And it was just, "Phil, you've got two guitar parts," and he just had to do them in one take, - Dave played this kind of 'Hammond' and he just did all that. And it was just all sort of built up as if it were a jam, but it wasn't. So it was kind of an interesting track, really - I like that song.
Triste: How much do you like developing songs and arrangements in the studio?
Michael Weston King: "Reason to Live", yeah, we really wanted to screw that up. Make it as messy as possible.
Triste: Was that pre-decided before you went in the studio?
Michael Weston King: Well yeah, it was in a way. We wanted to try and do a dirty, kind of distorted thing with it, but we were frightened of making people think, "Oh well, there's another Sparklehorsey kind of thing that he's doing,". Even the last Waterboys record, (not the "Fisherman Blues" out-takes, but the last sort of studio album), [Mike Scott's] got loads of that vocal effect on it. But no, it's an angry, noisy track. A lot of the type of effect and distortion at the beginning, that was all kind of developed in the studio, but we had the idea that we wanted to "screw it up" as much as possible. But "Both Sides of the Faith", how we actually did that – the way we recorded it was made up in the studio, but the type of effect we wanted was similar to Dylan's 'Time Out of Mind', that kind of thing.
Triste: Back to the tour for a moment: The Englishman, An Irishman, And A Scotsman Tour. Was it a positive experience overall? Obviously you must learn a lot from the other people when there's three of you sat on stage, but would you do it again? Are you going to do it again?
Michael Weston King: Yeah, well I mean, it's kind of a rolling thing In fact, this week I've had some enquiries from Spain. The promoters out there wanted the line-up with Andy, Jackie and myself - we'd done some gigs in Bilbao for another promoter. But Andy's going to be away this time when we do it, cos he's gone to Australia for six months, so it looks like it might be me, Jackie, and we're thinking another Irish man, and it might be Cathal Coughlan at the moment. You know, he used to be in Fatima Mansions? So it's a bit of a rolling thing, really. I'm sure there'll be one where there's another Englishman. I don't know. But as an experience it's great!
Triste: How many songs do you play? About six songs?
Michael Weston King: Yes, at the most, I think about six, actually. But we played more on the one with Rab, because Rab talks less than Jackie, so we get more songs in. I mean some nights with Jackie, we probably did, well yeah, six songs – three in one half and three in the other. That's eighteen songs in an evening, but you know, as an individual, it isn't that many.
Triste: Obviously the down-side of it, if you're only playing a handful of songs, do you not feel a bit frustrated? Because in a solo set, you'd probably play two or three times as many songs.
Michael Weston King: That's right. Well, I think on that last tour, it was less frustrating in that sense, because there was much more playing together. As the tour wore on, we were playing virtually on everything. So there was much more interaction musically, whereas on the one with Jackie, it was just the three of us, we tended to do our things, and just chip in a little bit. Actually I found that as a musical thing, the three of us playing together was probably a bit more enjoyable, from an actual playing point of view, because we were more involved. But it was a great experience. And good fun too - travelling with three people of a like mind. The idea of "three acoustic guitars in the boot of the car and where are we going today?" Yeah, it's good. Because a lot of us, certainly myself and Jackie – Andy usually tends to take another player out on the road with him – but, you know, doing that whole sort of solo thing, on the train, travelling around: it's interesting, and it's good, but it can get quite depressing and lonely at times.
Triste: So to have three of you – it's like being in a band, but not being in a band, if you know what I mean?
Michael Weston King: It's not got that sort of "who's the leader?" kind of thing going on. You've got three individuals who are on the same sort of level. You know what I mean, you've not got that sort of, "that's the lead singer, and he's the bass player, and he's the drummer". So it made it like being in a band, but just the good parts of it, really.
Triste: And when you play solo, do you tour solo? There's no tour manager or extra musicians?
Michael Weston King: When I do it, very rarely. When the next record comes out, I will probably take somebody, but it'll be another person who will play at the same time. Maybe get Harry [Napier] to do cello? I even thought of doing some gigs with myself and Alan Cook. But there won't be a tour manager, there'd be the two of us. No, when I go to Europe, I just fly to wherever I'm going and train it round, really, as I'm going to be doing on Thursday. I fly to Amsterdam, and then off from there – just me, my guitar, a bag of CDs and some change of clothes.
Triste: And this album you've released now, is it primarily for your "die hard" fans, that go to your gigs?
Michael Weston King: Well the original idea for Dinky Town was exactly that. I was just going to put it out for myself and have it to sell at gigs. I'd done a gig about two years ago at Cologne, and the guy who ran that show recorded it, and sent me ten copies of it. He'd actually made a little bit of a sleeve, taken from some pictures, and everything. So I started thinking, "Well great, I can sell these!" So I put them on sale, and one gig I'd sold them all, and it was like, well this is great!! Because especially in Europe, people are very interested in getting kind of 'bootleg' stuff, but at the same time, I wasn't kind of that happy with – well, certain songs were okay, and the others were a bit rough. So I thought, well okay, I'll try and do one of these that's official. So I've got control, I'll pick the songs I like and make it a bit more interesting and from different places. And that's what I did. But then - both Floating World who put out Happiness, and this other company, Twah! in Germany, who I'd just signed my publishing to - they heard it and they both wanted to release it. So at the same time I thought, well that's good, because I don't have to finance the production of it. So this is the German version here. The UK version is out in mid March, which will be the same, musically, and the same sleeve, but there's going to be a bonus track, a multi-media video of "Tim Harding '65" is going on it, as well. It's a bit of an obsession of mine that things look good, it's a bit more eye-catching, you're a bit more likely to pick it up in a shop and look at it than something that's not got a good album sleeve. So all of a sudden, it's not like a little bootleg, it's a bit more, sort of, official release, but anyway, that's how it is. You've probably seen at Jackie's gigs, he does those things, where he puts them out, and they do look, like bootlegs. And maybe, in a perverse way, that is more appealing to the real fan. It's something that's a bit rarer. But I'm a bit anal about wanting things to look as nice as possible, so it doesn't really look like a demo. Well it looks like a proper release, and everything. But that's how it's going to be, and it's coming out. There are a couple of extra tracks on it that aren't live, as well.
Triste: It covers quite a few years doesn't it. It goes back to 1997 and up to a few months ago.
Michael Weston King: Yeah, it covers quite a bit of time. The studio version of "Beautiful Lies" is the only thing that's not live, apart from "Lover's Lullaby" by Townes Van Zandt and this new song, "Easy" at the end. It's a bit like a musical diary of some places that I've played and been to over the years.
Triste: And it includes radio sessions as well? I suppose there was no audience there. It was just in the studio?
Michael Weston King: Yeah, yes, they were just purely interviews. Certainly the KUT one. I wanted to put something on the album that was indicative of the Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman thing, but obviously that was one of my tracks because it was my record. So that's why I put [Ronnie Lane's] "Annie" on it from Spain, even though I don't think it's the greatest recording in the world, but it just kind of says, "We were touring, and that's what we're doing, and this is a song from it." So there's an element of it being also a bit of a diary thing. There are certainly things on it, maybe that are a little bit rough around the edges, but at the same time, I wanted to have that variety of location and players on it. And if I'd done it in time, it might well have had a track on it with myself, Andy and Rab too. But anyway, it had kind of been done by then.
Triste: And the album title, Live… In Dinky Town I take it that it's a reference to Dylan?
Michael Weston King: That's right, totally, yeah. There are some liner notes inside the album, and that's exactly where it came from. I heard about Dinky Town in Hibbing, and that was the kind of the bohemian quarter of the town. Even though, as I say in the liner notes, I've never been to Hibbing, Minnesota, and never been to the Dinky Town quarter of it. But when you play, especially when you go to Europe, you always seem to end up in those places. So I play a lot of kind of Dinky Town equivalents, as probably many of the musicians you've interviewed have. And that's kind of where most of these tracks came from: the sort of sleazier side of town, where you think, "Oh God, is this the club I'm playing tonight in Munich, or wherever?!"
Triste: On a more general note, do you think in some respects, the British Dinky Town type of venues are dying out? Is the sleazy kind of pub, posters on a bottom?? Is that dying out, do you think, to some extent?
Michael Weston King: Well I don't know whether they're dying out, or whether it's just that as I get older, I don't kind of play them as much. I tend to play your typical Arts Centre gigs. It's like "Oh, you're a singer/song-writer, aren't you, so you're in the Arts Centre, there's the brochure" and it's quite nice.
Triste: I think up in Manchester you've still got pubs like the Star and Garter or The Roadhouse?
Michael Weston King: Well, as I say, I don't know whether they're still there or not because I'm not 19 anymore, and we're not playing in bands, that, you know, would be appropriate for that. But having said that, there's Glasgow's King Tut's, which is still part of the circuit.
Triste: But so many places like Preston's Adelphi have more or less closed as live venues. They've been changed into ambient, chill-out bars, or whatever the breweries think will bring in money.
Michael Weston King: Well you might be right, maybe it's indicative of the music, as well? Maybe a lot of what kids are growing up to aspire to is not to be in a band but to DJ, or whatever.
Triste: I remember going to a Sid Griffin gig at the Adelphi a year or so ago and he was moaning…
Michael Weston King: He's moaning? Sid, moaning? No, you're joking? (laughs)
Triste: There were about twenty people upstairs, and he was playing with this new band, Western Electric. Downstairs, it was packed with students listening to a pub quiz, or watching boy bands on satellite music channels in the pool room. And he was moaning and saying, "Well there's live music up here, it's only five or six quid, it wasn't a lot of money - the cost of two or three pints." And a few people came upstairs from time to time, kind of popped their heads round, looked at what was going on it, listened for a while to the music from the head of the stairs and when they found out the price was a fiver they turned and walked downstairs. And you know, is that just Sid?
Michael Weston King: Well yeah, but if I was downstairs listening to a pub quiz, and upstairs, there was like, a death metal band, and it was five quid to get in, would I go and spend five quid? No, I probably wouldn't, I'd go and stay in the pub quiz. And at the end of the day, the people downstairs think, "Christ, do I want to go and watch a country-rock band? No, I'll stay here…" You've still got to go and want to be there, haven't you? If you want to spend your five pounds, you've got to want to be listening to that music. So I think it's all kind of relative. But I don't know where the original thing about Dinky Town died out. I mean a lot of those classic sort of indies, sticky-floored venues that existed, maybe a few of them are not there any more because there aren't the mass of bands pouring out of the backs of transit vans to go and play them anymore? It's just an indication of the state of the music. There's plenty in Europe, I can tell you. (laughs) For better or for worse!
Triste: Again, is the European attitude towards music different to the British? Is it less fashion based? Because some artists seem to sustain a career for ten or fifteen years after they disappear from the scene in Britain, and they maintain a strong loyal foundation of support in Europe.
Michael Weston King: Totally, it's less fashionable. There is a much more open-mindedness to it, and they're not kind of dictated to as much by the press, as to what they feel they should be listening to. And you get a real diverse cross-section of people – like just before Christmas, I was in Italy for ten days, and in the UK, by and large, the kind of people who come to see these gigs are your Mojo reading, thirty-plus audience who've got every Gram Parsons record ever made. Over there, it's like a real mixture of kids who are like 18, 19, 20 and really digging it and buying the CDs. So it's not a more mature, single bloke kind of audience, you know? So it is refreshing, and it is a bit more open-minded, yeah.
Triste: Because the audiences over here can be a bit grim, can't they, to be honest? Let's say between thirty and fifty-five in age, from a certain income bracket, with a certain vast but restricted record collection…
Michael Weston King: Exactly! Oh yes, exactly! And we're all playing to the same people and trying to sell the same records to them, that's it, you know.
Triste: But it needn't be that way. I know the so-called New Acoustic Movement has been much hyped in the British media over the last couple of years but there is an element of crossover. I saw Tom McRae play at the Life Café in Manchester last year and it was full of 18 to 25 year olds with a scattering of old farts. And it's not too dissimilar – he had a cello, a piano, he was playing an acoustic guitar and singing heartbreaking ballads.
Michael Weston King: It's not dissimilar at all, he's just maybe on a more "hip" label, and he's been hyped through the same magazines that would write about Limp Bizkit, or whatever, you know?
Triste: Back to your Sid Griffin comment, there probably is going to be a group of people out there, but are they used to listening without prejudice?
Michael Weston King: No, that's right. Well it's all about what their perception is, and if they think this guy is young and cool….
Triste: It's like David Gray last year was everywhere and the year before it was Beth Orton or whoever. And those people are not too different in musical style, are they?
Michael Weston King: No, not at all, it's just maybe an age thing, they're younger, and so on. I mean Kathryn Williams is a great example. I mean, what differentiates Kathryn Williams from anybody else, at all? Nothing, really. I suppose she's maybe got a bit of a folk element there, so maybe some of her audience is slightly more mature, but no, you're right. If you're in an indie band like Turin Brakes or The Kings of Convenience they are just playing acoustic, melodic songs. Not that much different from what the rest of us are doing, really. But it's a new, young label, and it's just perception - always has been really.
Triste: I know you've got a few more things in the pipeline. You've contributed "Sunday Never Comes" to the Creedence Clearwater tribute album and you're about to publish the Michael Weston King songbook. Is that something you judge as important as an album release?
Michael Weston King: Well it is – it kind of appeals to my ego, you know, I have to admit. Obviously, the fact of a song book, I'm pretty excited by it, but I may end up with like, 700 copies under the bed. But I signed a new publication deal last year, and it was one of the things I asked about and they were really excited about doing it. What's going to happen is, when it comes out in Europe we're going to package up the album [Dinky Town] and the song book together, so you can buy it as a package, and you can also buy them individually. In the UK, what's going to happen is the album is just going to come out on it's own with the extra multi-media track and the song book will be available as well, but not actually packaged up together. Because it's quite an expensive thing, you know, to actually have a card sleeve for the thing. But it will be the same sort of thing you know. I don't expect to sell lots and lots of them, but it's the sort of thing that I'll have at gigs, it's a nicety, and from my own point of view, it's a bit of a record of the songs. So when I'm in Germany this week - I'm going to see Twah! - they've kind of done a mock-up of the book, so I'm going to go and see how that's looking and sort of give it an approval. There's fifteen songs selected from the six albums that are in there, but also there's a complete discography, and there's photos.
Triste: Have you had to write any notes or anything for it?
Michael Weston King: I've not written anything for it, but Nick Dalton - who writes for the Daily Express and used to write for the Country Music International, who's always really liked the band, and always been a bit of a champion of us – he's written liner notes for the book. So that was great. But yeah, there's lots of pictures in, hopefully an illustrated discography and things, so it brings us up to a certain point. But you know these things are very expensive to put out, and then labels and publishers aren't keen to do them unless they're going to get a return on it, so I know it'll be difficult, but the amount of gigs that I do, and I'm on the road quite a lot – hopefully I'll just continue to sell them at the post-gig counter. I would be wrong to say I'm not excited about it, even if it's only from a pride point of view really.
Triste: It's making your mark - to quote one of your songs. You'll have your six copies sent to the British Museum and the copyright libraries. The big question is who will you be stacked next too in the shops? Under "W" next to Westlife or under "K" next to BB King?
Michael Weston King: So that's ongoing, and it's officially going to be out at the beginning of March in Europe and in the UK, and the European version will have the song book with it.
Triste: I believe you were also involved with a theatrical production of some Elvis Costello songs supporting your partner Lou Dalgleish?
Michael Weston King: Well, the original thing was Lou and her band, she did literally a five piece rock 'n' roll band, doing Elvis Costello songs.
Triste: No links in between?
Michael Weston King: Well she'd introduce, but it was literally like a gig, you know, she'd come on stage, they'd do the songs, and it was a great show, especially if you like Costello, obviously. But it's great, she sings marvellously, and she would introduce the songs as if she were fronting her own band. But then, what we did was, we wrote a play around the character of Elsie Costello, and took it to the Edinburgh Festival. But it was very expensive to go to the Edinburgh Festival, and to take a five piece band there – you know, paying for accommodation – because there's no guaranteed fees, you purely get what comes through the door, after you've paid for the hiring of the venue and God knows what else. So we stripped it down: it was Lou who sang, Gladstone, her piano player, and I narrated the story. So we weren't acting, it was just I was telling this story, of this character, and it was interspersed with 14 Costello songs, and Lou performed 12 of them, and I sang 2 of them. So it meant we could do it relatively cheaply. And it was an interesting idea, and obviously a lot of people came to it, a lot of people are Costello fans. It was good – hard work, though, I mean really. We were there for 16 nights, and you performed for an hour and a quarter, but you had ten minutes to get in, and ten minutes to get out, because obviously the next show's in, and especially when it's with your partner, as well, it can be quite stressful, as well. But it was good, and we just about broke even, which is a major achievement, actually. Most people lose a fortune at Edinburgh Festival.
Triste: How did the theatrical setting suit you? I would imagine it was quite a rigid set-up?
Michael Weston King: Well actually, I actually sat in the chair, with the book, like This is Your Life, you know, so I didn't actually have to learn the script! And I was sitting there, reading it, as if, this is what she did next, and what she did next, kind of thing. So it was rigid, yes, and it was a bit different to what I'm used to. But I got to sing a couple of songs in it, as well. It was good.
Triste: And finally, plans for the future? Do you think the band will get back together?
Michael Weston King: Yeah, well the next thing is that I've got three weeks in Europe starting on Thursday, then I come back and I've got a week pre-production for the new record – which I'm starting recording in March, actually. It's a solo album. But it's not going to be solo like God Shaped Hole it's going to have full production with Jackie Leven producing it.
Triste: Yeah, he mentioned it when I spoke to him in October.
Michael Weston King: That's right, yeah, we'd just started talking about it then, it was still kind of muted, so I'm looking forward to that. That's going to be recorded in the last week in March in Bryn Derwen, where I recorded Happiness, and Jackie's made his last two records. So it's going to be me and him, but it's also going to be the bass player and drummer who played on his last record, and the keyboard player. And I'll probably bring Harry to play some cello, and probably Alan to play some pedal steel. But it will be a different sounding record again, which is the intention. I'm just trying to be very open-minded. It's not a band record, it's going to be, a Michael Weston-King record, but certainly it'll sound a lot different. Because the keyboard player that Jackie uses tends to use a lot of sort of interesting, atmospheric sounds, and I just want to do something that is a little different. In the past for me, it's been piano, and Hammond organ, anything else, not interested. Just piano and Hammond organ. And now, I'm going to change, you know, as long as it doesn't sound like bloody Tears For Fears!!